|News Headlines - July 13, 2012|
July 13, 2012
The latest intrigues in Burma
July 12, 2012
When the news broke earlier this week that military appointees in Parliament had nominated a new vice president, some media outlets reported that a new hardliner was replacing an old hardliner, while others confidently stated that "yet another hardliner is being replaced by a reformist."
Let's start by unpacking the facts. Last week the Burmese government announced the resignation of the country's first vice president due to "health reasons." An ex-general, Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo was known as a corrupt hardliner. The man likely to take his place, Myit Swe, is also a former general as well as a member of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and chief minister of the Rangoon division of the government.
Burma's next vice president has a close personal relationship with former dictator Senior General Than Shwe that contributed to Myit Swe's successful career in the military. Myint Swe was given the critical job of overseeing security in Rangoon, the former capital, in 2001. In the late 1990s, he was brought in to take over the position of general staff officer, a powerful role in the War Office, which was then occupied by ex-Brigadier General Thein Sein, the current president. (He's shown above earlier this week, along with newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell.) When the former intelligence chief and prime minister, Gen. Khin Nyunt, was purged in 2004, Myint Swe got the job of restructuring the country‘s intelligence agency.
According to Irrawaddy Magazine (which last May accurately predicted Myint Swe's appointment as vice president), Myint Swe was directly involved in the crackdown on the Buddhist monk-led "Saffron Revolution" of 2007, which resulted in scores of deaths. Most recently, Myint Swe has confronted local journalists working with exile media outlets and reporting on the sectarian violence in western Burma. He threatened journalists who violate the military's strict censorship with up to nine years imprisonment, under existing law.
The question is whether or not Myint Swe's vice presidency can constrain President Thein Sein's reform initiative. Regardless of whether Myint Swe is a hardliner or a moderate, it's highly unlikely that he'll be able to disrupt the reform course. The reforms are beginning to gain momentum, spurred increasingly by the government's emphasis on improving the domestic economic situation. Since last year, all the generals-turned-civilian power-holders are competing to prove their reformist credentials.
The first event to undermine the hardliners last year was President Thein Sein's decision in September to suspend construction of the Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam, a multi-billion dollar project to generate hydropower from Burma's Irrawaddy River and sell it China. At first, Beijing was shocked by the decision, but soon backed down and has since tried to reason with the Burmese government to resume the project. So far, China has not tried to complicate Burma's internal politics by giving pro-China foes of the reforms (such as retired vice president Tin Aung Myint Oo and Electric Power Minister Zaw Min) external leverage, and that lack of support from Beijing seems to be weakening the hardliners within the regime. (There are reports that the president is likely to reshuffle his cabinet and remove Zaw Min and other hardliners soon.)
The second event to shake the hardliners' control last year was when a group of conservatives in the ruling USDP party lobbied ex-dictator Than Shwe to ask that President Thein Sein cancel the April 1 by-election (which subsequently brought Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD to parliament). According to sources close to the USDP, Than Shwe turned out to be indifferent to political details so long as the policies of his successors did not jeopardize the political safety or material well-being of his family. The failure to secure sufficient backing from Than Shwe was a major blow for the hardliners. Now no one in the government is willing to openly show sympathy with the conservatives.
But here's a caveat. Though the ruling elite remains broadly united on the big questions, there's still one factor that could cause a split within the leadership. The ex-generals have to figure out a strategy to contain Aung San Suu Kyi's popularity and prevent her from winning another sweeping victory in the 2015 general elections. Since Thein Sein and some other reform-minded leaders see themselves as one-term leaders, they're relatively unconcerned about losing the next election; what worries them more is preserving their reform agenda and making a reputable exit. This sets them off from the younger generation of leaders-in-waiting within the USDP, who still can't shake the bitter aftertaste of their party's humiliating defeat in the April by-elections. This divergence of interests could yet lead to a fundamental schism within the political establishment.
Burma Sanctions Shaved
Posted by Clif Burns at 1:41 am on July 13, 2012
Back in May this blog reported on Secretary of State Clinton’s announcement that the U.S. would issue general licenses permitting export of financial services to, and investment in, Burma. Yesterday those general licenses were issued by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”).
