Thursday, July 19, 2012

Director of new ADB office in Burma talks shop

Thursday, 19 July 2012 14:36 Mizzima News

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will open an office in Burma starting July 30.

Putu Kamayana, currently the ADB country director in Cambodia, will direct the office whose mission is to re-establish relations with the country.

Kamayana told the Myanmar Times that the pace of reforms and development will take much long than most people are anticipating. Development banks such as the ADB and the World Bank, he said, are restricted from providing substantial assistance to Burma until all necessary economic sanctions have been removed.

Because the United States is now in the midst of a presidential election, a full lifting of sanctions will be drawn out, he said.

Burma will require a functioning regulatory system and a working infrastructure for economic development to really take off, he said.

“All of these businesses that want to come into Myanmar need solid legal and regulatory systems. All of the infrastructure, electric power, roads and the court system are needed in order for companies to make their investments,” he was quoted as saying.

“Who is going to finance them? The government needs foreign assistance for all of these things," he said. "Until the multilateral development banks are allowed to work there, things are not going to change very quickly, despite the Europeans lifting sanctions and despite American partial lifting. Who is going to risk it before things get much clearer?”

Kamayana said the current government is very reformed minded, but people are expecting to see results soon, and that could be a problem.

"I think the reformists are feeling under pressure,” he said. “They are drawing up a development strategy which is going to be approved soon that will set out their priorities in agricultural production, the education system, similar to what’s been done here in Cambodia.”

He said Burma could learn lessons from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, which have gone through rapid development.

“All of these things have to be done and will have to be done in a systematic way that doesn’t overwhelm the authorities and the people so that it is realistic and achievable,” he said. “It has to be done at a sound pace. It is a huge task to be closed for decades and suddenly open up without getting overwhelmed.”

In early July, Stephen Groff, an Asian Development Bank vice president, said resumption of development loans and other aid to Burma could resume in about one year, if further progress is made in talks and other areas.

But before aid can resume, Burma must settle outstanding debts from nearly 25 years ago when the military put down a student-led uprising and locked up pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi that caused the ABD and the international community to shun the military regime that took power.

The debt totals nearly US$ 500 million to the Manila-based ADB and $393 million to the World Bank in Washington, according to an article by Reuters news agency.

By August, he said the ADB plans to have three full-time staff in Rangoon and a second official working in the capital of Naypyitaw.

During his four-day visit, Groff met with President Thein Sein, government ministers and opposition lawmakers.

“There is huge potential in the country,” he said. “They have got abundant energy resources. They have abundant renewable energy resources. But it is largely at the moment untapped potential. Quite a bit needs to be done on the part of basic capacity development, institution strengthening.”

After leaving Burma, Groff warned that Burma could face unrest because of its high poverty rate, saying nearly three-quarters of the people in Chin State, roughly half in Rakhine State, and a third in eastern Shan State are classified as poor.

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