(Letter) – In response to the letter ‘U Myint’s useless paper on poverty reduction’, I would like to offer the context to a hasty conclusion of [former] ambassador Horst Rudolf in criticizing U Myint’s paper.
Poverty is a taboo word in my country which was supposed to be achieving officially the highest GDP growth rate in the world of 13 per cent during the last several years. A senior UN official was literally asked to leave the country just because he mentioned our poverty in per capital terms to that of Laos and Cambodia, which the then senior-general is rumored to have commented were pathetic and backward neighbours.
The previous national planning and economic minister said there are no deprived people in the country, but with some form of deficient people, let alone discussing and planning to address it. A native like U Myint is indeed very brave to write out all the details about this subject when a climate of self-censorship still prevails in the official circles; and therefore, I am very proud of his stand on behalf of the poor who suffered most during the lost decades of negligence, deprivation and human rights violations under successive governments of the land. Moreover, Burma hasn’t keep record of its national poverty line until now.
In total absence of institutional memory and a culture of impunity towards the poor, U Myint set the stage for comprehensive policy options because there was no effort or record whatsoever in the govrnment on this issue. Besides, he intended his paper [for an] audience previously forced into total denial, not for the self-acclaimed experts on Burma.
Just because Burma has no prior experience on poverty reduction, an arrogant assertion made by Ambassador Rudolf that ‘any experienced working group would do this job in an hour’ is not just plainly disrespectful but an outdated notion about how to approach poverty.
Poverty in Burma is a Burmese thing–and contrary to what he said, poverty dynamics in my country is definitely not a ‘simple’ thing.
As the aid community recognized a long time ago, any poverty reduction strategy must begin with a locally owned process, not imposed from the outside.
I welcome any initiative from any Burmese inside or outside the country to address our collective failure on this front.
Aung Thu Nyein is an analyst with the Vahu Development Institute