As I had reported, Secretary Clinton’s announcement of the upcoming general licenses suggested that there would be some qualifications based on potential humans rights concerns relating to certain companies or sectors of the Burmese economy, although she didn’t suggest what those might be. Now we know: the General Licenses do not cover certain dealings with the Burmese Ministry of Defense, state or non-state armed services or groups owned by these services or the MOD. No new investments may involve these groups but financial services may be exported to those groups as long they are not “in connection with the provision of security services.” Security services are not defined, and OFAC staff is unlikely to provide any guidance into what this term means if you call them up, so, for all practical purposes, no financial services may be exported to these groups. This means, in its broadest sense, no money may be transferred to these groups by a U.S. person for any reason.
The general licenses also do not permit export of financial services, or investments in, an blocked person, i.e., any person on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Entities and Blocked Persons. The general license does, however, permit, notwithstanding the prohibition on dealing with blocked persons, exports of financial services to Burma which involve
transfers to or from an account of a financial institution whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to those authorities, provided that the account is not on the books of a financial institution that is a U.S. person.
The part of this provision permitting transfers from accounts of blocked Burmese financial institutions seems to be contradicted by the very next provision of the General License
This general license does not authorize any debit to a blocked account.
Because a transfer from a blocked account and a debit to a blocked account are the same thing and because an account of a blocked financial institution would normally be considered a blocked account, the provision prohibiting all debits to blocked accounts would seem to prohibit the transfers from a non-U.S. account of a blocked financial institution permitted by the former provision. Perhaps the point here is that the non-U.S. account of a blocked entity is not a blocked account, but then there is no need for the language permitting the debit “provided that the account is not on the books of a financial institution that is a U.S. person.” In any event, exporters can avoid this ambiguity by assuring that payments for exported goods do not originate from blocked financial institutions in Burma. A number of private banks in Burma are not on the SDN list, although several are, such as Myadaddy Bank and the Innwa Bank which was just designated simultaneously with the release of the new general licenses for Burma.
Two other important points bear stating regarding these new general licenses. First, investments in Burma in excess of $500,000 and any investments with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise will be subject to required annual reports to the Department of State. The reporting requirements, which appear extensive and burdensome, are detailed on this State Department web page. Interestingly, the report will require a copy of, or a “concise summary” of, the reporting company’s anti-corruption policy regarding its operations in Burma.
Second and finally, nothing in these general licenses permits the import of goods from Burma, which remain generally prohibited with certain exceptions, including exceptions for household goods, personal effects and informational materials.
Power sector seen as crucial to Myanmar development
Published: 13/07/2012 at 01:45 AM
The recent easing of sanctions against Myanmar by Western countries could prove to be a cornerstone in the nation's economic development.
The consultancy Frost & Sullivan says as the economy attempts to take off from its current position, the power sector holds the key to supporting fast economic growth in the energy-starved country.
Vishal Narain, an analyst for Frost & Sullivan's Asia-Pacific energy practice, said Myanmar has an installed power capacity of 2,254 megawatts (MW) after growing at an annual rate of 10% since 2007.
"The demand for power shot up by 15% in 2012, which has led to the current power crisis," he said.
"A lot of projects in the recent past have increased power generation capacity, but only 13% of the country's entire population has access to electricity."
Myanmar has per-capita power consumption of 104 kilowatt-hours compared with 2,000 kWh in Thailand and 600 kWh in Indonesia.
Up to 70% of generation capacity is from 18 hydropower plants producing 1,270 MW during the rainy season and 1,000 MW during the dry season. Gas-fired plants generate 350 MW.
In the current scenario of Myanmar reforms, the country is likely to attain higher consumption levels in less than two decades, meaning a capacity of 50 gigawatts in that time frame. This would entail an investment of US$50 billion in power generation alone.
"The scope to bridge the impending power demand-supply gap offers huge investment opportunities for both the multinational and domestic companies across the power industry value chain from generation to transmission and distribution and in distributed power generation, including the power rental sector," said Dr Narain.
Antiquated transmission and distribution (T&D) lines offer medium-term investment opportunities. With some cables as much as 40 years old and more than half the cables transmitting power at less than 230 kilovolts, power losses are significant.
