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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid