I am pleased that John Key has announced $7million in aid funding is to go to Burma, during his visit to that emerging country today. $1 million is to go to the strife-torn province of Rakhine in the western part of the country, where the Muslim Rohingya people remain stateless and in the most appalling need of aid and humanitarian support. I am pleased Key has been able to utter the words ‘human rights’ in Burma – how many decades of tyranny does it take for him to recognise that humans rights abuses exist?? – because he didn’t seem to be able to do so in Cambodia.
I was in Burma two weeks ago with the GAVI Alliance which distributes vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. 650,000 children will receive a new pentavaccine (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and influenza B) in the next 6 months and 1.5 million children will get their second measles vaccination in the next 12 months. I saw it starting in poor, rural villages outside of Nya Pyi Taw. NZ doesn’t contribute to that. That would be a better to place to start than agricultural development in my view. Fonterra can be left to do that, because it will for its own interests – government aid money could more usefully go to the primary needs for health care for the next generation.
I came away from Burma convinced that the new President and some of his Ministers are indeed committed to reform. I hold more hope for the progress of democracy than I have ever had before. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take her rightful place as the elected leader of Burma in my lifetime – something that has felt like a distant dream for such a long time. It is time for NZ to stand alongside the real efforts being made to lift Burma out of poverty and deprivation. I know agricultural reform can help there. I don’t deny that. But health care for women and babies is always a good investment in the long term.
I just hope that Key also decides to continue putting $175,000 into a valuable NZ-based UnionAid programme which takes 6 young Burmese leaders every year and gives them English language training at VUW and exposure to democratic structures and community organisations. It is a small investment with big results. I met with some of these interns while I was in Yangon. They are in a think tank advising the President on monetary policy, taxation, fiscal policy and writing of budgets. They are working for the ILO on its Freedom of Association project setting up trade unions under our own Ross Wilson, or on training others for leadership roles. It would be a shame if Murray McCully axed this small but significant programme when he should be doubling it. He is considering axing it apparently because one of the interns refused to go home last time and was granted asylum by Immigration NZ. Fix the process, Murray. Don’t axe the programme.
And by the way, Mr Key, don’t call it Myanmar in front of ASSK. That was an embarrassment you could have avoided with a little thought or experience.