The military’s opposition to constitutional amendments, recently shot down in Burma’s Parliament, may harm efforts to conclude a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic armed groups and could undermine trust between the government and the international community, who have closely watched the reform process under President Thein Sein.
This is the view of various lawmakers who, speaking during recent parliamentary deliberations, have said that broader reforms will not go further without the support of the Burma Army to amend parts of the military-drafted 2008 charter.
Only constitutional change will demonstrate that the military and the government are genuine about instituting a democratic, federal system in the country which provides for the full rights of all ethnic nationalities.
Many MPs, including Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) members, supported amending several articles, including article 436 which states that key amendments to the charter require the support of 75 percent of the Parliament.
“Without supporting votes from [military MPs], we could not reach the 75 percent [threshold] to amend the article. We cannot amend the constitution if they keep blocking it in parliament,” said Pe Than of the Arakan National Party.
The government claims to support the establishment of a federal system, but this requires acknowledging the rights and views of ethnic people, including those ethnic parliamentarians calling for constitutional change.
The vetoing of key changes to the nation’s charter could have far-reaching ramifications for the ongoing peace process which the incumbent government is desperate to finalize before the end of its term in office.
“The leaders of ethnic armed groups will not have trust in the army or parliament anymore,” said Pe Than, adding that this waning trust could make it difficult to conclude a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
“I feel that [military lawmakers] are sitting in parliament to protect their constitution. We cannot amend their constitution unless they allow us to do it. This will only lead to [cementing] military dictatorship in this country while the democratic system fades,” he said.
This reporter believes that the Burma Army should focus on protecting the country’s security, not intervening in politics, and should set a time frame outlining their withdrawal from the political stage. There are enough challenges in reforming this country without the military flexing its muscle in parliament.
Min Oo, a National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker from Pegu Division, voiced concerns over the army’s latest legislative intervention while addressing a parliamentary session on Thursday.
“I am concerned that the image of the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] will fade if the Constitution is not amended. We have seen that the Tatmadaw has more power than other lawmakers and civil servants in the country. This is why this [article 436] should be amended,” he said.
“If the Tatmadaw wants respect from the people, it should not take more power than the people. They should demonstrate that the army and civilians have equal rights.”
Some proposed constitutional amendments do appear to enjoy at least a level of support among the ruling USDP. Speaking in parliament on Thursday, USDP lawmaker Aung Thein Lin said his party supported amending article 262, to allow elected parliamentarians in states and divisions to select their own chief ministers.
“Ethnic [nationalities] want their own people to run their region. But [at present] the president can appoint his own minister to run their regions. Our party has proposed to amend this article in order to have peace,” Aung Thein Lin said.
NLD MP Khin Mwe Lwin said amending some sections of the constitution was the only path to achieving true democracy in the country. Amendments, in turn, the MP said, could enhance trust between Burma and the international community and attract more aid and investment.
For Pe Than, the sooner the unelected military bloc of MPs exits parliament, the better.
“If they keep blocking amendments to the constitution in parliament, people will run out of patience,” he said. “They blocked all [the clauses] we tried to amend, so there is no road to reform. Our people have no trust in them.”
Well-known Actress, Su Pann Htwar and her husband Okkar Kyaw held their wedding donation at Maha Si Buddhist Religious Center in Yangon by offering food, robe & cash to Buddhist Monks for blessing their marriage, on July 3, 2015. Couple also treated friends & family members to a delicious breakfast. Su Pann Htwar & Okkar Kyaw held their wedding reception on March 16, 2015 at the Novotel Hotel in Yangon. Photos by Wai Yan
RANGOON — In a rare interview with Japanese news agency NHK, Burma’s President urged infrastructure investment and indicated that he would consider seeking a second term as head of state.
The comments were made during Thein Sein’s visit to Tokyo to attend the 7th Mekong-Japan Summit.
“I hope Japan will invest actively to improve infrastructure and create jobs in our country,” Thein Sein told NHK, adding that he would consider a second term if that were the will of the people.
NHK World reported on Friday that “Thein Sein indicated that he will seek re-election.”
Burma’s state-run Global New Light of Myanmar provided a lighter take on Friday, reporting that “he placed more emphasis on peace and development than party politics,” and that he would “carry out everything he could for the national interests.”
Burma’s landmark general election is set to place in early November, the first nationwide poll since elections in 2010 that were boycotted by the opposition and largely considered fraudulent.
The newly elected Parliament will nominate a president to take office early next year.
