POSITION PAPER ON THE INCLUSION OF
The National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) is an umbrella group of 30 pro-democracy organisations, including ethnic nationality groups.
The NCUB’s position is that the ADB should exclude Burma from all GMS projects until Burma is ruled by a government that is committed to the principles of transparency, accountability, public participation in decision-making processes, and independent monitoring.
Briefly, NCUB’s position is based on the following grounds:
GIVING LEGITIMACY & THE WRONG MESSAGE:
Inclusion of Burma in ADB’s GMS projects will give the military regime further legitimacy and worse still, send a wrong message to the junta. The regime will assume that its use of the civilian population as hostages to international funding, its economic mismanagement and severe human rights violations are tacitly acceptable to the international community.
PROVIDING INCOME TO THE REGIME:
The regime, through various state-owned enterprises such as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and Myanmar Economic Corporation, retains a strong hold on Burma’s formal economy.
Hence the regime, its leaders, and partners such as the notorious Union and Solidarity Development Association (USDA), will be able to enrich themselves from injections to the formal economy. It is unacceptable that the USDA, an organization involved in several attacks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, including the May 30 Depayin Massacre last year, could be “rewarded” through ADB projects.
The track record of the regime indicates that any “trickle down effect” from wealth generated by GMS projects will be offset by increased “taxation”, corruption and extortion of ordinary civilians. The experience of the 90s’ economic boom in Burma has shown that the regime tends to use increased income for military expansion at the expense of education, health and other urgent needs of the people.
EXPOSURE TO MONEY LAUNDERING & TRANSNATIONAL CRIME:
Several business partners of the regime, including two banks, have been outlawed by the US government for involvement in drug production and trafficking. The Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) has consistently cited Burma as failing in adopting adequate countermeasures against money-laundering. The regime’s infrastructural development priorities have coincided with an increased flow of drugs including heroin and amphetamine type stimulants (ATS) to Burma’s neighbours.
Inclusion of Burma in the GMS road transportation project is likely to bring greater benefit to the drug cartels and their associates by providing more efficient transportation facilities, along with the spread of HIV/AIDS, as has been evidenced in the case of India and China.
In addition, such projects are more likely to involve companies linked to transnational crime. For example, the Pyin Oo Lwin – Muse road construction was awarded to the Asia World Company, owned by the family of infamous druglord, Lo Hsing Han. Asia World, a company that has also been involved in several large infrastructure development projects including the Rangoon Ahlone port project, is likely to become an indirect partner of the ADB through GMS projects in Burma.
FORCED LABOUR & SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS:
Forced labour continues to be a severe problem with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) noting at its International Labour Conference in June this year that “forced recruitment of children and even the use of persons as minesweepers were still in use”.
The ADB’s support for the Burmese regime’s infrastructure projects through the GMS plan will lead to increased human rights violations including forced relocation, confiscation of land and property, extortion, and even extra judicial killings and sexual violence. All these violations have been widely documented in conjunction with various economic and infrastructural development projects conducted by the regime.
In addition, it is likely that forced recruitment of children into the army will increase, to meet the need for more security on such projects.
The ADB should fully engage with Burma when there is a government which truly represents the will of the people of Burma, a government that is committed to the principles of accountability and transparency.
If the ADB rushes into Burma, and uses GMS projects as a “backdoor” to Burma, it risks being connected to human rights violations and transnational crime.
In the meantime, the ADB should consult and meet regularly with elected members of parliament especially those of the National League for Democracy (NLD) which won the 1990 election with 82% of the vote. The ADB should also consult and maintain contact with the NCUB, an umbrella organisation that fulfils a vital role to link 30 organisations form Burma with the international community.