Reply to U Myint, presidential economic advisor (2)

Writer: 
Nay Htun Naing

Dear Saya U Myint,

I believe you have read the first reply to you titled “Reply to U Myint (1)” printed on the April 8 issue of the Daily Eleven. This is the second part of my reply.

 

(1)

I apologize if I meant disrespect in the first part of my reply.

To tell the truth, there are many difficulties in our country. Among over 50 million population, less than 1 million are free from the difficulties. People are struggling for their daily lives. They are trapped between poverty and the loss of future.

Therefore, it is easy to explode into their emotions. My emotions ruled me while penning the reply to your letter. I could not help it. The reason is I had expected too much from you.

If I had grown up in Thailand, I do not think I will say something like that. I want you to take account of the feelings of the younger people.

You need to know the lives of the youths and the situations of the public suffering from poverty. The elites surrounding you will not be able to tell the real situation.

Especially, please do not listen to the people from the elite class who can spend millions of kyats. They are surrounding you. 

Forget their opinions.

Talk to the young people who are supporting themselves. Take note of the people on the streets. Listen to them. Do not be busy spending time with the elites unless you want to become distant from the young generations.

I will point out the mistakes from your comments contained in your open letter.

 

(2)

We might have different basic views. You defended and stood up for President Thein Sein, his advisors and his government. I stand for the people who are facing financial crisis and will suffer from the economic collapse.

Even in the fundamental grounds, we are opposite. We have different opinions. Another fact to be noted is you are an economic expert and have better knowledge about economy. I give up to argue on the professional terms. However, how we approach to the struggling public can be argued.

In the article titled “Would Myanmar plunge deeper into recession?”, I wrote “If the Myanmar economy collapses in 2015, President Thein Sein and his government are the first to blame. The second most responsible people are the presidential advisors”.

You replied “In going through your article I get a feeling that you think the country will be better off if the U Thein Sein’s government and its advisers are removed from office. Speaking for myself and on behalf of my four fellow economic advisers, if you think we are ineffective and should be removed, especially in thinking about make-up of the next administration, I would be interested if you could give me five names that meet your expectation of who you consider will be good economic advisers”.

In the article, I implied the accountability of the government. If there is a crisis or problem, they should take accountability and responsibility. I am not asking you to resign. However, you mentioned ‘to name five people to replace you’.

I am a journalist and I am doing a journalist’s work. In the first part of my reply, I explained how I did it.

After reading your letter, however, I feel sorry for the other economists in the country because the comments in your letter seems to reflect the sentiment that ‘we are the best and no one is smarter than us’. I am not a better economist than you and you can stress the point. However, I feel bad to know that you are also implying to be better than any other economists in the country.

To be blunt, there may be people who claim to be economists around you. You cannot compare them to the others. But I wish you know why those economists become servents of dictatorship.

Moreover, do you know that some of the economic advisors, members of economic social advising council and some businessmen gained opportunities and benefits? If you do not know the facts, we cannot argue anymore.

 

(3)

 According to the data we have obtained and by looking at the situation of the countrymen, President Thein Sein’s poverty eradication projects are unyielding like the Pyi Taw Thar program from The Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League era or the economist system of socialist era. It is true they are unsuccessful.

You have submitted a report during a poverty eradication meeting in May 2011 which the president initiated.

But you will know best if the Thein Sein administration followed the recommendations in your report. In any cases, you tried to recuperate the country’s economy and eradicate poverty. You have submitted reports.

You have to admit that the success did not meet your expectations and it is not enough.

I also pointed out there are waste of budget and corruption in the government. I did not see a comment on that fact.

I am saying this because you have written reports on anti-corruption.

In a workshop on national economic development on August 2010, you submitted a report on corruption, the contributing factors, and measures against it. Are your measures successful?

You have also submitted another report on 8888 democratic movement anniversary: current business affairs and speculations on the future journey. How much of the report is implemented so far?

Four or five years is enough. I am not saying to fix everything destroyed under sixty years of authoritarian rule. You need to state how much you have achieved and how much you could not. Your assessments should be independent from government’s influence. As a journalist, I cannot achieve that far only by looking at the data and statistics.

 

(4)

In your comment [u1], you pointed out a sentence from my article “The opposition has the duty to alarm the government”. You commented “I believe the main aim of an opposition is to defeat the regime in power through free and fair elections. I have difficulty in understanding what is meant by an opposition’s “duty to alarm” the government. Please explain. I hope it does not mean that an opposition has duty to overthrow the government by inciting violence, civil disobedience and social unrest. These will have tragic consequences on the people of Myanmar”.

What I refer by opposition is National League for Democracy (NLD). They should get involved in economic and social issues not just political. Since NLD is already in the parliament, they should alarm the misconducts of the government in the parliament—that is the meaning of the sentence in my article. I am not urging them to rally people on the street.

However, Sayar. Millions of people are living in poverty. Their main problem is economic difficulties. Everyone knows that. There are sensitive since there are living their lives on expectations and hopes. If possible, they might want to flood the streets just like the 1988 movement. But they cannot; they dare not. Their difficulties and problems in their daily lives suppress their desire to protest. It is not because they are contented that they do not go out on the streets; it is only because they fear to make it worse.

