Burma's celebrating the 2600th anniversary of Shwedagon Pagoda at its annual pagoda festival.

News Roundup

Just a compilation of some interesting articles I’ve come across this past weekend.

Interesting campaign going on in Yangon’s streets to combat sexual harassment on public transportation. I know from firsthand accounts that there are plenty of pervs on public buses in Yangon, with guys indiscriminately groping women in jam-packed buses. The campaign convinced the Parami and Adipati bus lines to offer female-only services during rush hours.

Under the “whistle for help” campaign, about 150 volunteers have been distributing whistles and pamphlets to women at eight busy bus stops in Yangon each Tuesday morning in February. The group plans to continue the weekly program for another nine months.

The pamphlet instructs women to blow the whistle when they experience sexual harassment on the bus.

Little surprise that the Burmese government has been pretty unresponsive to migrant worker abuses. But Burmese migrant workers make up upwards of 7% of Thailand’s labor force, numbering between 1-2 million, so it’s definitely not a light issue to brush over.

Exactly how many workers are trapped in bondage inside shrimp factories or lured and forced to work on deep-sea fishing trawlers is unknown. But, Sompong, who worked in this area for eight years, estimates about 30 per cent of the 400,000-plus Burmese workers in the province are exploited beyond Thai laws.

Bosses confiscate work permits, temporary passports and identity cards so that Burmese in fish-processing factories cannot seek employment elsewhere. Worse still, some are held in small factories and not allowed to leave the compound and forced to work like slaves.

Burma’s government said in January that it planned to offer eight-year tax exemptions to foreign investors…

A recent report by the British risk analysis group Maplecroft said Burma has the world’s worst legal system for doing business, retaining a position it has held for the past five years despite recent reforms.

The 2012 Maplecroft report in question lists 5 primary risks to doing business in the country:

  1. Lack of democracy and continuing human rights abuse
  2. Lack of regulatory and legal protections
  3. Child labor
  4. Forced labor
  5. Environmental risks

Just last week, as Maplecroft released its global risks report, Burma was ranked as the 9th most vulnerable country to global risks, wedged in between Iraq and Yemen.

Apparently the Pyidaungzu Hluttaw took a sudden recess today, while waiting for Shwe Mann, speaker of the Lower House, to return on a visit to China. Seems to me like a clever power play, alternating between China and the West. The New Light of Myanmar had articles espousing China’s commitment to Burma’s sovereignty. One of the headlines literally says: “There are many differences among nations so that there will be external interference if the country adopts democratic system of other countries.” Yes, like China has Burma’s best interests in mind.

Even though MPs were told that the session would continue as usual on Feb. 24, they were given a sudden notice by phone call on Feb. 26 that Parliament would be in recess for the 27th.

“Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann is coming back (from China) today. (We’ll) work on submitting a rough draft budget legislation when he comes back, with regard to the issue of civil servant salary increases, if the Union Parliament agrees. Parliament only has the mandate to lower the budget, not increase it,” said a member of the Union Parliament’s Rough Draft Legislation Committee.

” ပြည်သူ့လွှတ်တော် ဥက္ကဋ္ဌ သူရဦးရွှေမန်းက (တရုတ်နိုင်ငံကနေ) ဒီနေ့မှ ပြန်ရောက်လာမှာပါ။ သူရောက်ပြီးတော့မှပဲ လစာတိုးရေးနဲ့ ဆိုင်တဲ့အဆိုကို မူအဖြစ် ပြည်ထောင်စုလွှတ်တော်က သဘောတူရင် ဘတ်ဂျက်ဥပဒေကြမ်းကို ပြန်ဆွဲတင်ရတော့မှာပါ။ လွှတ်တော်ရဲ့ လုပ်ပိုင်ခွင့်က ဘတ်ဂျတ်ကို တိုးပေးလို့မရဘူး လျှော့ချလို့ပဲ ရပါတယ် ” ဟု ပြည်ထောင်စုလွှတ်တော် ဥပဒေကြမ်း ပူးပေါင်း ကော်မတီဝင် တစ်ဦးက ပြောကြားသည်။

Thailand’s The Nation published an interview with Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday. Her reply to what was said in her private meeting with Thein Sein was fascinating, for what she chose not to say:

Q: What were the promises or pledges that you got from them that made you think …?
A: There were no promises and pledges but I believe that the president genuinely wants reform, and he said very simply that he wanted to support and help along the process of democratisation, and we discussed the matter and took certain steps that made it possible for us to take part in the election.
Q: But certainly you must have asked the president: Does the military really support this reform?
A: No, I didn’t ask him. I’m not going to discuss my private conversation.
Q: But at least I’d like to know whether…?
A: As I said, I’m not going to discuss my private conversation, either what we talked about or what we didn’t talk about.

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