Representatives of international financial institutions met with Burmese civil society organizations (CSOs) and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during the World Bank's annual Spring Meetings this year to discuss re-engagement with the current Burmese government. The lively panel discussion was attended by a packed audience.
CSOs expressed concern that the international financial institutions have begun to re-engage the Burmese government without first requiring substantive progress on political freedom and a host of human rights issues. Despite positive headlines about opposition success in the recent parliamentary elections, the regime maintains firm control over the population and continues to repress ethnic groups throughout the
country. The by-elections included only 6.6 percent of the seats in parliament, and have not brought about any change in day-to-day life. Only a few political prisoners have been released, with hundreds more remaining in prison. Forced labor, confiscation of land, and sex slavery were said to continue unabated, as the military continues business as usual. Contrary to media reports, construction of the Myitsone dam has not been suspended and other infrastructure projects are proceeding despite CSO concerns over land confiscation and forced labor.
IMF, ADB, World Bank representatives emphasized that no lending to Burma has occurred in more than two decades and that re-engagement is proceeding slowly. Nevertheless, it seemed clear that the three institutions are planning to re-engage soon, as the Burmese government begins to make changes that will enable full development grant and lending programs to proceed.
One representative described the three-phase approach being taken by his organization:
Phase 1: Carry out sector assessments for transportation, energy, agriculture,
environment, natural resources, health and education. Initial assessments are
expected by mid-May.
Phase 2: Select priority sectors matched to his organization’s comparative
advantages and focused on poverty alleviation, regional integration, sustainable
growth, and inclusive growth.