Nay Pyi Taw, 1 Jan—The following is the full text of the monthly radio message delivered by President
U Thein Sein.
My Fellow Citizens:
I would like to inform all of you about the changes that have taken place in our country in the month of December just as I have done previously to share the current state of affairs on this radio program. Since this is the last month of 2014, I would also like to recap and share with you this past year’s political, economic and social developments, what my government has carried out during that time, and the preparations we have made for upcoming 2015.
This is the time of year where each person imagines what the New Year will bring and how these changes will impact our daily lives. The upcoming 2015 marks a critical year where we will have to systematically implement the remaining measures in the political transformation process that my government had the privilege of leading. We can also look at it as an important year for the political process in terms of the changes, improvements and successes it will bring.
We will hold the 2015 general elections in the coming year which will serve as one of the most critical steps in our democratic transition process. If we look back at our post-independence political history, we will notice our inability to create an environment where all political stakeholders can participate freely in an electoral process to shape the country’s destiny. Instead we will see elections that are either protested or boycotted by one or the other of the major political factions. Today—and because of all our combined efforts—a new political culture where we value finding solutions through dialogue is taking root in place of unconstructive confrontational tactics. Because of this new political culture, the 2015 elections will mark the first time since our independence where elections will be contested by all the political stakeholders freely and fairly. In this way 2015 will be a remarkable year in Myanmar politics as it will be shaped by the elections and by the efforts of all political stakeholders to find the right solutions through the electoral process.
As many of you know, there are political stakeholders that have formed political parties within the framework of the 2008 Constitution to contest in the upcoming elections. In addition, there are armed factions who resorted to various armed struggles to resolve their own political disagreements. You will also notice at this time that many of these armed organizations are actively engaging in the peace process to find political solutions to these disagreements and settle their past grievances politically. In this way, the political process that we see today is shaped by avenues and opportunities for all political stakeholders to take part in. In the near future, I am hopeful that even the armed political groups will have an opportunity through the political dialogue process to participate in the political process directly.
It is critical and imperative to merge the political developments arising from the 2015 elections with the national reconciliation processes originating from the peace process. The day we can do this is the day we can begin to build a new nation based on the ideals of a federal union and finally fulfill the needs of our nation and society at large. Only then can we realize the dreams and wishes of the people. It is for these reasons that a successful 2015 elections in conjunction with the initiation of the political dialogue process based on and grounded in nationwide ceasefire agreements mark a critical juncture in Myanmar politics.
My Fellow Citizens:
I would like to discuss more about some of the critical issues that we tackled during 2014.
In terms of the peace process, I am happy to see that most of the conflict affected areas are beginning to see signs of peace and improvements in living conditions when compared to the conditions before. The people living in these areas are beginning to see the impact of peace and a possible way of life free of fear. However, I am also saddened by the continuation of conflict between armed factions in some of the areas. Amidst the joys and sadness, 2014 marks the year where the number of clashes and the loss of property and lives are at their lowest since the inception of armed conflict in our country. It is all the more important for us to work towards achieving lasting peace so that there will be no more fighting and that the people can strive towards peace and normalcy in their daily lives.
It is also this desire that will compel us to come to an agreement on the few outstanding provisions and reach a successful signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. In the near future, I am hopeful that we will be able to begin the political dialogue process with all the relevant stakeholders and together build a new nation that we all have envisioned. Together, we will be able to reach political agreements and find political solutions effectively.
My Fellow Citizens:
The year 2014 has arguably been the most important year for Myanmar’s international relations since independence. We have successfully hosted the Southeast Asia games for the first time in thirty years. This event also allowed us to illustrate the capacity and skills of various Myanmar athletes. Over 2014 we chaired the Association of South East Asian Nations. As chair of ASEAN, we successfully hosted not only the annual ASEAN Summit but also the East Asia Summit, bringing together the leaders of all ten ASEAN countries as well as other partnering countries. All the important issues of the day—from Climate Change to tensions in the South China Sea—were discussed. I am proud that Myanmar played a role not only in hosting and facilitating these discussions but also where possible bridging different views, reducing tensions, and identifying mutually agreeable ways ahead.
Over the past year we have also continued our path from international isolation towards becoming true citizens of the world. We were able to weave a network of international connections that will be vital for Myanmar’s future. We are also on the path of a much more dynamic and multi-aligned foreign policy. We see no reason to be friends with any single power or bloc. Unlike what we have done in the past, we should actively seek the strongest possible relations with all countries and all powers and in this way give the Myanmar people the best of all worlds.
