Published on Monday, 26 November 2012 11:39 Written by Than Htut Aung
I have not been writing for sometime. During the past three months, I tried to write something, but torn the paper away, and not a single piece of article is completed. I got some ideas to write when US President Obama visited Myanmar.
Our Myanmar people have been waiting for successive American presidents to visit Myanmar since many years. If we counted back the number of US presidents over the years, we had waited senior Bush for four years, Clinton for eight years, junior Bush for eight years, and Obama for another four years. After the long wait of 24 years, we are now in the international community.
The interest of the United States has now shifted from the Middle East to the Asia and the Pacific Region. Whatever the actual situation may be, I think that the visit of Obama at least indicated that we have escaped and overcome from the status of underdog being bullied and undermined among the neighboring countries. It does not matter what the purpose may be, but finally I am glad that the interest of the United States is here.
When Obama mentioned that the national reconciliation is the key factor to reform, my mind rushed towards Saya Ludu U Sein Win. As Ludu U Sein Win already passed away, I tried to keep away his soul from my mind. However, I think about him when I have to tackle issues, problems and find solutions. Sometimes, I involuntarily dialed his residence phone number 375177.
If Saya U Sein Win is still alive, he is sure to say with a sarcastic smile, “My dear doctor, our unity is to be built by ourselves. He (Obama) knows only the general terms of references. He is not aware of our history and the feeling and suffering of our ethnic national races. Being trapped and spellbound by some lobbyists, the international journalists and the cronies of the American embassy (such as the NGOs, the politicians and the journalists) are sure to feed in the wrong information, misleading the US president Obama to spell out that the Rakhine ethnic nationals burned down the houses of the Bengalis with the intent to drive them away.”
There are some government’s cronies taking advantages from the government and the embassies’ cronies taking rewards from the embassies. Ludu U Sein Win abhorred some NGOs and some journalists close to the embassies for taking unfair advantages, and they usually pointed their fingers at him dubbing as communist. U Sein Win totally does not like China. However, it is not necessarily means that he loved the United States very much.
My close and intimate consultant Ludu U Sein Win is no more in this world. Moreover, soon I am going to loose one more cherished mentor, my beloved father. My dear father is now 78 years old and he is fighting for his life. As he lived his life in Dhamma (religious context) for more than 30 years, he could face and counter the anguish an agony of illness gracefully, but I am loosing my strength as I have no sound advisor to comfort me.
When I think about my father, I need to write something about my country that is relevant with my dad. When I was 14-15 years of age, he was sent to a foreign country (the Philippines) by his department. At that time, going to a foreign country is like hitting a jack-pot. The study period was only one and a half month, but my dad managed in saving money to buy a motor-bike. He could buy not many items. I remember that he bought a Casio brand wristwatch and a few clothing. He did bring in one box of Danish Cookies.
During those hard days of our lives in Myanmar, we had never tasted such cookies among our brothers and sisters. In Myanmar, the socialist system could yield nothing. When I opened the box, I found only 5 to 6 cookies inside.
I asked my dad, “Dad, did you eat the cookies on your way home?”
Dad replied, “No, my son. I was saving cash during my study to buy a motor-bike. I can’t afford to buy such cookies. I asked the remaining cookies in the box from my room-mate (the foreign classmate) to take home to let my children taste the cookies. You know son, we the Myanmar students have no extra cash to spend and we never go out. We remained hungry and drank water. My room-mate offered me to enjoy the cookies. I denied as I could not offer him in return. Near the end of our study, I asked the remaining cookies in the box from my friend for you to taste them.”
My father was right in his saving. I did not even had the chance to glimpse the motor-bike, as we sold it out at kyats forty thousands and bought a small piece of land in civil line area in Mandalay.
When the prices of the real estate in Mandalay skyrocketed around 1988-89, the small land in Mandalay fetched a very good price enabling us to buy two pieces of lands in good locality in Yangon. The miracle of motor-bike changed our lives.
I still remembered what my dad told me.
“When the army intervened into the administration of the country, the prestige and dignity of the nation gradually went down into the drain.”
It was in the year 1978, and that I always have the bitter nostalgic whenever I come across cookie boxes.
When the army staged a coup d’état in 1962, Myanmar was one of the ten wealthiest countries in the Asian continent. Again, when the military took the country under its rule for the second time in 1988, the nation slid down to the fifth place among the poorest. Now, when we ushered into 2012, the country nosedived to the second place among the poorest of poor. The result was the involvement of the army in the administration.
