Will the Burma Road End in Democracy?

Jul 22

Most visitors to Myanmar these days, when the country is opening up, limit their trips to Yangon, better known in better times as Rangoon. They rarely make the five-hour trip to Naypyitaw, the site upcountry to which the ruling military regime has transferred the capital. As a parliamentary delegation from different Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) governments seeking to make contact with opposition legislators, we embark on the road trip to the Burmese generals’ version of Brasilia, not really knowing what we’ll find at the end of the 230-mile journey. Before we leave Yangon, however, we meet with members of “Generation 88,” people now in their forties who were leaders of the student uprising of 1988. Our meeting takes place against the background of fast-moving developments in Burmese politics: the triumphant European tour of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, universally referred to as Daw Suu or “the Lady”; the release of two dozen more political prisoners; and the opening session of parliament on July 4. There is a widespread sense that the country is undergoing momentous change. Having spent a large part of the last 20 years in jail, the Generation 88 leaders are hardened activists who know the mentality of the military regime to the core. So it is a bit of a surprise when one of them, Ko Ko Gyi, says that the country’s political opening is “irreversible.” “Of course,” he clarifies, “there might be setbacks, but the military knows it is in their interest, broadly, to reform. They know they can’t go on like this.” How do they plan to engage with the current reform process? “We will mobilize different sectors around their legitimate demands such as wages,” says Ko Ko Gyi, “but we also want to make sure that things are resolved within the framework of the current reform process.” And yes, they plan to constitute themselves as a party and field candidates in the parliamentary elections of 2015. The Military’s Shangri-la The meeting with Generation 88 provides much food for reflection during the trip to Naypyitaw. Some of us had expected architecture and planning in the fascist style, but what we found bordered on the surreal: surreal fascism. The place is linked by...

Read More

Another bright idea we cannot afford

Jul 12

(This article was co-written by Sabrina Gacad) The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Washington-based Clean Technology Fund are poised to lend the Philippine government millions of dollars to fund the roll-out of 100,000 units of “energy effective electric vehicles” (EEEV), or alternative fuel vehicles, in the form of electric tricycles, or e-trikes, that will be handed to local government units for operation, from 2013 to 2016. Their argument is simple – clean technology is good, therefore tricycles running on clean technology must be superb. And we would like to help our friend, the Philippine government, to profit from such superb technology and build a clean-technology public transport industry so we will lend them their initial investment. This is how the project is expected to run:  ADB lends the Philippines US$300 million, the Clean Technology Fund gives US$105 million, and the Philippine Government provides US$99 million for the project as its counterpart fund. The funds will go into the Land Bank of the Philippines to pay for the actual electric tricycles sourced most likely from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam or China. “Creditworthy” local government units (LGUs) will be made guarantors of the loan per unit of electric tricycle, and are likewise expected to distribute e-trikes to local operators and/or drivers and collect the boundary from them. Now who could be against such a project? There is no disputing the fact that vehicles running on alternative energy are good for the environment. Today, there is universal recognition that coal and fossil fuels are the main contributors to global warming and climate change, and their fluctuating prices cause economic instability, leaving peoples in the developing world vulnerable to the periodic shocks of the market. It is not surprising therefore that alternative energy takes centerstage in issues of sustainable development, and that people expect regional development banks like the ADB to support alternative energy projects. However, the program design and the loan package are riddled with problems and loopholes that defeat the the objective of promoting and developing the alternative energy vehicles industry in the Philippines. It also leaves the project highly vulnerable to large-scale corruption. Dumping E-trikes instead of producing them The first basic problem that will inhibit the growth and...

Read More