Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘The Govt Must Review What it has Accomplished in a Year and Accept Criticism’

By The Irrawaddy 1 April 2017

Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss the successes and weaknesses of the National League for Democracy [NLD] government’s policies one year after it took office. Director Dr. Khin Zaw Win of the Tanpadipa Institute and director Ko Thwin Lin Aung of the Genuine People’s Servants [GPS] will join me for the discussion. I’m Irrawaddy English editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.

Ko Khin Zaw Win, it has been one year now since the NLD came to power. We previously held discussions 100 days after it assumed office. This has been one year of an elected government, one year since military regimes or quasi-civilian governments have ceased. What do you think about where Burma stands today?

Khin Zaw Win: To assess how deeply the NLD has connected with the people, to what it extent is can accomplish its policies with public cooperation and how much it has readied itself in this period, I would say that overall performance it not very satisfactory. According to the Constitution, the government’s term is five years, and it has now been one year. One hundred days after taking office, [the government] claimed that 100 days was too short a period [to achieve certain goals].  The government must review what it has accomplished in a year and must accept criticism [about its performance during the year]. We hope that it will make necessary adjustments and turn itself into a capable government that can serve the interests of the country.

KZM: Ko Thwin Lin Aung, as Ko Khin Zaw Win has pointed out, there is frustration among the people. But on the other hand, the NLD government has said it is not a corrupt government, which is true. The previous governments in successive periods were corrupt, and in terms of mismanagement, they were far worse than the NLD. Considering this, what policies of this government do you think are right and which are wrong?

Thwin Lin Aung: My view is that there is no corruption in high-level positions. It is obvious that those appointed by the NLD are not corrupt. But in reality, there has been no significant change in the bureaucracy in the lower echelon. And so far, we have not seen any clear policy to address this.

We have an anti-corruption law, which requires lawmakers to declare their property. But lawmakers fail to do so. I’m deeply disappointed with this. Ko Kyaw Zaw Moe mentioned that the military regime was replaced by the NLD government. But to me, it has not ceased existing. Everyone can see that a large part [of the military regime] still remains in the NLD government. In some cases where the NLD cannot forcibly make change, it should present itself as a role model so that in the eyes of the public, the other side’s resistance to change will become blatantly obvious.

In fighting corruption, lawmakers should have acted as role models and clearly declared their possessions, but they didn’t. Consequently, bureaucrats in the lower echelon did not bother to change. This is one example regarding fighting corruption, but the same pattern takes place in many other fields.

Let me bring up physics here. The government is doing many things, but what is the success rate? It is quite low for a year. For example, regarding the peace process, the government is working hard, but has achieved little so far.

Talking of our civil society organizations’ [CSOs] frustrations, I think the government has failed to stand on its own in some cases. In the peace process, the government should have adopted its own policies and appointed its own people. We want the government to do so. Maybe, it uses [the same peace negotiators as the previous government] in order to achieve national reconciliation. But then, it is like you have bought a bus, but the driver and conductor worked for the previous owner, and they don’t want to drive to the places you want to go.

KZM: What do you think are the biggest challenges for the new government?

TLA: After the NLD won the election in 2015, we CSOs and other [political] forces knew that it was not a complete victory. We predicted that there would be big challenges because we knew that the 2008 Constitution did not allow the NLD to control the entire political landscape. As I have mentioned, the challenge is within the government as the defense, home affairs and border affairs ministries are controlled by the military and we predicted that this would be a big challenge.

Again, most of the bureaucrats in the lower echelon of the government are ex-military personnel, and we predicted that this would also be a big challenge. We predicted that the other side would create a lot of trouble and the NLD would have to face them. The opposition will try to put their party back into power in 2020. So, we envisaged that the remaining forces, CSOs, and the NLD would have to stand together should such things happen. And such things did happen. But, the NLD did not stand with us. We found something in the NLD – some call it Stockholm syndrome. Anyway, it has the same essence. It is the major weakness.

It seems that the NLD sees the 2015 election as its victory. And it is very concerned that that victory will be affected. The NLD views its victory like the French Revolution. In fact, the French Revolution was more successful. It had 100 percent success. But as the NLD is overly concerned [about its victory], it dare not trust CSOs or other forces.

And [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] dare not have faith in the capacity of her cabinet members. Though the state counselor has appointed them, she is concerned about whether they are capable or not, and she works on their behalf. Though she does all this with good intent, it is a huge burden for her considering her age. So, there is little progress. There were many planned works in all sectors in the first 100 days. But the only sector that is active since then is the peace process, in which the state counselor is taking part. Other sectors are making less progress. These are the weak points.