Likewise, when rebuilding the country’s economy, we must look at the country as a whole. Specifically, institutions that are important for the stability of the economy have to be fixed or constructed anew. We were able to establish an investor friendly environment, leading to an increase in foreign investment by USD 6.3 billion in 2014. More than 3 million tourists visited the country, bringing in over USD 3 billion in earnings. Important trade agreements and memoranda of understanding were also signed. Earnings from trade rose to 20 billion Kyats. More opportunities were created for employment, improvement of workforce skills and capacity.
An important driver of economic development is the telecommunications sector, and in 2014, operators with international experience began operations in the country. Since my government took office, the mobile phone penetration rate has increased from 3 percent to 23 percent in 2014. Although there are challenges with coverage and quality of service during this network build out phase, soon we will have a modern communications network. The ease with which news and information can be disseminated through these networks is not only important for the economy, education, health and research but is also an important foundation for building a democratic society.
My government has raised public sector salaries ever year. Additionally, the government is working to provide more assistance in the form of educational grants, scholarships and other social welfare assistance to public sector employees so that they may have a comparable standard of living as other workers. Public sector salary increases may lead to a sudden rise in prices, and it important not to increase the burden on the public. Therefore, the government will also include consideration of necessary economic measures. The government is also striving to develop the pension system and to continue to improve the pension collection process. Over five hundred thousand E-pension cards have been issued this year.
Just as citizens have a duty to pay taxes, the government also has a duty to systematically plan, and transparently utilize these funds in areas with the most need and of the most benefit to the people. Therefore in 2014, a strategic plan for public financing reform was drafted, and a Union Tax Law enacted. In so doing, citizens are now able to systematically pay their taxes, and the government is able to plan spending in the areas that benefit the people. Establishing a modern economy is an extremely important task for our country. And, an essential component of a modern economy is a stock exchange. Therefore, we are planning to launch the Yangon stock exchange in 2015, and gradually introduce a public investment market.
To further develop a stable economy, the Central Bank will sell government bonds through tender offers in January 2015. Nine experienced foreign banks have also been granted operation licenses to develop the banking sector. Licenses have also been granted to banks operating in the areas of agriculture, livestock, small and medium enterprises, and low cost housing. Moreover, credit bureaus have been opened to improve access to loans.
Efforts are also being made to move from a cash-based economy to a system that is more accountable and transparent.
We still have to overcome difficulties and challenges to ensure that these economic reforms bring tangible benefits to the public at large. In 2015, my government will continue with its efforts to bring about economic development that is beneficial to the public so that it can effectively resolve political and social problems stemming from the widening income gap.
My Fellow Citizens:
With regards to the education sector, in 2014, we reduced central control of basic education schools, expanded free schooling to cover primary and middle schools, accelerated literacy programs, reopened university dormitories, and renovated Yangon University. Next year’s budget will also provide more spending on education. Also in 2014, a National Education Law was enacted. I am mindful of the fact that there may be differences in opinion because the law had to include considerations for the entire country. The law should be viewed as one component of education policy, and I would like to urge continued inclusive discussions to find beneficial solutions. I invite everyone to participate in building a modern and decentralized education system.
Previously, when the healthcare budget was 100 billion Kyats, the state was only responsible for 20 percent of an individual’s healthcare costs while an individual was responsible for the remaining 80 percent. During the 2014-2015 financial year, the healthcare budget increased to 537 billion Kyats and as a result an individual’s share of healthcare expenses decreased to below 60 percent. The government currently spends USD 12 per person on healthcare, and including foreign assistance the amount is USD 15 per person. According to WHO calculations, the average per capita cost of healthcare in developing countries is USD 30, which means the government is currently covering about 50 percent of each person’s healthcare costs. We must accept that although the numbers have improved, the healthcare system continues to face many challenges. Therefore, in the coming year, the healthcare budget will be increased, and efforts will be made to improve the capacity of healthcare workers.
As of 2014, we have managed to provide electricity to 243 townships out of the 398 townships from the national power grid and the remaining 155 townships by other alternative ways. The rural electricity scheme has also made provision of electricity to more than 25,000 villages possible. Needless to say, regular supply of electric power is an essential component in developing a country’s economy. Furthermore, electricity is also a crucial infrastructural need for education and healthcare sectors. As such, we have tried to the best of our ability to improve the performance of the electricity sector. I would also like to note here that the government has undertaken rural development programs in collaboration with international development partners.
One of the major achievements in 2014 is the successful undertaking of a nationwide census. Only when we have correct population data, will we be able to provide necessary public services and undertake development plans effectively and efficiently. Furthermore, accurate census data will allow us to hold elections—a measure that plays an essential role in a country’s democratic consolidation process—effectively. This census exercise has generated a large set of statistical data that will benefit not just our administration but future governments as well.
