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House of Commons International Development Committee: Democracy and Development in Burma: Ninth Report of Session 2013–14

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Seize historic chance in Burma: Increase UK aid for reform

The UK Department for International Development’s Burma budget should be increased promptly from £60 million to £100 million to enable greater support for education, including teacher training, the peace process and parliamentary strengthening, say MPs in the UK Parliament.

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International Development Committee

Launching a report on Democracy in Burma, IDC Chair Sir Malcolm Bruce said today,

“Significant progress has been made in Burma over the last few years. While, a host of problems remain, a key opportunity exists for UK development programmes to help deliver transformational change. We must seize the moment.

“We therefore support the UK Government’s approach to support reformers in the Burmese Government to raise the country out of poverty, develop the economy and build a society that moves towards democracy.

“Progress will be unpredictable and uneven, but supporting the reform process by working to deliver public services and develop livelihoods offers unprecedented potential.

“Some critics, notably Burma Campaign UK, argue the UK is naive to reward a Burmese Government which they believe is not serious about reform. We however do not believe that progress will happen by standing back or adopting an unduly sceptical approach.

The Committee also concludes:

  • DFID should be more engaged with the political nature of Burma’s development and must be willing to criticise the Burmese Government.

  • The UK should continue to press for constitutional reform, for the development of a federal structure inside Burma and for the removal of the block on Aung San Sui Kyi standing as President. As part of this it should work to help armed ethnic groups and the Burmese military to make the transition to delivering civilian Government.

  • More specifically, the UK must take a stronger position on the highly sensitive issue of Rohingya ensuring their access to education and health services. DFID should also do more to promote interfaith dialogue.

  • Health programmes - the largest element in DFID’s budget in Burma – should place greater emphasis on addressing drug resistant malaria in Burma – a problem that threatens to spread to the rest of the world with the most serious consequences.

  • DFID’s education budget in Burma is currently too small to be effective; it should increase with a major focus on teacher training.

  • DFID’s work to assist the peace process, to improve public financial management, to encourage the inclusion of women and to reform of the Burmese military should continue with additional funding made available as opportunities to expand these programmes arise.

  • UK support for the Burmese Parliament should continue but over the long term the UK will need to reform its approach to parliamentary strengthening to ensure that DFID and the Foreign Office can rely less on non-UK organisations (such as UNDP and NDI) and draw more upon UK organisations.

  • The UK should prioritise its work as chair of the Development Partners Working Group for Burma, to deliver better co-operation amongst donors and to encourage small donors to work through multi-donor funds. It should also press the Burmese Government to set a minimum figure for small donor bi-lateral programmes.

The Committee also warns that dealing with human rights abuses by the military, or any other group, cannot be swept under the carpet or Burma will be left with festering sores. It also suggests that as progress is made towards peace people should be encouraged to return, so that the support budget for refugee camps can be transferred to in-country programmes especially in the refugees’ home provinces.