It’s a pleasure to welcome all of you here. I’m very happy that you have chosen our country as the venue for the IDA replenishment meeting.
I would like you to look beyond the walls of this hotel, beyond the boundaries of Naypyidaw to see the real Burma. The Burma of villages. Villages that sink into darkness after sundown because there is not enough electricity. Villages where our children suffer from malnutrition and lack of education. Villages which are depleted of their young men who have gone abroad, to try and find work which is not possible to find here. These are the aspects that you will be looking at. Poverty reduction, let’s say poverty elimination, is a difficult task, and we all have to join in.
The themes that you have chosen for your meeting today might have been tailor-made for our country. I’m sure that it’s actually tailor-made for all countries which are trying to develop as quickly as possible.
Fragility, Conflict and Peace: This [theme] is absolutely essential for us. This is one of the priorities of our government: that we must bring peace to our country. To put an end to the conflict that has been plaguing us all since we became independent. Fragility: a society which is not at peace is extremely fragile. We cannot hope to develop the systems and sustainability. This is why I am glad that you have put conflict and peace at the very head of your agenda. We hope that we will find the answers that will help us to achieve national reconciliation and peace in our country.
Climate Change: We understand that this country [Myanmar] is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. We have suffered from the effects since a few years ago. We have understood what it is like to suffer from climate change. We have had floods, cyclones, and of course as a result of the floods, we have had landslides. Our people have lost lives, lost homes, lost livelihoods. So what are we going to do about climate change which we cannot change back to what it used to be? We have to learn to cope with the future, we cannot keep looking back at the past. I am sure this also is part of your agenda, looking to the future rather than back at the past.
Gender and Development: We need a healthy balance when it comes to gender. We are told that the women of Myanmar are the equal of the men. I’m not sure this is quite true yet. I think society still favors our men. Look at all the men on my right [referring to ministry officials seated to right]. I’m sorry to say that none of our union ministers, apart from me, are women. We want to include more women in our government. I’m proud to say that we have many women in our regional and state government and of course in our legislatives as well, but not as many as we would have liked. This is something we have to work at. It’s not because our women are not talented. In fact, we have a problem with getting enough talented young men into universities. The best students are women. This is happening all over Asia, and this is something I would like you to look at. I don’t know why this is; that in Asia it’s the girls who get better marks before they get into university and it takes the boys a bit longer to catch up. I believe in a healthy balance between the two genders.
I’m rather troubled because 70 percent of the recruits into my ministry, the foreign ministry, are women. 70 percent women and 30 percent men doesn’t exactly represent the situation of our country. We would like our diplomats to represent our country in more ways than one. So this is one question that I would like you to look into, not just the social and economic discrimination against women, but why are our boys not doing so well on the academic front? We want a healthy talent, we want cooperation between the genders.
Jobs and Economic Transformation: Job creation is the foundation of our economic policy. We need to create jobs very badly, and I mentioned earlier that many of our villages have been depleted of their menfolk who have ventured abroad to try and make a living for themselves and to be able to send back money to their families to enable them to survive. So what can we do about job creation? We would like the kind of investment, the kind of economic programs which are geared towards job creation. This is what I call sustainable development. A program that comes in and does whatever it can do, and then goes away and leaves the situation as it is before, is not what we would consider to be sustainable. We want the kind of economic programs, the kind of investments that will result in long-term progress for the development of our country. And the answer is job creation.
I have travelled all over the country over the past few years and wherever I went, whenever I asked our people, whether they were in towns or villages, what their greatest need was, they would always say jobs. We don’t want to be standing there with our hands-out. We want to be able to earn our own living with dignity and security. I hope that you will be able to find the kind of answers that will help us achieve this.
Governance and Institutions: Well of course I’m sure many of you know that we have been champions of democracy. Not because we think democracy is perfect, but because it is the one system in the world that truly respects the people—if it’s a working democracy. Unless we respect our people, we cannot expect our country to make progress. The success of the country depends on our people.
Many say that we are lucky, that Myanmar is a fortunate country because we have many natural resources. But the natural resources that they are talking about, the resources that come up from the ground, are all the resources that we remove from the ground. These are not our real treasure. Our real treasure, our real riches are our people, and we need to make sure that our people are nurtured in the proper way. And this has a lot to do with governance and institutions.
First of all our people must be respected. They must feel they have the security, that only true respect can give a human “being.” They are respected, they are secure and they are free. I have often said that freedom and security are the basic needs of human beings everywhere. I cannot think of any conflict that arises unless either one or the other of these two or both are threatened. People take to violence, people take to opposition and resistance because they feel that either their security or their freedom is inadequate. So it is up to governments and institutions to provide the foundations, on which we can build a country that is free and secure for all our people.
We will try hard to achieve the aims of the IDA. We would like to work together with you, to lift our country out of poverty and to lift our people out of a situation where they are dependent either on other institutions or on other people to survive. We want our people to feel that they are capable of carving out their own destiny. This is what the fathers of our independence movement longed for: the ability to be able to carve out the destiny of their own country. We want each and every one of our people to be able to carve out his or her own destiny, in peace and security.
I look forward to your advice, your suggestions and assistance in material as well as intellectual terms.
Thank you very much.