"Massive investments in upgrading T&D infrastructure could help the government reduce power losses and thereby manage the power crisis more effectively," said Dr Narain.
To increase the electrification ratio, he added, the Myanmar government plans to set up as much as 5,000 miles of 230-kV transmission line with eight substation projects to support the grid.
Other investment opportunities include distributed power generation, seen as a short-term solution to power shortages.
The increased flow of foreign tourists and expatriates looking to set up representative offices in Myanmar will boost demand for residential and office space.
The government will have to order generators from foreign firms to deal with the spike in power requirements.
Private real estate companies providing residential and office space to expats are more likely to depend on power rental solutions, said Dr Narain.
Demand for distributed power generation is likely to remain high until 2015 and then decline as new thermal, gas and hydro plants are commissioned.
In the wake of the government's openness to reforms and private-sector participation, there are significant short-term and long-term investment opportunities for foreign firms across the power industry value chain, said Dr Narain.
But firms should exercise caution in the market by considering the interest of multiple stakeholders in major power projects that could upset investment plans.
Mission of Burma’s Roger Miller Knows How to Save a Bad Show
Photo courtesy of Mission of Burma. Photo: Scott Munroe
lmost as soon as the members of post-punk Dadaists Mission of Burma began recording a new album of tension-filled hard rockers, they trashed the songs they had originally planned for it. They wanted what vocalist-guitarist Roger Miller calls “edge.” Even though he and drummer Peter Prescott had written songs with the group in mind, the tunes sounded too much like Mission of Burma, who are rounded out by vocalist-bassist Clint Conley and tape manipulator Bob Weston and whose legacy dates back to a short-lived, yet influential run in the late ’70s and early ’80s before they re-formed in 2002.
“We said, ‘What would Burma do that would surprise even us?’” Miller recalls. “It still sounds like Mission of Burma, but stuff like the trumpet parts at the end of it ‘ADD in Unison’ is unique, and Clint’s song ’7′s’ is using the seventh chord, which we never use.”
Most of this came easily to Miller, who is used to experimentation in his other groups the Alloy Orchestra, which provides scores for silent films, and M2, his recent project with his brother Ben where Roger plays a piano “prepared” with clamps and clips on the strings. Moreover, the music he consumes on his own runs a wide gamut. “I’ll listen to Erik Satie, Béla Bartók, John Cage, Miles Davis or, whatever, Fucked Up,” he says. He then clarifies, “The band Fucked Up.” But through it all, there’s something about the music he creates with the other Burma members that makes it still sound Burma-like. “I’m definitely a rock guitarist,” he says. “But I definitely have the leanings that lots of guitarists don’t have.” Hive caught up with him at his home in Somerville, Massachusetts, where explains just what that means in regard to new album Unsound.
With all of your various projects, what is it that keeps bringing you back to Mission of Burma?
Oh, it’s incredibly fun. When Mission of Burma does a set, there’s nothing else in my life that compares to that except certain aspects of sex perhaps. When the set is over, your mind is blank. You’re just floating. That’s the closest comparison I can make. We’re just switching chemical juices in our brain and in our bodies on and off continuously. It’s a real trip.
We play really well together. When I play with other types of rock bands, even if I organize them, they don’t sound like Mission of Burma any more than Clint’s do or Pete’s do. There’s a very specific thing about the way we interact and the sounds we produce. When Burma formed in ’79, that was the pivot of my life, basically. At that point I became who I was and that’s why my history will always go back to in some fashion. The fact that we keep inventing ourselves, that’s a pretty good thing.
The song “This Is Hi-fi” is pretty trippy, with all of the tape and vocal effects. What inspired it?
My friend Richie Parsons, who was in the Boston punk band the Unnatural Axe in like ’78 or ’79, told me about a dream he had where I had this hepcat bachelor pad and I had all these hi-fis going. And I went, “This is a song.” Then I came up with the phrase, “This Is Hi-fi,” and the song just showed up after that.
It’s a critique of how people watch movies on tiny little, goddamn iPhones — that’s not hi-fi. That’s no-fi. And they’re listening to crushed MP3s through little earbuds. No, that’s not hi-fi. That’s a little-fi as you can get and still think you’re hearing something. So the song is kind of parodying that aspect of modern technology.