In fact, either Saya Ludu U Sein Win or my dad did not hate the military. U Sein Win often said that he was fighting the military tyranny system, but not the army. He said that people must understand what might have happened to the country if there is no strong army in a country like Myanmar. However, they always said that the army must be distanced with the politics and the administration.
Although my dad was a civilian officer in the government forest department, he attended military officer course at Bahtoo Military Academy in upper Myanmar for six months, maintaining associates and friends with the army officers and great attachment to the military.
When the leaders of the army were good and honest and have empathy, the civilian officers could not come up on a par with them.
One evening, while my dad was in the army officer training course, he returned back to the unit from the outside, a bit intoxicated. When the happy group saw the car of the Commandant coming in, they were alarmed. Unfortunately, they were standing right on the spot where the Chief Officer’s car used to park. However, the Commandant turned his car to other parking lot as he did not have the desire to punish the young cadets. The Commandant was Lieutenant Colonel Tin Oo, now the National League for Democracy patron U Tin Oo.
Before U Thein Sein was officially appointed as the President of the country, I told my father, “Dad, the young commanding officer (Lieutenant Colonel Thein Sein) that you often referred is going to be appointed as the President.”
My dad remarked, “When he is entrusted with authority and power, he knows that the country needed to be changed. There will be changes. He is a good natured person.”
The key element to national reconciliation is the army. The army is involved in the nation’s administration according to the 2008 State Constitution. However, they have no empathy and understanding at all to the suffering of the ethnic national races for over 60 years of civil war.
The misinterpretation and misleading notions such as “The principle of federalism could lead the disintegration of the country and that the politicians must never be relied upon as they are always splitting and dividing” were used on their own agenda in the past under the authoritarian regime, leaving the gap like a deep valley between the people including the ethnic national races on one hand and the army on the other. In ground reality, the aspiration and desire of the ethnic national races is the equality and genuine federal union which is the only pathway for the peace and tranquility of the country.
Amending the State Constitution is the main element for the national reconciliation. It is necessary to discuss in the parliaments, among the armed forces, the national races, the media, and the people on the themes such as why it should be amended, at what time it should be amended, which sections to be mended before the year 2015, and moreover which points to be amended later years. As U Khun Tun Oo of SNLD suggested we must take up thirty per cent or forty per cent as much as we could in he parliaments. Furthermore, the deliberations should be included with compromise on the issues that we could not address for many years.
In fact, there are many hurdles to overcome for the reforms in Myanmar. In the democratic reform, it is not enough just to avoid the backsliding. Suppose, if we stopped at a juncture, then we are sure to stumble down. There are people at every corner wishing to make a regress, just smiling with ill intent, in half-baked democracy.
As it is not possible to implement the projects in the Chinese pattern, they are attempting to go ahead in the blueprint of Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, and other Asian democratic prototype.
The democratic reform of Myanmar could not be compared with the South African modality. Following the steps of African National Council, the NLD could never build up its strength with different and diverse groups. We need to be broad minded. There are no strategic missions and visions like ANC within the NLD.
After the death of Yasser Arafat, the trail and passageway for the independent of Palestine was lost in the wilderness. It is necessary to study the phenomenon and process of the hard line stance of the Hamas group and the lesser vision of Mahmoud Abbas.
We must never forget the bitter period and events that occurred during 2000 -2010 period such as the mass detention of main opposition leaders and the members, the deep silence of all the peace groups including the KIA, and the living with fear of all the activists including us. At that juncture, we must not forget that the only hope is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
When we projected the future scenario beyond 2020 in the post-period of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, it is not possible just to rely over the development of the political parties. In other words, it may not be possible just to rely on the leadership of the political leaders. We must pay attention on that possible scenario.
If the political forces are not in the position to change the country, then it is necessary to construct the basic democratic structures with utmost patience.
The speech of Obama contained many pragmatic advices for our reforms.
While we are demanding the democratic rights and implementing the basic steps for amending the state constitution, we must carry out the following.
(1) We must strengthen the civil societies including the media.
(2) We must develop and expand the middle class. In other words, we must create the economy that has a mechanism which controls the gap between the rich and the poor.
Regarding the above point (1), I intend to discuss in details in my next article.
In creating an economy that develop and expand the middle class, the following are to be observed.
• It is necessary to take deterrent steps in fading out the crony class in the country. At the same time, the Myanmar Investment Commission under the government and all the relevant economic ministries and departments must work in transparent manner.
• It is necessary to reduce the briery and corruption in all the departments.
