Following last month's successful trade facilitation event, Crown Agents USA and the Society for International Development (SID) hosted another panel discussion on June 20th. The event, "Re-emergence of Burma: Challenges and Opportunities," featured speakers from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and Crown Agents. Despite record breaking temperatures, there was a large turnout for the event, indicating the high level of interest in Burma related issues.
Tristan Burton, Crown Agents' Country Representative for Burma, began the discussion with a brief overview of the politics and history of the country. He then briefed the audience on Crown Agents' programs in-country, sharing unique insights as to the challenges of working in Burma, including his work designing and delivering a training and organizational development program to 40 Civil Society Organizations (CSO). Keiichiro Nakazawa, Chief Representative, JICA USA Office, followed with a detailed accounting of Japan's official development assistance history and current programs. Japan has been the largest donor to Burma and, as of April 2012, has restarted extensive assistance while working to resolve Myanmar's debt issues. JICA's projects will continue to work on infrastructure, capacity building and institutional development with a focus on the greater Yangon area.
Nitin Madhav, USAID's Officer in Charge for Burma, China, and Laos Programs rounded out the discussion with an overview of the US development assistance strategy in Burma. At $36 million per year, US funding to Burma is relatively low in comparison to other donors such as Japan and Australia. To date, USAID programs have worked primarily with the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, but will also focus on capacity development going forward. Mr. Madhav also cautioned against rushing projects and investments in Burma. Although Burma is generating a lot of attention in the media, institutions and local capacity are not at a level where projects can be rapidly scaled up. Brian Joseph, Senior Director for Asia and Global Programs at NED, moderated the discussion and contributed his insight to the panel as well. He noted that because of its work with civil society and the lack of deep ties to the government of Myanmar, USAID is well positioned to work with local organizations.
Despite numerous challenges, there is a cautious optimism that progress will continue and current reforms will help bring about the re-emergence and development of Burma.