“When people ask me, how are you guys so successful? My answer is, ‘Make your songs so experimental and complex that when you fuck up, people think you’re doing a variation.’”
There are moments in the song that sound like radio signals are coming in.
Right. Well, Bob brought in some loops but the first verses in the first part of the song, I wanted my vocals to have really bad fidelity to amplify this problem, and I wanted to use a cell phone. We couldn’t make it go directly to the recording, so while we’re listening to this track, I was singing into my cell phone into Bob’s answering machine. Then we downloaded his answering machine onto the track and positioned it into place, and that’s why it has that completely screwed-up sound. That’s his answering machine. We’re talking less and less fidelity here. So it fits the song and gives it an odd quality.
Since we’re talking about hi-fi, what is the last record you bought?
I hardly ever buy records, but I bought The Kink Kontroversy. It’s the Kinks album that had the hit “‘Til the End of the Day.” This meant a lot to me in 9th grade. “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” is also on it. We were almost going to cover that when Burma re-formed, but then we thought it was a little bit too obvious, so we didn’t.
Van Halen beat you to it, too.
They did that one also? After “You Really Got Me”? My fucking God. Thank God I never knew that. [Laughs.]
Why did you close the album with a song called “Opener”?
It’s a real good opener but by the time the order got done, it seemed like last place was the best place for it. The lyrics in the song, “Forget what you know,” seemed like the mantra for the album concept. Like, “Let’s start over again. Pretend you don’t know anything and you’re trying to figure out what you know, what you’re supposed to do.” It really was called “Forget What You Know,” but I have a song called “Forget” and a song called “Forget Yourself,” and they said, “Roger, you cannot have another song with the word ‘forget’ in it.” I said, “Well, it seems like an opener, so let’s call it ‘Opener.’”
Speaking of closers, your concert set list seems to vary from gig to gig.
We’ve never used the same set list twice. We did it once in 1979, and it was a disaster and we’ve never done it since.
Why was that show such a disaster?
The band was just starting and it felt like it was the worst thing in the world to do the same thing twice. Whether that’s true or not, we’ve just never done it since. Sometimes the thrill of watching us is actually struggling to remember the songs. You can hear our brains crunching trying to organize stuff on the fly.
Has that ever gone horribly wrong?
Not exactly, but one time I had done a tour where I was in San Francisco playing a festival with Alloy. Then we flew to Poland and then to Boston the next day. They day after that, Burma played in Dallas. And I was pretty fucking burnt out. [Laughs.]
Gerard Cosloy from Matador Records, who is a friend of ours from way back, was there. And we played “Trem 2″ [from Mission of Burma's first full-length Vs.] and when it came to that real gentle guitar break, I had no idea what to play. I’ve played that song since 1982, and I just didn’t know what it was so I just started making up new stuff. And I could see Clint looking at me and kind of smirking and laughing like, God, I hope this sounds okay. And Gerard afterwards said he thought it was brilliant. If Gerard thought it worked, damn. He can be critical.
When people ask me, how are you guys so successful? My answer is, “Make your songs so experimental and complex that when you fuck up, people think you’re doing a variation.”
Mission of Burma’s Unsound is out now via Fire Records. Stream the single “Second Television” here:
Myanmar military "not involved" in government, president says
ReutersReuters – Wed, Jul 11, 2012
(Reuters) - The military is no longer wielding power in Myanmar, despite dictating policy for half a century, but should not be "left behind" as the country moves to strengthen its fledgling democracy, its president said on Wednesday.
In an interview with Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, Thein Sein, a former junta general chosen by parliament last year, said the military had a crucial role to play in the country's future, but had no say in government policy.
"This is an armed forces that the country has had to rely on for a very long time for security and to meet external threats," he was quoted as saying.
"So, it is important at this time that they are not left behind entirely. They have a limited role within the constitution. But they are not involved in any way in the direct affairs of government or government policy."
The military ruled Myanmar with an iron fist until ceding power 15 months ago, giving Thein Sein and his quasi-civilian government the chance to transform a country that has spent the past two decades in international isolation and economic ruin.
