Sunday, June 15, 2014

My preface to Report on Arbitrary Taxation in Burma by Sean Turnell and Alison Vicarey, 2010.

Preface to Report on Arbitrary Taxation in Burma --by Sean Turnell & Alison Vicarey.

by Kyi May Kaung--(written in 2010)

It gives me great pleasure to, if one can ever be "pleased" about the horrendous Burma situation, to be asked to write a preface to this comprehensive 93 page report on arbitrary taxation in Burma by Sean Turnell and Alison Vicarey of Burma Economic Watch, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. 

Up front, I want to state that I have been a board member of Burma Economic Watch since about 2005.  I share many of the views of Dr. Turnell and Dr. Vicarey, as published in this Report.

In 2002, when I was working for The Burma Fund, affiliated to the NCGUB, informally known as the Burmese democratic government in exile, I first met Sean in Gottenberg, Sweden, at a Burma Studies Conference, convened with much imagination I thought, by anthropologist Gustav Houtman.

Sean just came out of the woodwork at the conference, talking about money and banking in Burma as if he had really been there.  (At this point he was not, but he is the most grounded and focused of the economists working on Burma).

I met Alison Vicarey shortly thereafter, in Australia.  For those of you who do not know, Alison was one of the "Rangoon 18" from the Free Burma Coalition arrested in Rangoon for protesting Human Rights Abuses in the late 90s.  The kangaroo trials they were subjected to predated those conducted by the Burmese junta in 2009 against Aung San Suu Kyi, and earlier against James Mawdsley and Rachel Goldwyn, and later against Yettaw, Kyaw Zaw Lwin and many others.  (Note, 6-15-2014--A DVB reporter has been arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for reporting--i.e. doing his job).

This report is about arbitrary taxation.

The word "arbitrary" in plain English means, "without rhyme or reason, on a whim" and this is the situation the authors describe, based on responses from over 2000 entries and 2500 responses from the Generation 1988 Group's Open Hearts Campaign, in which Burmese living inside Burma risked their lives, essentially to kvetch about the abuses they suffered at the hands of the junta and its agents.  Trained human rights data collectors were employed.

The seasoned cynic or junta apologist may ask what another of the zillions of detailed reports about Burma could do.

My reply would be that this report is a gold mine of insights about Burma and takes the rare systemic or regime critical view, while being based on solid hands-on economic research at the micro-economic level.

In a practical sense, Vicarey and Turnell present "to do" lists for ASEAN, China, India and Thailad, as well as for the SPDC.  Whether they do it or not is the duty and responsibility of the governments concerned and of ASEAN. The researchers here have done their part.

The conclusion is that only a democratic system can lead to optimum distribution of resources, besides being humane and fair.  We surely need more independent special interest groups and a free press in Burma.

This report is presented in jargon-free language and everyone seriously interested in Burma should read it, as well as check out the Burma Economic Watch Website and the other writings of both the authors.

Well done mates!  (In Australese)

Kyi May Kaung (Ph.D.)
June 24, 2010.
Washington, DC.

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