Peace Process and Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan

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As the restarting of nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)-based peace process gears to restart after more than a year of standstill, it is important to note that the government intention is to link  the projected achievement of peace along the line with its Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) launched to cover the time span from 2018 to 2030.

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The ambitious government plan launched in August 2018, now over a year old, is a 66-page document, which incorporates existing and draft plans and policies, sets out 3 pillars, 5 goals, 28 strategies and 251 action plans.

The three pillars are “Peace and Stability; Prosperity and Partnership; and People and Planet”.

Under Peace and Stability, there are two goals. One is “Peace, National Reconciliation, Security and Good Governance” and the other, “Economic Stability and Strengthened Macro Economic Management”.

Under Prosperity and Partnership, “Job Creation and Private Sector Led Growth” is the goal.

Finally, under People and Planet, there are two goals. One is “Human Resources and Social Development for a 21st Century Society” and the other, “Natural Resources and the Environment for Posterity of the Nation”.

According to Invest Myanmar Summit 2019, organized by Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, in its “The Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan: explained”, is a simplified version which has identified 13 headings. They are: governance, macroeconomics, tax, priority sectors, trade, financial services, infrastructure, education and health, environment, power, natural resources, sustainable cities, and implementation.

For example it explains, concerning governance, “The MSDP aims to improve the efficiency, accountability and predictability of administrative decision making at every level. The government plans to review and strengthen anti-corruption related legislation, enforcement measures and policies, and establish a transparent and competitive tendering system for public procurement at the national and sub-national levels.”

Regarding macroeconomics, “Fiscal prudence is the name of the game: the government aims to keep the fiscal deficit below 5 percent of gross domestic product, while reducing recourse to Central Bank financing to negligible levels.” In addition, it explains “to effectively manage the exchange rate and balance of payments, the Central Bank will move toward a market-based reference rate and will formalise the informal remittance system; and the currency swap auction market will be developed to minimize foreign exchange risk and help meet local banks’ demand for foreign currency.”

Where taxation is concerned, “Myanmar’s tax revenue is 8 percent of GDP, the lowest in the ASEAN region and the government intends to “significantly” increase tax revenue.”

And with the implementation, “The Ministry of Planning and Finance is the focal entity for the MSDP implementation. The ministry houses the MSDP Implementation Unit, which is responsible for providing guidance, approving strategic decisions and solving strategic issues.

Thus, they all are, in fact, the aspirations and “want to do and want to achieve list” of which the government still has to strive for them to happen. Accordingly, the MSDP will go on for years and action plans will be added, altered and innovated to be in tune with the prevailing condition of the day.

But it is clear that peace leads the agenda, which is also the first pillar.

“The achievement of a durable peace is integral to Myanmar’s journey towards sustainable and inclusive development. However, the MSDP recognises that a just and sustainable peace will involve addressing both political and economic dimensions simultaneously,” wrote the MSDP document in its introduction under the heading of  “Strategies and Action Plans – Pillar 1: Peace & Stability”.

“The MSDP aims at fiscal federalism and the decentralisation of natural resources management. It seeks balanced development across states and regions. This means the government will prioritise and support responsible investment in less-developed areas of the country.”

The document explicitly pointed out, “Unless a durable nation-wide peace is achieved, it will be considerably more difficult to ensure that the development efforts described throughout the MSDP can truly reach those made most vulnerable due to conflict.”

As such, it will be necessary to look at the Strategy 1.1, “Secure and further foster Union-wide peace,” in Myanmar.

To realize the strategy, the following “Action Plans” have been identified. They are:

  1. Hold further sessions of the Union Peace Conference: 21st Century Panglong
  2. Conduct inclusive political dialogues with all relevant stakeholders at national and sub-national levels
  3. Further integrate NCA non-signatory EAOs into peace processes and work toward their signing of the NCA, and expand participation of other relevant stakeholders, with clear roles and responsibilities for all
  4. Ensure country ownership and leadership of the peace process
  5. Strive for at least 30% participation of women in political dialogues
  6. Based on the outcome of political dialogues, agree key principles for the establishment of a Union founded upon democracy and federalism
  7. Implement and follow the articles in the NCA

After the MSDP is launched in 2018, which also coincides with more than a year of peace process standstill, further sessions of the Union Peace Conference has still not materialized, although efforts are now being made to restart it.

All-inclusive political dialogues with all relevant stakeholders at national and sub-national levels still have not realized; further integration of NCA non-signatory ethnic armed organizations into peace processes and work toward their signing of the NCA have not happened; and ensurance of the country ownership and leadership of the peace process, which is in fact a self-help peace negotiation process, isn’t bringing any positive result.

Additionally, the remaining action plans are in deliberation stage and implementation is still a long way off.

In sum, the action plans haven’t been able to realize the Union-wide peace strategy and move forward to achieve the much wanted peace and reconciliation.

Given such circumstances, the armed conflict which has been going on in ethnic states, particularly the Kachin, Shan and Arakan (Rakhine) states, are unable to be stopped. And this in turn creates new internally displaced people (IDP) in Arakan and the old problems of refugees and IDP in other ethnic states, like Kachin, Shan, Karenni and Karen, including 1.1 million Rohingya from Arakan in Bangladesh, cannot be resolved for them to return home or repatriated.

But while the prospects are generally dim in ethnic states, there are also positive outcomes from the MSDP.

For example, “Myanmar’s nationwide power supply has increased from 34 percent in 2016 to 50 percent this year and 10 power stations generating 904 MW along 19,611 miles of transmission lines, and sub-power stations generating a combined 12,635 MVA were upgraded during the three and a half years tenure of the incumbent government,” wrote Xinhua in its December 20, 2019 report.

The State Counsellor attended the opening ceremony of a solar power plant in the town of Manaung in Arakan State on December 19, 2019. Construction of the solar power plant which started in 2018 is a partnership between the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, the Rakhine government, and South Korea’s POSCO Daewoo Corp, according to the Myanmar Times report.

On December 16, 2019, Myanmar Times reported that the government will transform the country’s three key cities – Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and Mandalay – into smart cities, according to U Han Zaw, minister of Construction.

The government has announced the launch of an online “project bank” which will change the way infrastructure programmes are planned, determined and funded, reported Myanmar Times on January 31, 2019. Accordingly, the centralized and publicly-accessible database will enable the government to coordinate ministries and departments and prioritize proposals which are in line with the MSDP.

The initiative aims to align projects with the development objectives of concerned ministries, and will provide a new framework for public-private partnerships and enable the private sector to invest in state assets, wrote the Myanmar Times in the same report.

Reportedly, a one-page summary for each of the 30 projects showcased by the finance ministry at the investment conference was made available. They include construction of five river ports, two domestic airports, a new Muse-Mandalay railway, a new Tamu-Kalay-Mandalay railway, six new expressways/ ring roads, three fertiliser plants and several renewable energy projects.

All in all, having MSDP is lot better than just muddling through and doling out piecemeal solutions without end, even though a number of years will be needed to fulfil all the aspirations. But as the document rightly pointed out from the outset that unless a durable nation-wide peace is achieved, wide-ranging development countrywide will still be a distant dream. Hopefully, the recent efforts to restart the stalled peace process will contribute positively in realizing the MSDP.

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