Myanmar's constitution enshrines the military's reduced political role, allocating a quota of three ministers, and 25 percent of parliament seats to the armed forces. One of two vice-presidents is chosen by military-appointed lawmakers.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who attended her first full day of parliament on Monday, has pledged to change the constitution to squeeze soldiers out of politics.
Thein Sein expressed optimism that his government would achieve its goal of ending conflicts with ethnic minority rebels and bringing them into the political fold, although he urged patience and said the road ahead would be uncertain.
"We can't yet say this is a stable and peaceful country," Thein Sein said, adding he was confident a deal could be reached with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the one remaining group resisting the government's ceasefire offer.
"We want very much to have lasting peace, but exactly how the coming years will work out in terms of our efforts to have lasting peace remains uncertain.
He added: "There can't be peace without democracy and there can't be democracy without peace."
Thein Sein has been credited with driving Myanmar's most significant reforms in decades, including economic liberalization, more media freedom, legalization of protests, peace talks with rebels and the release of more than 670 political prisoners.
He said the release of 23 political detainees on July 3 had come as part of the government's "rigorous review", which was to ensure people "genuinely guilty of serious felonies, violent felonies, murders, narcotics trafficking and terrorism" would not walk free.
"If it is discovered that there are people who do not fall under any of these criteria and are there simply because of their political convictions, they will be released," he added.
The release of political prisoners helped to convince the United States and European Union to suspend many of their sanctions as of April, but Thein Sein called for remaining financial restrictions to be lifted to give a boost to the tattered economy.
"We really need investments, we need loans, to help to move the economy forward," he said. "It's extremely important that sanctions be lifted to make possible the sort of trade and investments the country desperately needs at this time,".
The United States is expected this week to announce plans to issue general licenses allowing its companies to invest in and provide financial services to resource-rich Myanmar, but only after detailed disclosures about their dealings, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.
(Writing by Martin Petty in Phnom Penh; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
Burma’s state-run newspaper suggests being accustomed to the reform
By Zin Linn Jul 12, 2012 2:51PM UTC
An amazing viewpoint appeared on the editorial page of the New Light of Myanmar (English) today. It seems pushing the anti-reformists in the Thein Sein government of Burma to be in line with the President’s guideline.
The editorial – ‘Diehard old habits’ – says that one year is enough time to get accustomed to the new system. “And it is sufficient period to address issues that are inevitable in walking up to the new era. New challenges will surely wait ahead. It is the time we must bear testimony to the success of our reform processes,” it says.
After the new government taking office for more than a year, many legislators have shown their ardent commitment to change and initiated reforms through their row in the parliamentary sessions. The country has observed many extraordinary changes, including some political improvement such as allowing political space for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi.
At the same time, the US government gave blessing Wednesday for American companies to invest in Burma. It also allowed working with the state-run Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). It looks like an advancement that marks the most important lessening of U.S. sanctions against the quasi-civilian government of Burma.
According to The Associated Press on Wednesday, the United States has been easing restrictions to allow U.S. companies to responsibly do business in Burma. President Barack Obama said in a statement that credited reformist President Thein Sein and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for continued progress toward democracy but also voiced deep concern over the murky investment environment.
Coincidently, Derek Mitchell, the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years, presented his credentials in Naypyitaw, the new capital of Burma, on Wednesday. Washington has normalized diplomatic relations, the culmination of a three-year push to help Burma out of international isolation and lessen its reliance on its chief but distrusted ally, China, AP News said.
On the outward surface, it looks like change began since the government opened up some political space for key opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In fact, reforms in the country seem skeptical, in the face of promising achievement made by President Thein Sein. Many observers believe the situation is in a state of uncertainty because the hard-liners’ faction and soft liner’s faction in the government are wrestling for power.
Moreover, various ethnic leaders claim that they don’t trust the new 2008 constitution. They say it will not create a genuine federal union in the future since the Burmese armed forces take 25 percent of all seats in the new parliament. So, the current constitution will not grant the democratic freedom and fundamental rights for the ethnic groups of the nation.
If the current government sincerely wanted to initiate political reform, it should not put aside the historic Pang-long agreement. Burma’s 64 year-old Historic Panglong Agreement was signed on Feb. 12, 1947, between General Aung San and leaders of the Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic groups, guaranteeing to establish a genuine federal union of Burma.
