Thu 7 Jun 2012
Filed under: Business / Trade,Opinion,Other
As Burma heads for rapid industrialization, it must study and learn from the problems of the rampant and rapid economic development of Burma’s neighbors.Burmese government officials visiting Bangkok or Singapore go giddy over modernization and usually get into an urgent mode to want to speed up Burma’s development.
Granted Singapore is very successful, but it will be impossible for Burma to emulate Singapore because it is very different from Burma in demographics, size, education and government. It is an island nation, a closed community with a very homogenous, educated, predominantly Chinese population. It’s a static population and the only migrants are mostly educated Burmese who work there. The country is small enough to be well controlled by the government.
Thailand is more comparable to Burma. But if Burma tries to emulate Thailand, the nation will end up like Thailand too. Will it prosper, yes; but there will be many short-term and long-term pitfalls if there is lack of well thought out national planning on the part of the government.
Rapid industrialization in Burma even if it creates a lot of jobs, will result in massive population migration to urban areas from the provinces, especially to Yangon and industrial zones. Bangkok has become a concrete jungle and legendary for its overcrowding, traffic problems and air pollution. Vast slums, incredibly high crime rates, prostitutions, sweat shops – the list is endless.
Usually education lags far behind rapid industrialization and progress. It takes time for the people to assimilate and integrate to new laws and norms, and to acquire new knowledge, attitudes and behavioral patterns. Rapid progress is usually like a tornado that leaves a whole lot of destruction of existing institutions and social and cultural norms.
In the case of Thailand, the rural population lagged far behind and the income disparity between urban and rural population is marked. When a populist leader like ex-Premier Thaksin came into power and successfully raised the standard of living for the rural population, politics turned ugly even though it had been a democratic country for half a century. What emerged was the division between the urban elite, military- backed government and the rural folks, the so-called yellow and red shirts. Last year saw a massive demonstration, deaths and anarchy in Bangkok. The underlying problem is the unequal distribution of wealth and dominance of the military in politics persisting even after five decades of democracy.
If Burma follows the Thai model, the nation will walk down the same path with all its attendant problems. The situation will prove to be worse in Burma because the country is much poorer than Thailand was 50 years ago when the latter began democratization.
Burma is like a blank canvas at this point. It can avoid the perils of rapid industrialization if it begins with very careful and comprehensive planning for both industrialization and nationwide rural development.
Development aid funds will soon flow in, and if there isn’t a cogent national plan and policy in place, the funds will not serve the country well. There is a massive job to do to upgrade the country and the aid funds are not infinite.
Judicious use of the aid funds is absolutely necessary to jump-start the overall development of the country in Infrastructure building such as transportation, education and telecommunications.
If rural development is planned and delivered in parallel with industrialization, overcrowding in urban areas can be avoided.
It is crucial for the rural demographics to be stable as the population grows older. If the young all leave the villages for urban areas, the rural labor force will shrink in the future which and will adversely affect the agriculture sector.
Burma should not and must not miss out on this great opportunity for developing a coherent national plan and a policy for comprehensive and equitable development of the nation as a whole, if it wants to avoid the perils and pitfalls confront its close neighbor.