President Thein Sein took office in 2011, and has since led a “reformist” administration through the subsequent transition from military rule to quasi-civilian leadership.
RANGOON — Garment manufacturers in Rangoon announced that they will push back against a minimum wage proposed by the Burmese government, claiming they cannot afford to pay laborers the 3,600 kyats (US$3.24) per eight-hour day recommended by an expert committee.
More than 150 members of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) convened on Thursday to discuss the proposal, which was announced earlier this week by Burma’s National Minimum Wage Committee.
Following two years of research and analysis, the committee settled on the number based on recommendations by both unions and employers against escalating commodity prices in Burma’s emerging market.
Once approved, the wage would apply to all sectors with the exception of small and family-owned businesses employing less than 15 people.
The committee’s memo, published in state media, invited individuals and organizations to submit appeals and recommendations within two weeks, after which a stakeholder meeting will be held before a wage is officially enacted.
The MGMA members, a mix of mostly South Korean, Chinese and a handful of Burmese factory owners told reporters that they plan to formally oppose the proposal and submit an alternative offer of 2,500 kyats per day for all those working in the cutting, measuring and packaging (CMP) industry.
Khaing Khaing Nwe, the secretary of MGMA, said employers in CMP would agree to gradually increasing the wage to 3,600 kyats over the coming years if manufacturers find that they can support the raise.
“As we get paid for the job when it’s done,” she said, “we can’t afford to raise the price of the product. We depend on our orders.”
Manufacturing associations representing Chinese and South Korean factories—which are members of the MGMA but spoke on behalf of their national associates—warned that they would shut down operations in September if the proposed wage were implemented.
Representatives said that about 30 Chinese and 60 Korean factories employing some 200,000 workers would be affected by the wage and would likely cease working in Burma due to the costs.
Burma’s budding garment industry has presented the loudest opposition to the proposed minimum wage, which is higher than that of neighboring Bangladesh, but still one of the lowest in the region.
Minimum wages vary by region in Vietnam and China, but both float above $100 per month across sectors in most regions. In Cambodia, which also has an enormous garment manufacturing industry, the minimum wage is set at $128 plus bonuses and overtime, leaving the average garment worker with a salary of $183 to $200 per month, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Trade representatives in Burma have lobbied for quick implementation of the country’s minimum wage, warning dissenting voices in the garment sector that they risk slowing down the process for millions of other employees. Aung Lin, chairman of the Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF), said the wage needs to be implemented immediately to avoid predatory investment in all sectors.
“Foreign investors will look out for their own interests, they will not prioritize the development of our people’s human resources,” he said. “We cannot say that a situation whereby people from this country are barely surviving, nearly starving, is good enough. We have to think about upgrading it.”
Additional reporting contributed by Thit Nay Moe.
LONDON — Rapid growth in the multi-billion dollar volunteer tourism industry has prompted calls for tighter controls with concerns over exposing vulnerable communities to unskilled foreign labor and dodgy operators exploiting foreigners for profit.
Voluntourism, which allows socially conscious holiday-makers to pay thousands of dollars to work in poor communities across South America, Asia and Africa, has become a boom sector of the global travel industry.
Estimates of its size vary widely. Nancy Gard McGehee, an expert on sustainable tourism at the US university Virginia Tech, says as many as 10 million volunteers a year are spending up to $2 billion on the opportunity to travel with a purpose.
Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, this month announced a “social impact” cruise which allows travellers to take part in three days of volunteering, helping to cultivate cacao plants, building water filters and providing English tuition.
But with no industry regulator, campaigners within the sector are concerned about the rising numbers of companies involved, with no mechanism to hold them to account for the work that they do.
“One of the challenges facing people wishing to volunteer responsibly is that there is no independent quality standard, no recognised regulatory body,” said Simon Hare, development director of British charity Globalteer.
“There are small local outfits as well as big corporations who see volunteering as a way of driving profits rather than an integral part of a long term strategy for communities with real needs. At best this can make volunteering a waste of time and at worst it can actually be harmful.”
Critics warn the lack of oversight means volunteers can easily end up in parts of the world without the skills needed to help, take away local jobs, and form bonds with children in need that are short-lived as they quickly move on.
In the wake of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said it became alarmed by reported cases of child trafficking, calling on orphanages and volunteer agencies to stop sending more willing workers.
“We would ask people to consider carefully the impact of volunteering or donating funds to post-earthquake Nepali children’s homes in Kathmandu. Without realizing it, such support may be indirectly harming children,” UNICEF said.