All peacemaking efforts of the government will be in vain and it is impossible to end the civil war since the government pays no attention to the ethnic people’s voice or the Panglong initiatives.
In such a time, the editorial of the New Light of Myanmar (English) says: “An old saying goes, ‘Old habits die hard’. Many people still cannot change the behaviors and attitudes they have been displaying for decades. There are still bribery and corruption issues with most of them buried unknown.”
The editorial also encourages the policymakers starting to review their old behaviors in order to abandon the unacceptable practices against the hope of the majority population.
“The President said in his recent address that the government must satisfy the desire of the people which he defined is the change from the old system to new one. The government alone will not be able to reform the country,” the editorial said.
It also criticizes that even though there are some significant steps forward, some government’s service providers are still hostile to the public. It suggests that government and people should jointly seek solutions to the problems that root deeply in the society of Burma.
The cooperation of the people and government mechanism at various levels is needed to achieve goals of development while the country is in the period of catch-up, the editorial says today.
Rights Groups Assail U.S. Decision on Myanmar
By MARK MCDONALD
Construction on the Yadana natural gas pipeline in Myanmar began in 1995. The project, with Chevron as a partner, is operated by the French firm Total. Chevron was exempted from a previous U.S. ban on investment in the former Burma.
Earthrights InternationalConstruction on the Yadana natural gas pipeline in Myanmar began in 1995. The project, with Chevron as a partner, is operated by the French firm Total. Chevron was exempted from a previous U.S. ban on investment in the former Burma.
HONG KONG — Human rights groups are tearing into the Obama administration for its decision to allow virtually any new American investment in Myanmar.
The prized oil-and-gas sector in Myanmar is now wholly open to American firms, even though the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had asked foreign companies and governments to hold off doing business with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.
M.O.G.E. has long had deep ties to the military, and for years it essentially bankrolled a succession of authoritarian juntas. The U.S. Congressional Research Service has estimated that one energy project alone, the Yadana natural gas pipeline, has provided at least $500 million in annual revenue for the government.
In a speech in Geneva last month, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said M.O.G.E. was still operating without transparency or accountability. Any new investments should wait, she said, until the agency meets labor standards issued by the International Monetary Fund.
“By allowing deals with Burma’s state-owned oil company, the U.S. looks like it caved to industry pressure and undercut Aung San Suu Kyi and others in Burma who are promoting government accountability,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.
The group said petroleum lobbyists had “pressed the Obama administration for a wholesale removal of the investment ban without any limits on partnering with M.O.G.E., citing potentially lucrative investment opportunities when Burma opens up additional oil and gas blocks for exploration later this year.”
It was four years ago this month that a sweeping set of punitive sanctions against Myanmar was enacted by Congress, codified in the Tom Lantos JADE Act. The only American company exempted from the sanctions was Chevron, which holds a 28 percent stake in the Yadana pipeline project. The French firm Total operates the project.
“This legislation will turn off a huge cash spigot for the thuggish Burmese regime,” Mr. Lantos said as his sanctions bill was making its way through Congress.
But the Democratic congressman from California didn’t see his objection to the Chevron exemption upheld: He died of cancer in February 2008, and the law was enacted that July. The final wording merely says that “Congress urges Yadana investors to consider voluntary divestment over time” in Burma. That divestment did not happen.
Chevron’s profile of its outreach efforts in Myanmar is here, on the company Web site.
The U.S. Campaign for Burma said Wednesday that “investment in many of the most attractive sectors of the Burmese economy is likely to worsen the human rights situation while directly benefiting individuals and entities responsible for rights abuses, who contribute to corruption, or are otherwise acting to obstruct political reform.”
The campaign added: “The Obama administration’s decision-making process has lurched forward without careful thought, strategy or transparency.”
Mr. Obama’s executive order was issued Wednesday.
The administration, led by the personalized diplomacy of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, seemed to have struck a deal with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year on the “targeted easing” of an array of U.S. sanctions against the former Burma. Under a new government led by President Thein Sein, Myanmar has been undertaking a dramatic series of reforms, reforms that have consequently brought down longstanding trade and investment barriers erected by Japan and a number of Western countries.