Theoretically, your saying, “the main aim of an opposition is to defeat the regime in power through free and fair elections”, is right. Even though now is not 1990 nor 2010, the situation is not creditable.

These are replies to your comments [u1], [u2], [u3] and [u4].

 

(5)

The wage for the civil servants increased but ineffective for the lower ranked. The situation for the lower class becomes tighter.  

Since the wages were increased, cost of products increased and affected private sector workers. Those points that I made were commented by you in section [u5].

Your point is that only after the end of April, when the civil servants first experience the increase, one can analyze the situation and doing so before that is too early. So why not wait?

That point has already been understood fully by the lower class citizens. When the news that public wages will increase erupted, the product prices already rose. As to exactly how much was increased, the government released numbers give the answer. There is no need to go into detail as everyone understands it because everyone is facing this.

I said that since the value of Kyat dropped, imported product prices increased and affected the private sector trading.

Sayagyi replied that if Kyat value dropped, import prices will increase and export prices will decrease. Since the import prices are getting higher, the rate of import will drop and export will rise. If that happens, international trading will not be affected.

I accept your analysis and agree with it. If things went that way, the trade sector will not be damaged.

But Sayagyi – our country is not Japan or South Korea that rely on exports. Our exports are not value added as well. They are natural resources. This year natural gas prices are going to drop. Crops also have limits. Furthermore, the value of Kyat dropping has been four years in a row. In those four years, the fact that import is much higher than our export is something to be concerned about.

Therefore, when our currency is dropping in value, we need to reduce the import. If not necessary, luxury items import should be stopped or reduced. If the luxury items are still going to be imported, there needs to be higher tax rates and a limit. Doing so will automatically reduce the import of luxury products. There will also be higher tax income from the still importing products. Even looking at it from a layman’s point of view, it is obvious.

Also if the necessary imports such as oil, for fuel and domestic usage, goes up in price, it would affect the lower class citizens. 

Why was it not addressed by you?

These are replies to your comments as per [u6], [u12] and [u13].

(6)

In your reply in section [u11], you commented on labor workers demanding a wage increase.

I wrote that the labor workers demanded by protesting that they be paid Ks 1,000 per day, 30,000 per month. You said that it was suspicious. I believe that you have misunderstood. Their monthly salary on average was only Ks 40,000 and maximum 80,000. 

That is why they protested and demanded one day Ks 1,000 which means increment of 30,000 per month. It happened recently at Shwe Pyi Tha Industrial Zone. It was a well-known event since thousands of workers participated in that labor strike.

At that point, Sayagyi present a case of the village of Paung, located at the Mon state at the border to Thailand. The daily wage over there was Ks 5,000 but labor workers were extremely hard to find because the people from that village and the surrounding villages crosses over the border to work.

Sayargyi--- in addition to Mon State, many youth workforce from villages in Kayin State, Ayeyawaddy Region and the central Myanmar have been moving to other countries as migrant workers. You have already known the reason why they move to other countries. I don’t think that they migrate to other countries to get high salaries alone. The government has yet to deal with these problems even though this is time to remedy them.  

You said that it is difficult to find a worker in Mon state even when he or she is paid Ks 5,000 a day. It will be a few days workers earn Ks 5,000 per day. Do you know how many days in a month and how many months in a year will they have to work with this amount? They have to move to Yangon, Mandalay or other countries to find the jobs. Why don’t you talk about people who have to earn their living by working as housemaids, prostitutes and workers in massage parlours and Karaoke lounges?

Do you know that many workers who get a daily pay of Ks 2,000 are asking for pay rise. Such cases are happening in Yangon and its nearby regions.

The recent days, workers from Yeni staged a protest for pay rise as their monthly salary is just Ks 60,000. Owner has told that it can raise Ks 100 a day. And workers can resign from their jobs unless they are satisfied with it. In fact, Ks 100 is not sufficient enough to pay even for bus fares.

As you said, “When factories and businesses are closed, there will be no exploitation of salary. But there will be no employment opportunities. Workers will have to choose whether to lose jobs or to get exploited,” It is not a right solution to the problem.

Sayargyi --- A plan to fix the minimum salary for workers has yet to materialize till now. The conflict between employers and employees and exploitation of workers continue to exist.

I explained the facts about the comments [u8] and [u9] described in your open letter.

(7)

I don’t want to argue with you about the remaining points. You are right about the comment [u15] but I, wrong. But according to the IHLCA’s survey, 26 percent of the country’s total population are living below the poverty line. This shows that your poverty alleviation project did not meet with success.

According to the comment [u16], I am very happy that President Thein Sein, his advisors, the government, parliaments and opposition are not satisfied with the current condition.

I assume that you have confessed that you hold accountability and responsibility for economic matters and management done by your team and the government during the term of President Thein Sein. The cases about you and your team will be investigated and exposed if there is mismanagement in your time.

I would like to point out a crucial point. I am anxious about the present and future of the country if you and the presidential advisors are distant from the on ground situations. I feel sorry for our country.

If possible, next time I would like to hold a live public debate about belongings, businesses of cronies, union ministers, their families, money laundering, misappropriation and the country’s losses, with you or Dr Zaw Oo from your team or both, if the President allow both of you to do so.