• The most vital measure is to adopt a system in the collection of all types of tax and revenue. The imperative and crucial task is to strictly unveil the tax evasive cronies in the country.
At the end of the historic visit of President Obama, we have observed and noticed the following statistics.
• The historic aids and assistance of the United States amounting $170 million.
• The obvious and apparent understanding as the brokerage charges over the controversial Letpadantaung Copper Mine amounting $100 million.
• The investment of China Wanbao Company amounting $1 billion.
• The total expected production value of the Letpadantaung Copper Mine amounting to $46 billion.
• The estimated welfare funds towards the local residents amounting to $1.2 million.
• The intended compensation for the farmers amounting to $600 based on one acre rate.
The following are the critical questions to be directed to concerned organizations.
• In what way and manner had the Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited taken up the profits and benefits from the controversial copper mine?
• What were the share and ratio of the estimated production?
• What was the tax and revenue paid to the government?
The above statistic is not fair and could not be justified to the state. It is not reasonable toward the people. It is not possible to “stop” the project at this stage in the backdrop of the relations between Myanmar and China. It is necessary to consider in the context of international relations. There are long standing issues such as Kachin as well as UWSA to be considered.
In the time of the previous government related with the economic dealings with the Chinese government, the heavy losses (debts) were sustained by the ministries namely Industry (1), Industry (2), Electric Power (1), Mining, and Energy.
The follow up problems in the context of heavy losses could not be settled so far. Even, the cases of losses are considered as “let it be”, the situation would never subside as the cronies as well as the Myanmar Investment Commission are all mixed up in the scandals.
These cronies have the practice of exploiting all the times taking high privileges in the past. And now they just registered with the Myanmar Investment Commission for the new projects, but never submit the evidences for the paid tax and revenues. They enjoyed tax exemption and tax holidays for five years for the machinery they brought in.
It is entirely not fair.
The situation hurts badly to the country.
What is to be done is to charge proper tax and revenue to the cronies.
That is why we want the correct information from the Myanmar Investment Commission with concrete contract documents on the economic projects.
Moreover, the assets and the business owned and operated by the members of the Myanmar Investment Commission must be declared not only to the president but made known to all the public in the whole country.
The documents on the cases of malpractices must not end only at the desk of the president. The cronies in the economic sphere that maintained close relations with the successive governments numbered about 200 only. They must be levied taxes in exemplary way.
In fact, the main essence and soul of a democratic nation is not to discriminate to the citizens in collecting taxes. Proper tax collection is for the proper wealth distribution.
The revenue received in the country is to be handled and utilized by the parliament and the Government. It is to manage and control the gap between the rich and the poor.
At the moment, revenue could be collected less than ten per cent of the actual taxable amount in the whole country.
Most regrettably, the recent case of illegal smuggling of fuel into the country by a renowned crony company has not been probed and exposed by the government. If this case is not properly handled in accordance with the existing law, then the remaining tax payers will strongly criticize over the case.
In the political arena, the influential and charismatic leaders are always surrounded by people. These people are mostly mediocre, second-rated and self-seekers, which is natural phenomenon and quite normal under the circumstances.
The persons in the advisory council are the mega entrepreneurs, and they are expanding businesses. Their wives, their associates and relatives are holding the lucrative businesses. The government is connecting the foreign business of American, Japan and Korean with their close cronies.
Such news and information are not appropriate to be heard.
The national reconciliation is to be implemented with the unity of all concerned. However, the democratic economy based with the expanded middle-class in an environment of narrow gap between the rich and the poor could be created only by the President. The president must take care of this matter.
Despite the fact that my father came from a poor family, he never bows down to unjust treatment. He abhors unfair conduct. He always sided with the righteousness.
Whenever I came across the empty boxes of cookies, I have deep empathy to all the bitter lives of the fathers.
Nothing has changed in Myanmar during these two years. The words dignity of human being is nowhere in the vicious cycle of poverty.
When the political prisoners were released, I told Saya Ludu U Sein Win, “The political climate seems to be in the upbeat soon. Many political leaders have emerged. I wanted to quit from the job of a journalist. Now, I am in the car dealer business. Next, I intend to enter in the construction business. In 2015, I intend to transfer the Eleven Media Group into public private company.”
U Sein Win smiled and said, “I know you will never quit the job. It may not be easy as you have imagined. My dear doctor, you will never discard your obligation under these circumstances.”
Now, I started to realize gradually the smile of Saya Ludu U Sein Win.
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