Sen. Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, and Sen. James M. Imhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, wrote to Mrs. Clinton in May to say that her plan for targeted sanctions would be “a strategic mistake.” They wanted an open field for American businesses, not a sector-by-sector approach.
“The U.S. should not be picking winners and losers in our engagement abroad,” the senators said.
Encouraging further liberalizations by a government still riddled with former generals and their cronies is a dicey process and an inexact science. The initial reforms came so quickly and abruptly that many Western governments (and many Burmese activists) were simply caught off guard. Previous regimes, after all, had kept Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi locked up for much of the past two decades.
And human rights abuses still proliferate.
“Foreign investment is essential to rectify these harsh conditions,” said Rhonda Mays and Robert Herman of Freedom House. “But suddenly funneling money into the country’s opaque, scandalously corrupt business environment is no way to help Burma progress economically or politically. This is all the more true when the main investment goal is the exploitation of natural resources.
“It is no coincidence that around the world, growth strategies based on extractive industries tend to reinforce the concentration of wealth and power and do little to advance general economic well-being — unless the country in question has a strong system of checks and balances and the rule of law. Despite the recent steps toward reform, Burma still has neither.”
The new U.S. order still blocks direct dealings with the military or with people and companies already banned. The Treasury Department’s entire list of sanctions is here; the Directorate of Defense Industries and the Innwa Bank were added to it on Wednesday.
Myanmar strives for enhancement of reproductive healthcare
By Feng Yingqiu
YANGON, July 12 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar is striving to achieve development goals in agenda of International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), providing multi-specialty universal reproductive healthcare which prioritizes mortality rate of infants and children under five and expectant mothers.
Five-year reproductive health strategic plan to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDG) related to reproductive health by 2015 have been adopted and is being implemented by the Health Ministry and United Nations agencies.
Myanmar Vice President Sai Mauk Kham stressed on Wednesday's World Population Day commemorative function in Nay Pyi Taw and the need for quality universal reproductive healthcare in the country, saying that great emphasis is to be placed on healthcare and educative measures for mothers and infants to reduce death and ill health of mothers and infants.
According to statistics, Myanmar's mortality rate of mothers has been reduced to 200 per 100,000 infants in 2010 from 520 in 1990. Though, about 2,000 mothers lose lives each year by pregnancy-related problems.
A nationwide birth and reproductive health survey revealed that the ratio of the unmarried has increased and the marrying age becomes gradually higher.
Unmarried youths and most adults in the reproductive years may act in harmful manner, it was warned, emphasizing the need to pay more attention to prevent death and ill health caused by unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion.
He stressed the need for dissemination of knowledge on family planning among the people, calling on government departments concerned and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to raise awareness about reproductive health as an education for young people as the government has also included the reproductive health in the curriculum for students.
In Myanmar, NGOs such as Myanmar Medical Association and Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association are actively participating in the drive for educative activities for reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases and also providing counselling services.
"Couples have understood that their decision on the number of children and birth spacing plays a key role in reducing mortality rate of women in pregnancy and illness and this acceptance would help to achieve the future tasks of the ICPD and the reproductive health service for every one, one goal of MDGs of the UN, " Sai said.
To achieve the goals of the ICPD program of action plan and MDGs, Myanmar has been cooperating with world nations with emphasis on universal access to reproductive health.
There are about 16 million women of reproductive age in about 60 million population of Myanmar.
The 2008 constitution grants rights for mothers, children and expectant mothers and the national health policies promise universal health services and healthcare.
Myanmar prescribes no limited number of children in a family. It depends on individual choice.
Commonly, urbanites with reproductive health knowledge conceive one or two children, while rural population have unlimited number of children traditionally regarding them as the jewels.
Myanmar farmers listen in to tune out hunger
Thu, 12 Jul 2012 15:39 GMT
Source: alertnet // AlertNet Correspondent
Farmer Han Nyunt stands next to his radio in Kyar Pin Hla, a small village in Myanmar's Dry Zone, where around 40 percent of households are food insecure, May 13, 2012. PHOTO/AlertNet
By an AlertNet correspondent
MONYWA, Myanmar (AlertNet) - Padamyar FM, a radio station covering the Sagaing region of Myanmar’s Dry Zone, has been broadcasting local market prices of crops, from sesame and maize to peas and groundnuts, twice a day since March.
