Govt and Donors Forge Aid Plans for Burma

By Paul Vrieze, Reform 22 January 2013

While the Kachin conflict raged on this weekend, hundreds of representatives of the international community met with Burma’s President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw to sign an agreement that outlines how international donor aid will flow into Burma in coming years.

At the first ever Myanmar Development Cooperation Forum on Sunday, the government and donor countries, aid agencies and international development banks signed the so-called Naypyidaw Accord, a non-binding agreement that sets out guidelines on government-donor cooperation.

The 5-page Naypyidaw Accord, posted on the President’s Office website, lists a number of obligations for both the government and donors as they implement the government’s reform policies and aid projects.

The government for instance, agrees to maintain a high-level dialogue with the donors about its national and regional development policies. It also promises to strengthen the rule of law, respect human rights, improve public administration, and include civil society organizations in the government decision-making process.

Donors for their part agree to “align assistance” projects with the government policies that cover fields such as education, health, poverty reduction and economic development.

The accord did not make any specific mention of the role of ethnic groups in future government-donor cooperation, other than stipulating that the government would “engage strongly… in participatory approaches, including providing a greater voice to women, minorities and marginalized people.”

Following the political reforms introduced by President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government since 2011, the international community has been keen to reestablish diplomatic relations with Burma, set up local aid programs and provide loans.

As it reengages with Burma, the international community is expected to start spending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in the country every year. Such massive aid flows are normal in many other developing countries, but Burma was cut off from this support as international donors snubbed the country’s previous repressive military regime.

Steve Marshall, the International Labor Organization’s liason officer in Burma, said the Naypyidaw Accord would help ensure good coordination between government policies and donor projects as foreign aid begins to flow into Burma.

“This is basically about trying to ensure that there is added value to the aid cooperation and we get a better return on the aid dollars” being spent, he said by telephone from Naypyidaw on Monday. “These principles are being applied elsewhere in developing countries too,” he added.

At the meeting, the government outlined its broad reform plans for the coming years in its Framework for Economic and Social Reforms, which was presented to donors. A copy of the document was not immediately available.

President Thein Sein told the meeting these reforms would be “people-centered” and focus on “10 priority areas such as finance and revenue, relaxation of restrictions on trade and foreign investment, development of the private sector, education and health sectors, food security and development of the agricultural sector, transparency in government, the mobile phone and internet systems, and development of the basic infrastructure.”

But at the forum on Sunday the raging Kachin conflict was the elephant in the room, and in front of the assembled international diplomats and aid workers, Thein Sein took a moment to cast the blame for the conflict on the Kachin rebels.

“I have ordered the Tatmadaw [Burmes army]… to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. I want to note that [Kachin Independence Organization] will need to reciprocate in a similar way,” he said.

Over the weekend in northern Kachin State meanwhile, The Irrawaddy observed repeated government attacks on a Kachin-held mountaintop.