What we can learn from national strategies
- Drafting and implementing strategies is not new to Myanmar.
There was the AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League) nationalist strategy to ensure each citizen had one house, one car, and a fixed salary. People would often hear about the first four-year strategy, second four-year strategy, and other short- and long-term strategies during the Burma Socialist Programme Party’s rule.
Then there were the industrial agriculture strategy, grains, sunflower, lentil, and other crop-based strategies. We also had a deep paddy-field strategy, rubber strategy, and a strategy to plant castor beans and harness fuel from them. There were resource strategies that kept bringing something new with successive editions. And, there were economic strategies paired with claims to take over the world.
We saw the success achieved by the designers, implementers, and administrators of the different levels of strategies, and while we did not know these people up close, the public faced continued losses. The national strategies concerning copper, dams, and forestry — all ended in tears and anger.
Not only did the projects fail, the grand announcements of their benefits on the covers of newspapers began to fade as time passed, without bringing any results. It was more disappointing to see the projects vanish, without a shred of responsibility assigned to anyone. The public had to use its imagination to figure out how these strategies planted by authoritarian rulers fared in the end. Meanwhile, the rulers saw no need to take notice of how the people involved in these strategies filled their pockets, nor how much taxpayer money was lost.
But, the people will never forget. Even after many years, people see castor beans growing here and there and remember who were allotted the land and who grew wealthier. The majority of the people bear no ill-will, but they will never forget. Whenever we see headlines containing the word ‘strategy’, we remember the harsh lessons learnt from the corrupt people who grew rich by taking money out of the people’s pockets.
The common tropes around national strategies include giving excessive hope and making promises, making unfounded boasts, turning a deaf ear to the voice of the people, and being content with the parlor tricks of businesspeople, discarding the advice of experts and professionals in favor of letting businesspeople take the lead, and giving no clear indication of whether the strategies are of national or economic interest.
Strategies concerned with national development must be drafted and implemented by political leaders. They must listen to the advice and suggestions of experts from across the country, and evaluate the impact of the strategies on the people’s lives. The true representatives of the people must make decisions on which strategies to implement and how.
The duties of modern political leaders, who are genuinely representing the public, are great. We believe that national development strategies will only be successful, if they actually benefit the people and get their complete support and trust.