Opinion: President must end corruption for real reform in Burma
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Opinion: President must end corruption for real reform in Burma

Burma President Thein Sein visited Chin State at the weekend where he called on government executives to amend their way of thinking and embrace democracy, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

He said the objective of the government is peace and stability of the State protected by the rule of law. The country needs peace and stability to stand tall on the international stage by means of improving the socio-economic condition of the citizens. Lower authorities of the governmental organs are to accomplish their duties with a sense of responsibility, loyalty and honesty to guarantee efficiency of the governance, the President said.

Chin State is the poorest area of the country with 73.3% per cent of residents living below the poverty line according to data collected by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2009-2010. The region was ignored by consecutive regimes without giving support to the infrastructural growth and social welfare of this region.

Talk of reform has little affect at  grassroots since farmers and workers are in despair because their land and properties have been unlawfully confiscated by the military, local authorities and government cronies. As a result, the area is suffering severe unemployment in a country where five million unemployed citizens have already emigrated to neighboring countries in search of work. Most of the Chin migrants are in India and Malaysia due to unemployment and food shortage problems in Chin State.

Burma remains one of the world’s least developed countries, and was ranked 149 out of 187 countries in the 2011 UN’s Human Development Index. The HDI represents a push for a broader definition of well-being and provides a composite measure of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income.

Burma was ranked 172 out of 176 along with the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index in 2012 – fifth from bottom above Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.

“It takes time for people’s behaviour to change and even more for perceptions to then change as well, especially in a place like Myanmar where these reforms are still very new,” Samantha Grant, TI’s Programme Coordinator for Southeast Asia, told AlertNet (Thomson Reuters Foundation) via an e-mail interview.

Words alone are not enough, said Grant. High-quality legislation that closes opportunities for impunity needs to introduced and implemented effectively. “Despite signing the UNCAC (United Nations Convention against Corruption), it is the only country in ASEAN which has not yet ratified it,” she said.

“To improve its score in 2013, Myanmar will need to continue with genuine reforms and we will need to see consistent political will from the top,” she added. “These processes do take time and Myanmar will need all the support it can get.” TI hopes to work with people in Myanmar to support these efforts.

So, President Thein Sein should be aware of Samantha Grant’s advice – “Words alone are not enough.” The first thing he has to do is to fight against corruption that is entrenched at every level of government. No reform can succeed without eliminating corruption.