August 19, 2016

Lookout! A Small Car is Overtaking

Those who doesn’t  own a private  car and had to commute  with the public  motor bus transports would be familiar  with the above warning. Whenever a car from behind was about to overtake, the bus conductor  or the spare, as most  of us knew, would  let the bus driver  know  by shouting  the  above  warning.  If the  readers, judging  by the  title  of  this article, think  I am going to  write about the unruly, undisciplined and inconsiderate motor bus drivers and conductors, they would be way off the mark. I had chosen this title just as a metaphor.  If you would patiently  bear with me and kindly read on, you would realize my intentions.
In March 1988, I had a chance to attend a telecommunication seminar in Bangkok. The seminar  was co-sponsored by the United Nations  Economic  and Social  Commision for  Asia  Pacific  (ESCAP) based  in  Thailand  and the  German  Development  Bank.  The objective  of the seminar  was to provide  loans, aids or grants by the German Development Bank to  develop the rural telecommunication sectors  in the participating countries.  There were ten participants including  me. Before leaving for Bangkok, I had to prepare a country paper, based  on set questionnaires. The main  informations they want  from  us were the present situations of the rural telecommunications and the future plans for projects, if any, and the constraints and requirements for the implementations of such projects.  Though I am not an engineer, but an administrator, I did my home work meticulously and prepared a comprehensive country  paper. However, my paper  was censored  by my superior  officer, just  leaving  the  data  concerning the  number  of  telephone  exchanges,  the  microwave stations   and  channels  available,  the  carrier  networks   and  the  telephone  density.  The constraints and requirements, which  I had painstakingly written  after consulting with the engineers concerned  were left out.
At the seminar, the Bangladesh participant read his paper first. He mentioned their constraints  and requirements in detail. After his presentations, there were some queries from the staffs  of the bank. Bhutan was next and he also mentioned their constraints and requirements. Then came my turn, because  in those days we were Burma, so I was sitting next to the Bhutanese, as the seating plan was in the alphabetical  order. As my paper was confined  only to the data, there was no querie. By then I was feeling  uneasy.  When the Chinese and the Indian delegates did not mention their constraints or requirements, I was greatly  relieved,  knowing  that  I had  company.  However,  what  the  Indian  said  was they were self-sufficient and do not need help from anywhere.  As for the Chinese, he said they have  a national  project  already  planned  to  install  telephone  exchanges  in every village, which will be completed by the year 2000 and they don’t need any help.
I will skip the other countries  and mention  about Vietnam. Our seminar  was held for three days. For the first two  days the Vietnamese  participant  was absent. He showed up only on the last day. He apologized for his late arrival, saying  that  as there was only two flights  a week between Hanoi and Bangkok, he was unable to come in time. (In those days we had four  flights  daily to Bangkok.)  The presiding chairman  of the seminar  told him that the country  paper reading  session  was over and had already started  to wind up the discussions, but they would  oblige  and let him  present  his paper. The reply  was, he didn’t have a country paper, but asked permission to speak for five minutes.
I remembered, vividly, what he said that day. As their country  had been fighting  a civil  war  for over twenty  five  years, their  country  was  at least twenty  five to  fifty  years behind  all the countries  present  at the seminar.  They want to close that  gap as much  as possible, so they are ready to accept any aid from any country, as long as there were    no strings  attached.  He said  they  also  want  to  attend  all international seminars  and  also requested the other countries  attending there, to invite them to the national seminars, workshops  or training  sessions,  all expenses  paid  by the hosts.  I noticed  that  he didn’t mention  a word about fighting the French colonialists or the American aggressors, instead he used the phrase “We were fighting  a civil war”.
During  the   coffee   break,  the   German  manufacturers  who   were  among   the observers,  approached   the  participants  who  mentioned  their  constraints  and requirements, except the three of us — the Chinese, the Indian  and myself.  As the three of us  were  sipping  coffee,  quietly  in  a corner,  a German bank  official approached  us and pointed out that the manufacturers were crowding around those who were potential customers, especially  the Vietnamese, as they had requested  for help and were bound to receive  them.  Then he told  me that  he had been to our country, many  times, while  the sheet glass  factory  at Pathein  was under  construction with  their Bank’s  assistance. He went  on  and  said, he  had  noticed   during  his  frequent  visits  that  our  country  lacked efficient telephone  services  even in the  towns  apart  from  Yangon. He asked  me  why I didn’t raise that issue and suggested  I should have done, because they were there to help us.  I  didn’t  know  how  to  answer  his  question,  so  I  just  laughed  and  shrugged  my shoulders. He smiled  and said he understood me.
On my return, as I had to submit  a report, I mentioned  about Vietnam in detail and predicted  that Vietnam would soon surpass us. Since then I took  interest  in Vietnam and started  to follow  the news  about that  country  as much  as I could. I learned how France proposed  at a World  Bank meeting  to  grant  loans  to Vietnam,  which  the  United  States seconded. Then there was news about the Honda Company of Japan establishing a motor cycle  factory  in Vietnam.  Many  foreign  investors  followed suit.  A few  years back  when there was a big flood  in Thailand, some Japanese  motor  car factories  were inundated.  A few shifted their factories  to Vietnam.
During  the  past  two  decades, I had  noticed  the  rapid  progress   of  Vietnam  in almost   all  sectors.   They  had  made  headways   into  the  regional   markets,  exporting everything  from  food  stuffs,  clothings, footwear,  machineries, electrical   and  electronic equipments,  construction materials, and agricultural products.  Vietnam has become  the second   largest   exporter  of  rice  in  Asia, next  to  Thailand.  They  are  competing   with countries  like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand  in the construction business. Their businesses have found their ways to our country too and are flourishing. The Vietnamese presence  in our country  is quite visible  in Yangon today. Not very long ago, I heard in the news that we are lagging behind, even countries  like Cambodia and Laos and that it would be some years  before  we could  catch up with  them. If  so, I think  the title  I had  chosen wouldn’t  be appropriate. It should  be “Cars From Behind Had Overtaken!” However, I will just leave it as it is, because it would attract more attention.
I don’t know how  Cambodia  and Laos had done that, but I am a bit familiar  with the Vietnam’s  case. They do not dwell  in the past  blaming  the French, the Americans  or the South Vietnamese. They may not have forgotten  but they had forgiven  and moved on. Let us follow the example of Vietnam and leave what had passed, in the past and move on to build a bright future  for our new generations.  A nation could prosper  only when there is peace and unity.  All parties should unite and work towards  a common  goal. Here, the term “parties” does not mean only the political parties.  Those armed groups  that have not yet signed the National Ceasefire Accord, too, should  join hands  with other national brethren to move our Union forward  and regain our old glories and prestige that we once enjoyed.


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