Burma

President Outlines Economic Plan in Annual Budget Speech

By Nyein Nyein, Reform 1 April 2013

President Thein Sein outlined his government’s economic plan for the coming year in a radio address on Sunday, during which he also called for communities to work together for peace and stability.

He said cellphone SIM cards will be available at an “affordable price” after the ministry has established regulations governing their use, without specifying how much they will cost.

New infrastructure to cope with the increased demand on networks, including cellphone towers, is already under construction. The cards will be distributed equally to all states and divisions, the President said.

Pensioners and civil servants will also receive an extra 20,000 kyat (US $23) per month in the 2013-2014 budget, a total increase nationally of 385 billion kyat ($445 million). Civil servants’ stipends increased last year by 30,000 kyat ($34).

Farmers’ capital expenditure will be boosted by foreign aid and loans, Thein Sein said, in an attempt to increase crop yields.

The President then turned to the communal violence that has plagued central Burma since late March.

Burma “has experienced economic backwardness due to the absence of peace and stability” and people must avoid violence and law-breaking, which could be dealt through the criminal justice system.

He praised his government for its efforts to end armed conflict in the ethnic areas, but did not mention the ongoing conflict in Kachin State, which has forced about 70,000 Kachin to flee the country into China.

A new, ostensibly civilian government has released more prisoners since it came to office in 2010 on the back of elections orchestrated by the former ruling military junta.

“We have granted amnesty to many prisoners in stages; in addition, we have established a review committee for prisoners in order to grant more amnesties if they are wrongly detained,” he said.

More than 200 political prisoners remain behind bars, although the government does not officially recognize them as “political prisoners” under international definitions.

“The government needs to recognize the existence of the political prisoners,” said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. “And when the government releases the remaining political prisoners, all these political prisoners should be released together under the title of national reconciliation,” he added.

The President’s addresses are getting better and reflecting the public interest, said Bo Kyi, but in reality public services are virtually non-existent.

He added that the government has made no visible progress in attempts to calm the violence, which has seen anti-Muslim mobs rampage through towns and cities, killing scores of people.

“I was surprised to see the security forces, who brutally crackdown on peaceful protesters, just stand by and watch the rioters,” Bo Kyi said.

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