The innovative project, run by the Myanmar Business Coalition on AIDS (MBCA), a non-government group set up initially to support people living with HIV/AIDS, brings much-needed information direct into the homes of village farmers via the airwaves.
Han Nyunt, a veteran farmer with 13 acres of pigeon peas and sesame in the semi-arid village of Kyar Pin Hla (Beautiful Lotus Plant), said getting hold of market prices for his crops used to be a real chore.
“We used to only find out at about eight or nine at night when people got back from town. By then it was too late to decide whether or not to sell our produce,” he told AlertNet, sitting on a wooden bench inside the village headman’s sparse hut.
The small settlement, atop a hillock at the end of a long, bumpy earth road, is covered in a fine layer of saffron-coloured dust. There is little shade from the blazing sun and it’s at least a half-hour walk to the nearest water point.
“Now by four in the afternoon we can know the prices,” said Han Nyunt, adding that he doesn’t have to spend a cent. “We’re all really pleased with this.”
Each afternoon, MBCA staff collect market prices from three main commodity centres in central Myanmar – Monywa, Mandalay and Pakkoku – and relay them to the radio station. The 4pm announcement informs listeners of that day’s prices, while the 9am one gives the previous day’s prices.
Another way of getting this valuable information is to use a mobile phone - but these are far and few between in poor villages that don’t even have a landline. Or a farmer can travel to another village with phones and call a trader in Monywa, a bustling market town in Sagaing, an hour’s drive away from Kyar Pin Hla.
But all this costs money and sometimes the lines don’t work. Besides, farmers can never be sure whether the trader is quoting them a lower price to make more profit.
Myanmar’s Dry Zone, home to about 14.5 million people, is also one of the hungriest parts of the country. According to the World Food Programme, 41 percent of households there are food insecure – meaning that they regularly cut down on what they eat because they don’t have enough food.
Irregular and scarce rainfall, prolonged dry spells, rocky soil, and a lack of basic infrastructure – roads, electricity and phone lines – make conditions extremely tough both for farming and living.
Rice is a staple food, but many Dry Zone villages, including Kyar Pin Hla, can only grow pulses and beans because of infertile soil and water scarcity. Yields are low, and many farmers and landless labourers live hand-to-mouth, heavily in debt.
When they do get the chance to sell surplus harvests and make a little money, it has always been marred by a lack of information and the urgent need to repay loans.
Droughts in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and a collapse in some crop prices this year have wiped out many of the gains from a lifetime toiling in the fields, with villagers around Monywa telling AlertNet they expect their hardship to continue.
RADIO TO THE RESCUE
One bright spot is the new radio broadcasts funded by the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT). They are a big help, farmers said, giving them timely and accurate market news.
Studies have shown that inadequate access to information was undermining incomes in rural communities, according to the LIFT, a donor fund managed by the United Nations.
A Harvard Kennedy School report released in January said Myanmar’s low penetration of cell phones, exacerbating farmers’ inability to find out market prices, “is not just a sign of poverty. It is a cause of poverty.”
But the one thing most households do own is a radio.
They are much cheaper than televisions and useful even when out in the fields - one reason why the MBCA project opted to communicate through radio broadcasts, said Tint Lwin Myo, its Monywa representative.
The aim now is to train farmers to analyse the information they hear so they can make better decisions.
It is a challenging goal, as many farmers are semi-literate, unused to strategic planning and unable or unwilling to change lifelong habits of planting a certain crop or blaming traders for their losses.
But there are signs of hope. On a recent visit to Kyar Pin Hla, Tint Lwin Myo asked villagers about the price of pigeon peas.
“Last year, we could get 27,000 kyats (about $28) a basket. Now it’s only 13,500,” lamented farmer Han Nyunt.
After further probing, he said that India – the main buyer of pigeon peas from Myanmar – may have increased its production, forcing down prices.
That’s got him mulling over a new plan for his 13 acres.
“We’re thinking of two rows of cotton for a row of pigeon peas,” he said, expressing the hope it could provide better financial security.
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