The land issue is one of the major challenges facing our country. The fact of the matter is that land reforms are never easy in any country; they are particularly difficult in transitional countries like ours. The land problems we are now left to deal with were caused by unnecessarily complicated procedures practiced by the previous governments and problems relating to documentation and record of ownership. In addition, questionable allocation of land to business projects by taking advantage of the existing loopholes in archaic land laws and doing so without proper public consultation has also led to land problems in the country. After learning lessons from the existing land problems in the country, my administration has established the Land Utilization Management Central Committee chaired by the Vice President in order to undertake land reforms effectively. The government has also established the Land Utilization Management Committee all the way down to the village level in order to ensure transparency of the land reform process. We will also need to develop better work procedures in order to remedy the delays in undertaking land reforms and resolving other land-related issues. I would like to note that the Union Government, after drawing lessons from dealing with the land issues in the past years, will do its utmost to undertake land reforms effectively and to help citizens regain ownership of the land they deserve.
Since the outset, my administration has taken all necessary measures to ensure clean government and good governance. While we prepare to join the Open Government Partnership, the Anti-Corruption Committee is also undertaking measures to effectively reduce corruption in the country. In recognition of our preparatory work to become a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Myanmar was admitted to the organization as a candidate in a short time. As a member of EITI, Myanmar will learn to undertake the extraction of natural resources and the utilization of the revenue from such business activities for the public in a transparent and accountable manner. The cooperation and coordination among the government, the public and the private sector will allow us to avoid the potential conflicts and problems that can result from the lack of transparency. Such cooperation among stakeholders will also ensure greater environmental protection and accountability.
My Fellow Citizens:
In order to create an effective democratic society that we envision, our society and the citizens within it must respect and help each other. In short, there must be harmony among all societal groups and communities. In 2014, my administration has significantly enhanced its efforts to promote social harmony and interfaith dialogue and to stop the divisive activities that would cause misunderstanding among different social groups.
I would also like to take this opportunity to note that we are currently finalizing the Action Plan for Rakhine State. This plan is designed to bring social harmony between different communities and promote development in Rakhine State. The action plan will be implemented in consultation with the residents of the state and our international development partners.
Some recent surveys indicate that ordinary citizens can now enjoy more freedoms, namely in the area of freedom of expression, and that citizens in most parts of the country noted that they do not have to live in constant fear due to the political and administrative reforms undertaken in 2014 and earlier.
That said, we understand we still have a long way to go before we can get to our destination. It is likely that we will not always be able to meet all the public expectation when we have to undertake several reforms concurrently. I would like to assure all of you that my administration will try to fulfill our promises and meet the reasonable expectations of citizens on the basis of fair criticism, feedback and suggestions we receive from the public at large. As such, I would like to urge all citizens to work with the government in the reform process.
My Fellow Citizens:
Since our country and our society has lagged far behind other countries for many years, it is natural for us to face a plethora of difficulties and challenges in the reform process that we must overcome. However, it is worth noting that if we manage to overcome all these difficulties and challenges, our nation and our society as a whole will benefit greatly from such an endeavor.
I would like say that the building of a peaceful society that we all desire is within our grasp. I am convinced that we will be able to establish a Federal Union on the basis of the agreements we will reach at the political dialogue. And owing to the tangible democratic reforms we have undertaken, the new government that will come into power in the wake of the upcoming elections will be able to do more for the socio-economic development in the country. In order to ensure smooth transition, however, all political stakeholders must try to find solutions to overcome the challenges facing this country through dialogue. The approach we choose to adopt should reflect and represent the wishes of all societal groups in the country. Given all we will need to do in the upcoming year, I would like to say that the year 2015 will not only be a historical year, it will also be a historic year as well.
It is imperative that all political stakeholders do their utmost at this historic juncture. As all of you know, a system of checks and balances among the three pillars of government is the essence of democracy. All three pillars however must ensure that they check and balance each other in ways that will strengthen the democratic reform process and not hinder it. It is also important that civil society organizations and all 51.4 million members of the public including political activists should participate in the reform process constructively. In order to ensure that we achieve our common goal of democratic transition and consolidation, I would like to urge all political stakeholders to cooperate with each other on the basis of mutual understanding, trust and patience.
In conclusion, I would like to reaffirm my commitment to working for the peace process, improving the social and economic welfare of the general public and helping to bring about a brighter future for future generations.
May you all have peace of mind and good health.
Nay Pyi Taw, 1 Jan—The following is the full text of the monthly radio message delivered by President