DVB Debate: Will foreign aid help or hinder Burma?

Following political reforms in Burma and the lifting of economic sanctions, Western nations have begun to relax curbs on foreign aid. But critics have raised concerns that it may be “too much, too soon” as aid and development money pours into Burma without the infrastructure to support it.

Panellists on DVB Debate discussed the potential pitfalls that can arise from a reliance on foreign aid.

“Not all development really helps the country; sometimes it can create a disaster,” said Aye Lwin, programme specialist from the United Nations Development Programme or UNDP.

Audience member Shihab Uddin Aharmad from Action Aid warned that too much dependency on foreign aid will harm the country.

“Foreign aid is good, but not always,” he said. “It can create a lot of problems inside the country. It can create dependency within the economy and different social sectors for a long time,” he said.

YinYin New from the National Economic and Social Advisory Council said it was important that Burma look after itself as it seeks to develop.

“No country in the world has developed with the help of the foreign aid. We need to be self-sufficient,” she said.

But Htoo Chit from Thabyay Education Foundation said Burma should not rule out working with foreigners to help develop the country.

“If foreigners are willing to help Burma develop, then we should all work together,” he said.

Foreign aid organisations and UN agencies have been under particular scrutiny recently following a series of articles in the media about spending. An exposé released by Irrawaddy media last month revealed that UNICEF is renting their new offices in Rangoon from a former senior military figure for US$87,000 a month.

“Recently, we reported about the UNICEF and WHO [World Health Organization] cases. Why do they need to stay in such grand places if they are here to help people for humanitarian purposes?” asked Irrawaddy editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.

But Thaung Htun, from INGO Institute for Peace and Social Justice, said rental prices in Burma were high and many aid organisations are struggling to find suitable office spaces.

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“The high cost of real estate is presenting a big challenge for the UN agencies and INGOs. It is hard to find a suitable office and the prices are very high,” he said.

Panellists then discussed the problem of inefficient spending in the aid sector.

“There is waste and ineffectiveness. The majority of the budget goes to payments for consultants,” said Thaung Htun.

“Sometimes money is wasted, not deliberately or because of corruption, but because of miscalculations on a project,” added Yin Yin New.

A lack of transparency and access to areas where assistance is needed is seriously hindering aid groups from carrying out their work.

“All of us, private sector firms, civil society groups and government agencies are walking in the dark because of incomplete information,” said Gavin McGillivray from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The studio thought that cutting red tape and bureaucracy would help aid agencies work more effectively, but agreed that more efforts were needed by the agencies to ensure there is less wastage of funds and that the aid gets to the people who need it most.

You can join the debate or watch the full programme in Burmese at dvbdebate.com

Or leave your comments on our website below.

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