Tuesday, 19 November 2019

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Stiglitz to give Burma serious economic advice

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Burma visit by Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, who was also former Chief Economist of the World Bank, could open a window of opportunity for the junta’s generals to take some serious advice on economic reforms, an economic expert on Burma said.

Sean Turnell, Professor of Economics at Macquarie University in Australia, on Thursday said he hopes the generals are ready to take serious economic advice as “Burma is desperately in need of good economic policy-making, and Professor Stiglitz is ideally placed to give advice along these lines.”

Prof. Stiglitz, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), will be visiting Burma on the invitation of ESCAP to advice on development policies and poverty reduction, especially in the rural areas.

The Nobel Laureate will be meeting Burma’s Minister of  National Planning and Economic Development and Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation on December 15 in Naypyitaw, where he will be speaking at a round table and development forum organised by the ESCAP and the two Burmese ministries, the ESCAP said.

In a press release, Dr. Noeleen Hezyer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, said Prof. Stiglitz will share his ideas on what kind of economic decision making is critical for growth of the rural economy and reduction of poverty.

"I hope that this visit will be able to open up a new space in economic decision making and policy formulations. The focus is on how we reach the poorest people in Myanmar [Burma]. We hope to bring the best thinking and lessons from the region and beyond," Dr. Hezyer said.

Turnell, a long time observer of Burmese economy, said Burma’s economic problems, and its fall from one of the richest countries in Southeast Asia to the poorest, is the direct result of poor economic decision-making by the country's ruling military regimes.

“So, Burma could benefit from such a visit if its military rulers listen to the sort of advice Professor Stiglitz could give, and then make this effective through genuine political and economic reforms,” Turnell told Mizzima on Thursday.

Turnell stressed that the kind of transformational reform that Burma needs to restore its economic security to the people “is not possible without political reforms.”

As Burma's rural credit market has totally collapsed, farmers have very little access to capital and as a consequence are foregoing the use of critical inputs, Turnell said.

“Burma’s rural economy is in a terrible state, and widespread food insecurity (not just localised shortages) now stalks the land. Loans to buy fertiliser and the like are scarcely available at interest rates that will allow farmers to remain viable,” he added.

However, Turnell said, even in the present state, Burma’s military rulers could take a few steps  to give some life back to the rural economy by channelizing the vast funds they have accumulated from the export of natural gas, and investing these funds to 'recapitalise' Burmese agriculture.
It could also cut back military expenditure and the funds devoted to internal security, and by immediately ending the dual exchange rate system by abandoning the artificial fixed exchange rate system, and allow the Kyat simply to float.

Prof. Stiglitz, in a press release on Thursday said, “Growth that does not benefit all of society is not ultimately sustainable. “It’s important that government take policy measures that include all sectors of the population, especially rural areas.”

Prof. Stiglitz, during his trip to Burma, would be speaking at a seminar, titled “Economic Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction: Lessons from the Region and Beyond,” which is part of a series launched by Dr. Hezyer.

The December 15 seminar, according to the ESCAP, would be divided into two segments. The first will be expert discussions on different facets of enhancing the rural economy of Burma. The second part would be a high-level roundtable on effecting change in Burma’s rural economy.

Prof. Stiglitz, who was the Chief Economist of the World Bank  from 1997 to 2000, played a key role in the publication “Rethinking the Asian Miracle”, which examined the reasons behind the dramatic growth of eight Asian economies. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001.


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