Some say that the economic policies of the National League for Democracy (NLD) are too general and have imperfections. What do you think? Will these policies improve economic growth?
The NLD is far from operating smoothly in all fields. The new government has emergencies to handle in order to govern well in the long run. The economic prospects might not look good now, but the government has just come in to power and because of the long water festival holiday, I don’t think the outline of its policies will become clear until early May. I see [the government] making preparations to achieve the best results over the next five years.
In which sectors do you think the new government should introduce reforms?
Since we are an agro-based economy, I want the new government to adopt better policies [in the agricultural sector]. I met the minister of agriculture and irrigation a few days ago and I stressed the importance of having good agricultural policies in order to move forward. I had urged the previous administration to draft a rice policy, but that did not happen.
We also need better financial policies. It is important that the Central Bank has autonomy and that the banking system is strong.
Burma had a budget deficit throughout the previous government’s five-year term. It is estimated that under the new government, the deficit could reach billions [US$]. How should the newly formed Financial Commission handle the deficit?
The government can do something to reduce the deficit, but I don’t think it will decline immediately. Currently, the country’s revenues come mainly from natural resources, and not from manufacturing. We must encourage exports.
Also, the government must develop a policy for the rice trade as soon as possible. We need to trade with other countries. Currently, we legally export rice to China, but the Chinese government does not formally recognize it [it goes unrecorded and is at risk of illegal seizure]. If our government can engage effectively with other Asian governments, we can promote exports and increase trade.
We need to boost exports to reduce the trade deficit. But the previous government’s efforts to increase exports failed. Why?
Boosting exports is a must. It failed to deliver results because of the system and policies at that time. There must be the right people in the right place, with a system and a will to succeed.
There was rampant corruption and red tape in the previous administration. The new government is taking steps to correct this. Can they solve a problem that has been entrenched in our society?
Bribery and corruption seem to be the custom here. It is unlikely that the NLD can fix this problem overnight. If ministers take the lead and encourage their staff to fight corruption, the problem will be solved eventually. The government also needs to look at the reasons for corruption. Some people take bribes for greed; others just to make ends meet. If needs are met, the situation can change.
Although the upper echelons of the government have changed, the same people remain in the lower levels. How easy will it be to work with them?
The current leadership has to show magnanimity. That is why the government has said civil servants do not need to worry as long as they act within the legal framework. I think many [civil servants] want to change and the new government needs to convince them. The government and civil servants will have to work towards reconciliation.
China is facing an economic recession, and Burma’s economy relies heavily on China. How will this impact the country?
It will challenge the new government. China is an emerging power and the previous government had to rely on it heavily. We can’t neglect the importance of China to us geographically.
But China also has its own problems. There are problems that the two sides have to solve together, and ones that can be avoided. The government should explain the situation to the public because it will be difficult for them to understand, and try to avoid friction if possible.
The country’s current economic growth rate is encouraging and international organizations have estimated a good economic growth rate for the country. Are their estimations true?
The previous governments were known for inaccuracies and I doubt their figures are accurate. The figures from international organizations may be closer to the truth, but they may still be off.
The people who are dubbed ‘cronies’ think they will be removed from the US sanction list under the new government. Do you think so?
I want sanctions to be lifted.
These people can be symbols of strength for the country if they have the right attitude. They don’t have to abandon all of their possessions, but I would urge them to serve their own interests and those of the public in a balanced manner. We should rely on them; they have experience building successful businesses.
I was once on the list of cronies. But the term crony is disputable. Some people who aren’t on the list of cronies have more money than those who are.
The government should use the wealthy people in the public interest, but they have to work with them. They should abide by the laws and the government should punish them if they do not. Collaboration is the way forward.
Do you think new cronies will emerge under the NLD government? Have you seen any likely ones?
The Irrawaddy will notice better than me. You have seen who became cronies before and who is trying to show off to the media and engage with the government now. There will be cronies whenever a new government assumes power.