UNICEF said it had encountered the same problem in Cambodia, where there has been a rise in the number of unregistered childcare institutions, kept afloat by the funds and steady influx of volunteer tourists from abroad.
“Many volunteers have absolutely no childcare skills, and they’re being asked to perform a duty of care for children who are vulnerable. In a developed country, that would not happen,” said James Sutherland from Friends-International, a children’s charity based in Southeast Asia.
Australian academic Nichole Georgeou, co-author of “Looks good on your CV: the sociology of voluntourism recruitment in higher education”, said part of the problem was that the industry is consumer driven rather than driven by the needs of the local communities involved.
“There’s this idea that is in-built in voluntourism that we in the West have the knowledge and the skills to make a difference, we have a right to make a difference,” said Georgeou from the Australian Catholic University.
“It doesn’t even matter if we’re unskilled, it’s just the good will that matters because we’re somehow bonding anyway.”
A recent study by Britain’s Leeds Metropolitan University, published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, warned students considering a project for a gap year or summer break that the most expensive trips were found to be the “least responsible”.
Authors Victoria Smith and Xavier Font said volunteer tourism organisations needed to take more responsibility.
“These organisations have a responsibility to ensure their programmes have positive and not negative impacts and should offer financial transparency,” said their report.
“This means proper needs assessments, appropriately recruited, matched and skilled volunteers working with locals, with clear objectives, sustainable programme management, reporting and lasting impact and respect.”
Some returning volunteers have expressed their concerns about the negative impact they might have had.
“The kids [in the orphanage] were so used to seeing volunteers that they were barely paying attention to us,” said Carla Salber, who volunteered in Cambodia with Projects Abroad, one of the largest voluntourism companies. “We felt betrayed.”
Voluntourism proponents dispute the claim that the industry is doing more harm than good, citing numerous schools and homes that would not have been built without voluntourists and their funding.
“The idea that people shouldn’t come at all in case they traumatise a child who had the most terrible in their life already is really verging on the ridiculous. All our volunteers want to do is help,” said Peter Slowe, founder and director of voluntourism provider Projects Abroad.
Globalteer’s Hare said it was a mistake to lump together good volunteering with bad volunteering and call it all ‘voluntourism’.
“This is a shame because there are organisations running really impactful volunteer programmes,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Regulation of the industry was the next step.
“For volunteering to be effective, more focus needs to be on making sure it is done properly,” he said.
RANGOON — Where there’s a will, there’s a way, according to the Ma Ba Tha. Burma’s Ministry of Information last week dashed the group’s hopes of launching its own radio station—at least for now—but Ma Ba Tha said it will keep pushing.
Ma Ba Tha spokesman Ashin Par Mouk Kha told The Irrawaddy late last week that the group plans to lobby the government for swift passage of a forthcoming Broadcast Law to allow them to begin broadcasting public sermons without pairing with a state-owned enterprise.
“We can’t do it without their support,” Par Mouk Kha said, adding that any attempt by the government to obstruct the group’s airwave ambitions would be viewed as a blow to the preservation of Buddhism.
Last week, a Buddhist delegation from Thailand offered the group 40 million kyats (US$35,800) to finance equipment and construction of FM radio stations.
Ma Ba Tha, an acronym for the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, is a powerful group of Buddhist figures largely viewed as anti-Muslim nationalists.
The group was behind lobbying efforts to advance a controversial legislative package that could limit birthrates, restrict interfaith marriage and complicate religious conversion. The much-criticized Population Control Law was first of the four bills to be signed into law late last month.
Ma Ba Tha has also been accused of spreading hate speech on social media and through inflammatory language in public sermons, prompting concern that a private radio station could be used to foster intolerance.
Par Mouk Kha denied any ill-intention, vowing that the group “won’t broadcast any hate things or anything that can fuel religious conflict.”
Regardless of content, Burma’s Minister of information Ye Htut told reporters last week that the group would not be allowed to air on FM radio until a forthcoming Broadcast Bill is enacted. Current law requires broadcasters to partner with Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), a state-owned enterprise operating under the ministry.
MRTV permanent secretary Tint Swe told The Irrawaddy that there are presently about 10 semi-commercial radio stations in Burma, all of which are required to collaborate with the ministry under the 1989 State Enterprise Law.
Tint Swe said that all current radio stations were approved by the former government through a long and complex vetting process, and that “there have been no new FM stations under [President Thein Sein’s] government.”
If broadcasters are found operating without a state-issued license, he said, they will be subject to fines or possible prison sentences.