News / Asia

    Burma’s Path to Privatization Keeps Armed Forces in Economic Control

    A woman sells produce at a vegetable wholesale market in Yangon (file photo – 25 Apr 2010)
    A woman sells produce at a vegetable wholesale market in Yangon (file photo – 25 Apr 2010)

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Ron Corben

    Burma’s military is pressing on with the privatization of state assets as part of economic reforms. Many critics say the program simply transfers assets to the military government’s allies and maintains its economic control.

    Burma’s is one of Asia’s poorest countries, and the military government dominates the economy.

    But the government is moving forward with economic reforms, including the sale of up to 90 percent of state assets.

    While details are sketchy, media reports in Rangoon say more than 400 state-owned assets, including airports, buildings, gasoline stations and land close to the main port have been sold.

    Douglas Clayton, managing director of the investment fund Leopard Capital, based in Cambodia, says privatization is a step toward greater efficiency.

    "Putting an economy into private assets is likely to lead to a better-managed economy,” Clayton said. “It’s a step toward modernizing Burma and no matter how it is done the outcome is likely to be no worse than it is now and possibly much better. There will be many beneficiaries of a liberalized economy, so there will be more impetus for further reform."

    But some Burma experts say privatization is part of the military’s effort to maintain its hold on power. They say most of the assets have gone to business people tied to the military, in an effort to build support before last year’s elections.

    Parties close to the military won about 80 percent of the elected seats in November’s elections, the first in 20 years. The constitution additionally sets aside 25 percent of the total seats for the military. The parliament opens next week.

    "That whole fire sale of assets that they had prior to the election was to shore up support of some of the big entrepreneurs,” says Alison Vicary, an economist from Australia’s Macquarie University. “The airport, for example, was given to those entrepreneurs that have been aligned with the regime for years. So obviously the regime has some idea that these guys need to be kept onside. How to manage that into the future is another issue."

    Some Burma experts note that the buyers of state assets include military-run corporations such as Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, which controls the army’s pension fund, and the Myanmar Economic Corporation, which oversees funds from the sale of state-owned enterprises.

    "The wave of privatization that has taken place – has been a move to transform public assets into personal property of the military regime and their cronies including the leaders of the Union Solidarity and Development Party which is the biggest party backing the regime," said Debbie Stothardt, the spokeswoman for rights group Alternative ASEAN Network.

    Bertil Lintner, an author and commentator on Burma, agrees the sell-off leaves much of the economy under military control. But he says it may open the way for private investment.

    "People will say look at all these new opportunities here,” said Lintner. “Privately owned companies and organizations – a restructured economy and so on; but also the economy is so bad that they have to do something."

    Peter Gallo, who is with the anti-money laundering consulting firm Pacific Risk in Hong, warns that foreign investors must proceed carefully in Burma, despite the privatization. The United States, the European Union and other governments have imposed economic sanctions against the government to push for political reform.

    "The big practical issues really are the rule of law and human rights situation,” Gallo said. “You can have any kind of government you like; doesn’t matter whether it’s allegedly democratically elected or not but if there is flagrant abuse of human rights in the country and that is well known – the international condemnation is going to continue."

    Several large Burmese corporations, such as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, are on the U.S. sanctions blacklist.

    Rights activist Stothardt says the reforms do little to improve life for most Burmese.

    "Most people in Burma lack access to clean water basic electricity, to basic health and education,” Stothardt said. “So this whole move to privatize all the assets of the country is mainly to turn public assets into the personal property of military leaders and their cronies, and it’s still not going to improve the situation for the ordinary Burmese person."

    Burmese officials and some regional political analysts say that Western sanctions are responsible for the country’s poverty. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member, wants the sanctions lifted.

    ASEAN leaders say the elections and the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from detention show Burma is making progress on political reforms. As a result, ASEAN says, the sanctions should go.

    But rights groups say the changes fall far short for true reform, especially since Burma’s military holds more than 2,000 political prisoners and maintains a tight grip on the economy.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Nielsen's, Sina Weibo Team Up for Closer Look at Chinese Social Media

    US-based rating agency reaches deal with China's Twitter-like service to gauge marketing effectiveness on platform which has more than 200 million users

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora