“Supporting Burma/Myanmar’s national reconciliation process:  Challenges and Opportunities”,

Brussels, 5 April 2005


I.                    We shall present our report in two sections

A.                 First I will summarise our methodology and findings on the political, economic and social situation in Burma or Myanmar

B.                 Morten will then present our conclusions and recommendations

C.                 It is for others to judge the value of our report but we trust that it will be considered on its merits

D.                 Policy toward Burma evokes a lot of passion, and rightly so, but we can not let our hearts or, as the Burmese say, our livers, to  rule our heads when it comes to something as important as the security and welfare of 50 million people

E.                  It is also important not to have our analysis clouded by ideologies of the left or right, a desire to score cheap political points, or vindictiveness born of frustration or lack of understanding

II.                 It would be in order to declare my personal interests, if any, in Myanmar and the recommendations which we make

A.                 I can say that there are none

B.                 As my credentials have been questioned in some circles, I should perhaps explain who I am and how I came to write the report with Morten

1.      First, my nationality about which there seems to be some mystery – I was born an American, became an Australian, and since the mid-1980s have been British

2.      My academic career – I have taught at four universities in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom ended my formal academic career as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the UK’s only independent university

3.      I retired in 2000 and since then have been

a.       A very part-time consultant for Premier Oil from mid-2001 to mid-2003 which post-dated by a decade their investment in Myanmar and terminated when they sold out to Petronas

b.      Since then I have been a Visiting Senior Research Fellow for two periods at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore

c.       My primary income is my pension from the Universities Superannuation Fund which prides itself in having no investments in Myanmar

d.      I also received a per diem stipend when I sit as a lay member of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal of the Lord Chancellor’s Department

4.      I have no investments in Myanmar and receive no income from any NGO, agency or business in or involved with Myanmar; not have I been compensated by the EU for my expenses in preparing this report

5.      I have written monographs books on Burma/Myanmar and have edited, co-edited or co-authored seven others on South East Asian politics and history as well as having contributed more than 70 articles to scholarly books and journals

6.      I have visited Myanmar and previously Burma nearly 50 times in the past 30 years for shorter or longer periods of time and have travelled widely in the country; I have met many of the leading political figures in the current political configuration

III.               The terms of reference set by the EU for our report were three fold:

A.                 “To provide an internal assessment of the prospects for national reconciliation under current conditions and assess this against the background of successful transitions in other countries particularly in the region.”

B.                 “To assess whether current EU approaches to encouraging national reconciliation required amending or complementing with other initiatives.”

C.                 “To discuss how EU assistance can be used to support both national reconciliation and human development.” – the main purpose of the discussions to follow in the afternoon

IV.              We prepared the report in Rangoon at a time of particular uncertainty as to the way forward following the purge of General Khin Nyunt and the dismantling of Military Intelligence and the National Intelligence Bureau

A.                 Certain things, however, appeared fairly certain and these remain the same today

B.                 The army government is firmly in power and is unlikely to be toppled in the foreseeable future

C.                 The army has a plan for a political transition which will place it in a dominant position as a result of the constitutional convention which adjourned again last week

D.                 The ethnic minority ceasefire groups reluctantly are cooperating with the army in establishing a new order in Myanmar because of

1.      Both a desire to avoid resumed and futile bloodshed and

2.      A lack of viable alternatives to establishing a modus vivendi with the armed forces

E.                  Neighbouring countries, particularly China and India, will continue to work closely with the military government in Rangoon

F.                  Despite growing criticism of the slowness of the regime’s transition to civilian government and the continued house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the ASEAN governments are unlikely to take any action which would undermine the regime in Rangoon

V.                 Against this gloomy scenario, however, they were some conclusions we reached which provide room within the Common Position for the EU and its humanitarian aid programme to be effective in assisting the development of civil society in the country as a contribution to political change

A.                 Unlike before 1988, there are now NGOs and INGOs operating in the country genuinely separate from the government though of necessity requiring the government’s cooperation

B.                 Also, UN agencies have been able to work effectively in health, education, and agriculture to assist the poorest communities in the country

C.                 Despite the changes in government in October last year, agreements reached and modus vivendi achieved between the authorities and the AID community have been maintained

D.                 The country is now much more physically integrated than in the past as a result of a major infrastructure development programme

E.                  Communication links to neighbouring countries are also much more established allowing for more border trade, tourism and international cooperation

F.                  Despite the maintenance of severe constraints on freedom of expression and information, more news and information about the outside world is now available in the country

VI.              Against these positive developments, however, Myanmar suffers from a number of problems which make a sustainable transition to democratic rule difficult including

A.                 A small middle class which had its assets nationalised under the previous socialist regime and is largely dependent on the government for employment and business opportunities

B.                 A history of 50 years of civil strife between the central government and a plethora of ethnic minorities which only in the last 15 years have reached ceasefire agreements with the government

C.                 The absence of free discussion and debate within the country for more than 50 years often leading to an absence of realistic political discussions now

D.                 Little international leverage over the regime because of the lack of integration of the economy into the world economy – Myanmar’s ratio of trade to GDP in local currently terms must be the lowest in Asia if not the world

VII.            Morten and I share certain assumptions which other analysts of what Myanmar and other transitional or would-be transitional societies also share -- these include, and I quote from the United Nation’s Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Professor Sergio Paulo Pinheiro’s speech last week at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the fact that

A.                 CIVIL SOCIETY IS CRUCIAL  Societies must continue to be empowered to be able to strengthen their economic and social capacity.”

B.                 SUBSTANTIAL POLICY ISSUES MUST BE ADDRESSED TO ENCOURAGE CHANGE  There is a pressing need in Myanmar to embark on a process of structured consultations on substantial policy issues. The normalization of political life would proceed more rapidly if bolder steps were taken with the assistance of the international community and multilateral organisations.”

C.                 ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS WILL BE BETTER GUARANTEED IF MYANMAR IS INTEGRATED INTO THE WORLD ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL SYSTEM  With respect to economic and social rights, there are areas of concern which could be addressed by the Government, economists, political parties and other players, with assistance and advice from the United Nations, international agencies and neighbouring states, thereby paving the way for the integration of Myanmar into international financial and economic structures.”

D.                 A SUCCESSFUL TRANSTION FROM MILITARY RULE REQUIRES AN EFFECTIVE CIVILIAN BUREAUCRACY  I wish to underline the fact that the State apparatus and its agents will not just disappear after the political transition has been completed.  No effective political transition can take place . . . in an administrative vacuum.  As was the case in many democratic transitions in the twentieth century, even subsequent to direct military rule, many State agents and bureaucrats with experience in running the country, including judges, public prosecutors and army officials, will remain in office to prevent instability.”

E.                  NOW IS A TIME FOR BOLD ACTION AS CONDITIONS IN THE COUNTRY ARE DETERIORATING FOR THE LEAST ADVANTAGED  Despite the setbacks, it is more necessary than ever that the international community broadens its vision and not to let its expectations be shattered by frustration.”

F.                  Professor Pinheiro calls for special action to support political reform supported by the international community including civil service reform, privatisation and greater efficiency in the public sector, anti-corruption measures, reforms in education, improvements in health care, demobilisation and integration of former combatants, environmental protection and the creation of safety nets for the poor and disadvantaged

VIII.         Our report is based on two trips to Yangon and a number of conversations with individuals in the government, international agencies and non-governmental organisations plus meetings with ceasefire groups, political parties and their leaders earlier and extensive travel in the country.

IX.              On the political side, we concluded that despite the departure of General Khin Nyunt, the road map process would continue

A.                 However, how long it will take is something that we miss judged as did a number of our informants, some of whom are participants in that process

B.                 The suspension of the convention last Thursday not to be resumed until the end of the year suggests that getting a constitution agreed, written and ratified in a referendum will take longer than we expected

C.                 This, however, does not undermine our conclusions that

1.      The army is firmly in power and faces no serious political opposition

2.      The future of the NLD and its leadership remains greatly constrained

3.      The ceasefire groups and ethnic communities will remain by and large warily cooperative with the government

4.      The international situation surrounding Myanmar is unlikely to change substantially

X.                 This depressing scenario is made even more so when one turns to our conclusions on the socio-economic situation

A.                 A complete and precise analysis is impossible because of the absence of reliable data

B.                 But general economic trends are apparent as are the social consequences of them

C.                 The economy has now ceased to grow and the poorest are those who are suffering most from this situation

D.                 The causes of the lack of growth are not hard to identify

1.      The first and most obvious is the government’s own miserable economic management --- ad hocery and self-delusion too often pass for policy and analysis in top government circles

2.      This is facilitated by absence of international economic contacts which could force sanity onto policy makers

E.                  The social implications of this situation are stark

1.      Under increasing pressure, the poorest sectors of society are forced to adopt coping mechanisms which are leading to a run down of assets for the future

2.      These included selling assets, cutting meals, leaving school, all of which further contribute to their vulnerability

3.      At least at least one third and perhaps half of the population are living below minimum subsistence levels; conditions are worst in areas of conflict or previously of conflict, as well as peri-urban areas and the central dry zone

4.      Food security is becoming a problem in some areas as insufficient protein, micro-nutrients and energy food is consumed

5.      Malnutrition particularly amongst the youngest children is a growing problem

6.      Communicable diseases such as TB, HIV/AIDs, Malaria are growing problems which is well documented

7.      Sadly, for a country which once prided itself on its high literacy rates, educational standards are falling and now more than 50 per cent of children do not complete five years of basic schooling

XI.              The root of these problems are to be found in serious structural weaknesses

A.                 A traditional, agricultural economy for the majority

B.                 Weak linkages to the international economy

C.                 Weak state finances and low rates of tax collection leading to forms of “informal” taxation and corruption

D.                 Rudimentary banking system

E.                  Weak manufacturing base

F.                  Declining natural resource base – soil deterioration, logging and mining

G.                 Multiple exchange rate regime

H.                 Chronic high inflation fuelled by the printing of money to cover government expenditures

I.                    Widespread un- and under-employment

J.                   Weak and underfunded education and health systems

XII.            Even if the military were to hand over power tomorrow to a civilian government which re-oriented priorities away from defence to addressing these problems, the magnitude of these issues is so great that international assistance is required; indeed, now is the time to address these problems so they do not overwhelm the possibilities of substantial change in the future

A.                 International assistance it is required now in order to make a new regime viable as well as addressing the humanitarian issues thrown up by this appalling scene

B.                 As Professor Pinheiro said last week, “I continue to believe that the international community cannot wait for the end of the political transition to cooperate on initiatives aimed at improving the lives of vulnerable persons in Myanmar and to hold the population hostage until the completion of the democratization process.”

C.                 Amongst the human rights that are being denied the people of Myanmar today, one central one is the right to development

D.                 Turn to Morten to discuss possible EU policy and options to consider for the future



1.      People should read the report for what it says and not criticise it for what it does not say.  There is probably a greater meeting of minds between our most vociferous critics and ourselves than they realise.  Twenty five pages was the limit for what we were allowed to right.  We could have written 300 pages and covered everything but many things we have to take us understood by the reader such as the fact that the government is military and not democratic or that human rights abuses occur.  The report was written in the context of the goals of the EU Common Position and is intended to make their achievement more realisable.

2.      The point made by one of the participants in the audience that reconciliation must proceed democratisation or the latter will fail is an important one.

3.      Forced labour and other issues were not mentioned in the report because that was not our remit; we assumed, perhaps erroneously or naively, that readers would understand that was understood.

4.      The next time I am asked to write a report, assuming there is one, I will publish it under a pseudonym so that people will read what it says, rather than what they think it says.