KZM: The NLD has four years until its term ends. Which policies should it focus on? Ko Thwin Lwin Aung suggested that it should cooperate with people who have supported it, as well as CSOs and allies since 1988. In his inaugural address on March 30, President U Htin Kyaw mainly talked about national reconciliation, internal peace, a Constitution that creates a federal Union and improvement of people’s living standards. What should the government do to achieve these goals in the next four years?

KZW: It is critically important. Ko Thwin Lin Aung has also highlighted it. Pro-democracy forces have real goodwill toward Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. They want to take part and lend a hand, but not because of potential gains. However, the NLD doesn’t accept it.

Take a look at the 88 Generation [students]. The NLD worked closely with them at first, but did not choose them as candidates when the election drew near. The NLD led the pro-democracy movement and spoke of all-inclusion [but it did not keep its word]. A political party should not do that. It appointed individual ethnic politicians to the government and the Parliament. But it is fairly weak in maintaining ties with ethnic political parties.

[Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] now even refuses to receive the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, which has been the NLD’s close ally since 1988. That’s bad. The by-election is just days away, and I think there are eight vacant seats in Shan State. That is a problem. This [the NLD’s ties with ethnic parties] greatly impacts the peace process, and the NLD has to take this into serious consideration.

To answer your question Ko Kyaw Zwa, there is a need for inclusiveness generally. Even if it does not give the allies seats in Parliament, it must meet and consult with them. This is not difficult. Again, the NLD government has President U Htin Kyaw, and he should be assigned more duties. He has presidential power, and he should be allowed to do what he can. This is an important point for the NLD.

KZM: Ko Thwin Lin Aung, as you have said, the military holds the grip on three ministries and is involved in the administrative mechanism. It is also a key player in the peace process. We don’t know if the peace process has reached an impasse because of the government’s policies or the army’s policies. The six-point peace policy of the army is an important factor. These things can’t be changed immediately. Setting these things aside, there are many other things that can be done. The government has large control over the administrative mechanism. What approaches should it take to make other changes, regarding the economy for instance?

TLA: The NLD has talked about making changes. In considering making changes, it should think about it two ways. The first is to make changes that are easier—changes that can be made without offending the 2008 Constitution and the army, but are beneficial to the people and can be made by taking advantage of its majority in Parliament.

Another way is changes that can only be done by offending the 2008 Constitution and the army. The NLD should have thought about what it should deal with first. As it has chosen the peace process first, it has touched a landscape in which the army is a key player. It has to take risks to do difficult things. The army will not like certain things, and the NLD has to hold its ground and convince the army that people really want it. But if it is not convenient for the NLD to take the risk, it should engage in easier fields that do not concern key players.

It should engage in things that it could change by taking advantage of its dominance in Parliament. But, it has focused on peace since it came to power. There is a big barrier, and we don’t know how it analyzes that barrier. Maybe it thought that it could break down the barrier. But, reality was far from its expectations and circumstances are pushing it to take risks now. We have to wait and see if it will do so. I want the NLD to stand together with CSOs and other forces if it has to take risks.

To give you the most significant example of the risks it has taken previously, it adopted a roadmap and then a policy regarding provisions of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement [NCA]. It was really good, and I really like it. The previous government and the army included vague provisions in the NCA, but the NLD made them clear and said that the 2008 Constitution would be changed and the next election would be held under the new constitution. But the NLD only said this once, and after the army implied that it was angry, it was not said again.

If this is the case, the NLD should not engage in that field. It should handle fields that are more subtle and carry fewer risks. There are such fields that the NLD can engage in though there will be more or less impact on the army. It should do things like transferring the GAD [General Administration Department] to another ministry [from the Home Affairs Ministry].

KZM: Ko Thwin Lin Aung has made suggestions. Ko Khin Zaw Win, what do you think the elected government should do to achieve greater success and to address dissatisfaction in the next four years?

KZW: While it should continue its focus on the peace process, it should carefully handle the economy this year. The NLD government has hired [economic] experts. People were taken aback by the NLD’s 12-point economic policy and wondered what went wrong. The World Bank and the IMF also held talks with the government, and provided advice. It should seriously focus on the economy this year. This is critically important.

KZM: Ko Khin Zaw Win, Ko Thwin Lin Aung, thank you for your contribution. The government has a lot of challenges to face to achieve success in economic, political and other fields. People will wait and see its performance in the coming years. Thank you all!