The Heavy Costs of Business in Burma

Burma has had a long and painful history of unscrupulous military and government involvement in the business sector.  Corruption is rampant with businesses obligated to “give back” (as in bribes) to officials at all levels.  Transparency International has ranked Burma 181 out of 183 countries on their Corruption Perception Index based on surveys of entrepreneurs and analysts on the subject.  Even Zaw Naing, a businessman working with the government on satellite technology admits, “We do have such things: bribery, corruption, nepotism, kickbacks.”  In addition, facilitation payments and the exchange of expensive gifts in order to “develop” business relationships are still commonplace.  With such an established culture of corruption, it’s hard to believe that the government will do legitimate business with foreigners.

With potential new foreign investors, the most attractive areas for investment (i.e. oil, gas, etc.) overlap with the ethnic areas where the most human rights abuses are occurring.  The energy, hydropower, mining, and gem industries are linked directly to increased conflict. The Ta’ang Student and Youth Organization, which comes from the Ta’ang ethnic group in Northern Burma just released their new report “Catalyst for Conflict.” The report “documents how Burma Army soldiers deployed to secure Chinese mega projects, including oil and gas pipelines and hydropower dams, have been threatening, extorting money from, and killing local villagers since January this year.”  

Economic development requires infrastructure as well.  With new investment in construction projects, the people of Burma will have to deal with the threat of even more land confiscation.  Access roads will be necessary to expand and operate these industries, which the military often facilitates by stripping ethnic minorities of their own land and at worst, displacing them altogether.  The drain-off from the construction negatively impacts the environment too; it can alter river flows, damage ecosystems, making farmlands infertile, etc. fueling tension in the area between the local people and those responsible for the project.

Burma’s natural resources have been traditionally used by the military-backed government and armed groups to control politics, the economy, and territory. This poses a great danger to the people who live there by increasing the chances of conflict with the military over land use.  Just one of many cases, 100 acres of common land for the Kalantae villagers were forcibly taken.  When the villagers tried to get it back, they were told that the Burmese Navy has been given orders to shoot any person on the newly confiscated land.  Now the military is using the land to grow crops for its own use.  In addition, “soldiers are coming into our villages and are committing sexual harassments on the women” said a village elder.

Map of Ta’ang Area
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