Monday, February 3, 2014

Weekly Highlights: A Band-Aid for Burma’s Woeful Education and Health Sectors


27 January - 2 February

Weekly Highlights

A Band-Aid for Burma's Woeful Education and Health Sectors

During his first visit to Burma, the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim announced that the World Bank will pledge US$2 billion to drastically improve health, electricity and agriculture sectors. This investment is badly needed given the disproportionately large amount of money that the government still allocates to the military and the subsequent decay of health and electricity access. Yet the World Bank must be aware that it will take more than throwing money at problems to solve them.

Of the US$2 billion, approximately US$1 billion will be spent on generation, transmission and distribution of electricity over the next 3-4 years, especially aimed at the rural poor. This is especially important given that 70% of people in Burma do not have electricity access. A further $200 million will be spent on the healthcare sector, working toward the goal of universal health coverage. Further investment will be utilized to increase productivity in the agriculture sector, in which 70% of people in Burma depend on for their livelihoods.

This investment is welcome and much needed, but the World Bank must ensure that it follows its own safeguards, consults widely with civil society and ensures measures are taken to "do no harm." In a country that spends around 29% of its budget on the military, its social services, particularly health and education, are in ruins, and as UNICEF pointed out in a report last year, government spending for these essential services is "strikingly low by international standards." It is quite obvious where its priorities lie and until there is a political will to significantly increase public spending on health and education rather than the military, aid and loans from the World Bank and other donors will be a band-aid, masking the structural problem of access to electricity and quality healthcare.

While the World Bank obviously has good intentions regarding its pledge to Burma, it must be noted that this is not all based on altruism. Part of this investment will be to further open the Burma economy to global markets and encourage private investment, the economic dogma of international financial institutions: "The World Bank Group will also pursue investments to support transparent, cost-effective private investments, and public-private joint ventures for large new power stations," thus creating investment opportunities for overseas governments and companies.

As experienced with the World Bank's recent Telecom Sector Reform project that aims to broaden telecommunications coverage, not all aid and development money is necessarily wholly positive. In a letter to the World Bank, signed by 61 civil society organizations, key problems were outlined with the proposed project, including the lack of safeguards regarding privacy issues, as well as censorship and surveillance, strategies that both the military regime and the current government have engaged in regularly. Furthermore the World Bank had already stated in a project document that they had met "organizations representing ethnic minorities during preparation which confirmed their broad support to the project" before they had even met with civil society. As Rachel Wagley of US Campaign for Burma points out, "It should be standard practice for the World Bank to hold scheduled, meaningful consultations and to ensure that civil society organizations have sufficient time to review and translate all proposals." If the World Bank had treated consultations as a meaningful exercise rather than an item on a checklist, the problems regarding privacy and censorship could have been addressed in designing the project.

Investment in Burma's health and electricity sectors are indeed a must. Yet in order for reform in these sectors to be sustainable, and truly benefitting the intended beneficiaries, it needs more than just foreign aid and loans. It must also come from within the government, and this means prioritizing these services over the military. Furthermore any external actors, such as the World Bank or any other donors, must ensure that they consult widely with civil society and affected communities, and follow their own safeguard policies in order to ensure better project design. Otherwise, they potentially risk legitimizing the Burma government's debilitating and counterproductive policy of prioritizing military offensives over the dire need for improved health and education for its own people.

News Highlights

Constitutional Review Joint Committee reports resistance to amending the clause in the 2008 Constitution that blocks Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president prompting MPs to question the validity of the report

Inside Burma

Government rejects US's calls for an independent investigation into alleged Rohingya killings in Du Chee Yar Tan village but President Thein Sein orders a local investigation and the Rakhine Investigation Commission denies the killings while a fire destroys 16 homes in the village and Rohingya MP Shwe Maung says that Maungdaw police were involved in the fire

Military denies permission for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to give a speech at A Weiyar airfield in Taunggyi, Shan State

Ethnic armed groups present a draft of the nationwide ceasefire agreement to government peace negotiator Aung Min

Burma Army attacks Kachin Independence Army in Nam Gau village in Mansi Township and captures 18 villagers

Burma Army soldier allegedly beats and attempts to rape a woman in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State

Defense Ministry plans to build new homes for veterans on confiscated land in Rangoon's Thingangyun Township

Government grants Ooredoo and Telenor licences to begin work

Special Branch police detain journalists for reporting the existence of a chemical weapons factory in Magwe Region


Thai police detain 531 Rohingya men, women and children following a raid on a suspected people-trafficking camp in Songkhla province

Burma's Labour Attaché Kyaw Kyaw Lwin advises migrant workers in Thailand to return home when their four-year visas expire

300 migrant workers from Burma are detained following crackdown in Malaysia


US ends its resettlement program for refugees in camps on the Thailand-Burma border

German President Joachim Gauck to lead a delegation of parliamentarians and business leaders to Burma

American company General Electric to cooperate with private company in oil and gas service sector


The Specter of Mass Killings in Burma
By Larry Diamond
The Atlantic

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