Ethnic Groups Say Time Has Come To See Detailed Plan For Federal System

By Lawi Weng 12 December 2017

It is time for the Myanmar government and the military to tell the country’s  ethnic groups exactly what type of federal system they can expect to be part of in the future, leaders of the groups said on Tuesday.

The Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC) held a book launch today at Yangon’s Green Hill Hotel, where representatives of the ethnic groups discussed the issue with an audience of about 100 people.

The book, which is an updated conference report outlining federal policies grouped under 11 themes, was released on Tuesday by ENAC, a group working to support the peace process between the armed ethnic organizations and the Myanmar government.

The book is intended to provide suggestions to the government and the military to use in building a federal system.

“You cannot just say we will give you a federal system, because that is very general,” said ENAC director Zo Tum Hmung.

If the armed ethnic groups know in detail what type of democracy they will get, the national peace process can move forward, he said.

The book focuses on the sharing of power between the states and the central government under a federal system.

Political power is not enough enough for the state governments. They should have power to collect tax as well,” Zo Tum Hmung said.

The right to collect tax is a prerequisite for any state to develop, he said. But, looking at the ethnic states, they are very poorly developed, as they did not have the right to raise revenue via taxation. At present, only the central government has the power to collect tax.

The ENAC report recommends that states should get 70 percent of tax collected locally, with the other 30 percent going to the central government.

“Some people may think the central government should get more than 30 percent, but there are many alternative areas where the central government could raise taxes such as from property, trading and other activities,” said Nai Pon Nya Mon, deputy executive director of ENAC.

ENAC had done workshops in many ethnic states including those with armed groups, and with political parties and civil society organizations (CSOs) in different townships. It found many were in agreement on sharing tax revenues based on a 70/30 split between the states and the central government.

Myanmar has effectively been in a state of civil war for over 60 years, especially in the ethnic states, which has left many of them poor and undeveloped. The book suggested the central government give states such Chin and Rakhine five years to develop without asking for any share of tax revenues.

“Chin state is the poorest. The second is Rakhine,” said Zo Tum Hmung.

“The central government should share more revenue with the Chin as we are poor,” he said.

The time has come for the government and the military to listen to the voices of the ethnic people if they wanted to solve the political conflicts in the country, the ethnic leaders said.

“It is a disease,”said Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary of the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), who also spoke at the press conference.

“This disease has spread to the mainland now. It is time to take medicine to treat this ailment (meaning the central government should listen to the ethnic groups).”

The heads of the states and divisions know what they need to do to promote reform in their areas, the ENAC officials said. But, they do not currently have the legal backing to do it. That power rests with the central government.

ENAC project officer Nai Banya Mon gave as an example the case of a copper mine in Letpadaung in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region.

The central government approved the mine project despite the opposition of local people.

“If the regional government had power, they may know how to solve this problem. But, this project was approved by the central government, so they could do nothing,” he said.

The leaders of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) endorsed the book’s 11 sections on how to build a better federal structure.

“If the government accepts our suggestions and discusses them at the upcoming Panglong conference, the peace process can move forward,” said Zo Tum Hmung

There are two paths that lead to reform in the country. One is to fight for rights inside Parliament. The other is to include the rights battle within the peace process. But, the peace process is almost dead in the country, speakers at the book launch said.

Myanmar has now moved into the second generation of reform, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government succeeding the U Thein Sein administration. But, the current government still has not mentioned what type of democracy it will give the ethnic groups.

As for the federal system, there is still no plan ready to be implemented despite two reformist governments taking power.

“We do not see any progress toward a federal system from the two governments,” said Zo Tum Hmung.

Mother Tongue Study

Separately, ENAC said all ethnic children should have the right to study in their mother tongue, noting that Mon State had implemented such a program that could serve as a test case.

There are more than 100 ethnic Mon schools run by the Mon National Education Committee and ENAC is working with the MNEC to help implement similar mother tongue programs for other ethnic groups.

The group said the central government needed to provide funds for such studies, including to the MNEC, which faces dire financial difficulties running its own school system.

“All Mon students are citizens of Myanmar. The government should provide a budget for their study,” Nai Pon Nya Mon said.

In Chin, there were no Chin ethnic national schools, according to Zo Tum Hmung.

Under the military regime, ethnic people could not study in their mother tongue. But, since the political reforms began, the government has provided some small space for ethnic people to provide services supporting native language studies.

However, many of the ethnic teachers teaching mother tongue studies faced delays in getting paid, and some ethnic leaders complained the government did not do enough to support these programs.