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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid