October 3, 2009

Burma Kangaroo Court Rejects Aung San Suu Kyi's Appeal. Now Because of the American Idiot She Will NOT Be Able To Participate in Next Year's Elections

The Guardian UK
Aung San Suu Kyi's failed appeal symbolises Burma's tragedy
written by Andrew Heyn
Friday October 2, 2009

Lack of freedom of speech worsens the waste of talent in an impoverished country, writes new UK ambassador in Rangoon.

At 10.45am today (local time), the Rangoon divisional court announced its decision on Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal. The appeal was rejected. No one was surprised by this outcome, despite her legal team's meticulously prepared arguments and public expressions of optimism ahead of the decision. The next stop is the supreme court, where it is difficult to imagine there will be a different outcome.

So Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. More than 2,000 other prisoners of conscience are being held across the country. They all symbolise the tragedy of the country, in which freedom of speech is ruthlessly controlled.

But the tragedy actually goes deeper than this. Burma is chronically poor. Its education and health systems are hopelessly underfunded, leaving NGOs and the UN – supported by the UK and other donors' contributions – to fill some of the gaps in services that government should be delivering. Its economy has fallen further and further behind its regional neighbours due to disastrous economic policies. And, just as Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow political prisoners symbolise the waste of talent in the political sphere, the waste of talent in the economic and business fields is equally damaging.

It is hard to describe what life is like for ordinary people here trying to make a living. Credit is hard, if not impossible, to get. The infrastructure is sub-standard across the country. Power cuts happen many times a day. Water supply is erratic. So even if you can set up an office or factory, how do you run it? The workforce is willing and helpful, but bureaucracy hinders innovation. Not to mention the difficulties caused by artificially controlled exchange rates, corruption and strict import rules. So only the most optimistic or well-connected entrepreneur would give it a go.

For most Burmese being unable to speak freely about their country is just one of the frustrations. Those I speak to focus as much, sometimes more so, on the difficulty of making ends meet. Most work incredibly long hours and earn pitifully little. It is subsistence living and for most people future prospects are equally bleak. It is truly remarkable that in the face of this adversity people here remain so extraordinarily hospitable and cheerful.

And yet it could be so different. Burma has abundant natural resources – gas, oil, hardwoods and precious stones to name but a few. It could be a tourist mecca. The potential of its paddy fields means that yields could be among the highest in Asia. Instead they are the lowest. Managed effectively and with access to global knowledge, the prospects for the country could be far better.

So for me, Aung San Suu Kyi's case symbolises not only the struggle of the ordinary people for freedom of expression. She and her 2,000 - plus fellow prisoners also represent a much wider waste of human potential. Talents wasted across the board here – Burmese doctors effectively forced to practise abroad; businessmen having to set up elsewhere rather than here; teachers beaten down by the poor pay; and so the list goes on. Burma – a potential economic powerhouse – is on its knees. And will stay there until the many talents of its people are allowed to flourish.

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