DVB Multimedia Group

Burma claims a strengthening economy

Apr 7, 2009 (DVB), Whilst world leaders gathered in London last week to discuss ways to combat the global economic crisis, the Burmese prime minister surprised listeners at home with news of an apparent 10 per cent rise in the country's GDP.

In a week in which the leaders of the world's largest economies flew to London for G20 talks aimed at rescuing themselves from the recession, Prime Minister Thein Sein broke the news that the economy of one of the world's least developed countries was in good health.

According to figures cited by the prime minister at an annual meeting of private business owners in the capital Naypyidaw on 31 March, gross domestic product had risen by 10.4 per cent between 2008 and 2009.

There had, in fact, been an increase in agricultural produce, he added, despite last year's cyclone Nargis destroying some 600,000 hectares of farmland.

"The situation is worse here as the storm hit an essential area," countered one farmer from Kyunthaya village in the Irrawaddy delta.

"I could till only 50 acres out of one hundred this year," she added.

The prime ministers comments have, unsurprisingly, been met with suspicion.

Sein Htay, program coordinator and researcher at the Washington-based Burma Fund, who worked with the former government Burma Socialist Programme Party, said that tweaking figures was an old tactic used to boost the government's image.

"The government aimed for a certain percentage growth in the country’s economy, and Burma always wanted to say that they hit their target every year," he said.

"Based on my personal experiences with the BSPP's Project Planning department, the number would even go higher than their proposed target in some years."

According to the prime minister, average monthly income for the last fiscal year was 40,000 kyat ($US40).

A high school teacher in Irrawaddy division said however that, despite teachers not being the lowest paid in the civil service, they still had to start on a salary of around 20,000 to 30,000 kyat ($US20-30) a month.

"There are many more people who are worse paid and unemployed in Burma and the claim of Thein Sein that Burmese people on average have an income of 40,000 kyat a month is far from the truth," he said.

The reason the Burmese economy has not yet collapsed is due to money gained from selling off the vast gas reserves, said Sein Htay, adding however that the money was being mismanaged.

"They built [the new capital] Naypyidaw and pocketed the money and they build nuclear reactors and buy military equipment for the army," he said.

"That’s why there is no productivity, as there have been no reinvestments in industrial and economic sections.

"In Burma, army cronyism causes the public to be poor, and only army-owned companies and companies who work with them are rich," he added.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw