I would like to extend well wishes and good health to respected Chairman of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Chairman of the Amyotha Hluttaw and members of the Hluttaw.
I delivered a speech as a new president at the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw five years ago on March 30, 2011. Starting from that day, all of us have worked hard to build a new, disciplined and modern democratic nation after drifting away from a multi-party democracy system for over five decades. Starting from that day, we began implementing a very different political system and governance principles. Just as our country embarked on democratic transition, many countries in the Middle East started their “Arab Spring” of democratic transition.
After five years, Middle Eastern countries that are in the nascent stage of democratic transition are further away from their original goal of democracy because of instability arising from armed conflicts, the situation of millions of refugees having to flee from conflict and the surge of anarchism and extremism across the region. However, our country has been able to incrementally implement democratic transition in a peaceful and stable manner even though some difficulties and challenges remain. This is a unique success of Myanmar’s democratic transition and it will serve as a model for the global community. This is also a success for the people of Myanmar.
Members of the Hluttaw:
In my 2011 inauguration speech, I promised to implement policies and processes that reflect the prevailing conditions in order to build a more stable and developed nation. As promised, we have carried out political, economic, administrative and private sector development reforms in order to fulfill the wishes of the people to have peace, stability and development.
Political stability is most important for the ongoing political reforms. Even though there may be individuals and organizations inside and outside the country who are not yet ready to accept the Seven-Step Roadmap and the Constitution, I have urged in my speech for all of us to work together—despite our differences in conviction and opinion—on issues of common concern in the interests of the country as well as encouraged everyone to get into positions of authority fairly and legitimately by contesting in the democratic elections. Likewise, I have also emphasized that our government is opening the door and extending a hand for peace.
Because of these convictions, our government released prisoners of conscience so that all citizens can participate in the political process. Our government also amended necessary laws and held the 2012 interim elections so that the political parties that didn’t contest in the 2010 general elections can participate in the political and legislative activities in the Hluttaw. Because of these actions, individuals and organizations that didn’t or weren’t able to contest in the 2010 elections were able to contest in the 2012 interim and 2015 general elections and as a result were able to assume executive and legislative duties in accordance with the Constitution.
In order to promote peace as I have promised, we officially invited the Ethnic Armed Organizations to the peace table in August 2011. Without setting any preconditions, we were able to hold state and union level peace talks on free and equal terms. We were able to incrementally build mutual trust through these negotiations and our government was able to sign 39 state and union level peace agreements with 15 Ethnic Armed Organizations. We were also able to reduce the number and scope of the conflict to some extent. As a next step, we were able to sign a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement on October 15, 2015 after negotiating for over one year so that we can begin to hold political dialogues participated by the government, Hluttaw, Tatmadaw and Ethnic Armed Organizations. The door for peace is always open for the Ethnic Armed Organizations who are not yet ready to sign the agreement.
To launch the political dialogue process, we held the Union Peace Conference on January 12, 2016 based on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and in accordance with the timeframe contained in it. The holding of the Union Peace Conference represents one of the most important functions our government needed to do in transferring power to the incoming new government based on the results of the 2015 election results. The issues discussed in the Union Peace Conference will serve as good foundations for the future peace dialogues held under the new government.
Members of the Hluttaw:
I also promised in 2011 to establish a market economy; reform and implement suitable fiscal and monetary policies as well as tax and revenue polices; and reduce the gap between the rich and the poor as well as the differences in the standard of living between the urban and rural areas.
As a result, we began developing and implementing people-centered development plan starting from the 2011-2012 fiscal year.To improve socioeconomic conditions, our government placed a priority on 7 sectors such as access to electricity, access to drinking water, agriculture and livestock, job creation, tourism, and development of trade and investment. In order to promote sustainable development, our government developed a Long-Term (20 years) National All-Round Development Plan, 2011-2031; Myanmar All-Round Development Vision; 2010-2035 Industrial Development Vision; and other related conceptual plans, master plans and land use policies with the help of international organizations.These plans were submitted to the Hluttaw as well as shared with the general public. In order to ensure the accuracy of the statistical data needed to develop and implement these plans, our government also carried out the Nationwide Census Project for the first time in over 30 years. This Nationwide Census Project is a success because it will not only aid our government but also successive governments in developing sound economic plans.
The main difficulty our government encountered in promoting economic development is the continued impact of the two-decades-long economic sanctions imposed against our country. In order to remove these sanctions, our government has proved to certain countries that did not initially view our democratic reforms positively the fact that we are trying to institute a genuine democratic system. Our government has also encouraged these countries to acknowledge the positive changes and to render support to our efforts. I have traveled to the United States, European Union member countries and other friendly countries and explained our reforms to their political and legislative leaders in person. Because of these efforts, our new government was able to gain the support of the international community within a short time, which allowed for the normalization of relations with the international community. After Australia and Norway lifted economic sanctions, the European Union and other countries followed suit. We have also regained the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits for our domestic goods exported to the European Union. The United States have lifted many of the sanctions as well as suspended some others.
The lifting of the economic sanctions has positively contributed to our country. Because of the lifting of the economic sanctions, enactment of suitable foreign direct investment laws and implementation of special economic zone projects, domestic investment in our country increased from MMK 241.57 billion in 2011 to MMK 5179.91 in 2015. Likewise, foreign investment increased from US$ 4.64 billion in 2011 to US$ 22.12 billion in 2015. According to an IMF report, the per capita income increased from a little over US$ 800 in 2011 to US$ 1,270 in 2015.
Members of the Hluttaw:
I would like to share some of the successes from our economic reforms. Our government was able to abolish multiple exchange rates inside the country, which has been impeding foreign trade and investment, and replaced it with a unified exchange rate based on the foreign exchange market. While there were initial worries on this undertaking, our government was able to successfully carry it out with the assistance from the International Monetary Fund. Furthermore, our government was able to promulgate legislation establishing an independent Central Bank, which is critical for financial sector reforms. With regards to debts incurred by previous governments, our government was able to negotiate debt forgiveness amounting to 6 billion dollars with Paris Club member countries as well as consolidate and refinance remaining old debts with new low-interest rates.
Because we were able to accomplish these things, our government was able to receive loans and technical assistance from international financial institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, ADB and ODA to aid in the development of the country. Furthermore, we were able to start the process of becoming an EITI member country as well as removal from being classified as one of the Least Developed Countries (LDC).
In the education sector, spending increased from MMK 300 billion in 2011 to MMK 1692 billion in 2015. Whereas tuition was free up to middle school previously, free schooling was expanded to secondary schools. In addition to scholarship programs, outstanding scholars programs and awards, many students under the Presidential Scholarship program studied at universities abroad. Spending was also increased on school buildings, furniture, teaching equipment, and other essentials.
As a result, the number of basic education schools increased from 41,000 schools in 2011 to 45,000 schools in 2015. In the same period, the number of students grew from 8,070,000 to over 8,800,000, and the number of teachers from 270,000 to over 330,000. Over 11,000 new schools were built and over 11,100 were renovated.
In addition, to raise our future leaders, youth social organizations including boy and girl scouts, outstanding student programs, and youth Red Cross were revived and supported.
At the same time, I welcome the instruction of Buddha’s teachings and activities of Dhamma schools. The activities of other religions for greater social good must also be welcomed. Related to school education, there are also plans to include in the curriculum civic education and practices, behaviors and attitudes that promote social good. We did all this with the vision of building a nation with peaceful, calm, and pleasant people where goodwill, compassion, unselfish joy flourishes.
In the health sector, spending increased from MMK 86.58 billion in 2011 to MMK 814.17 billion in 2015. To enable better access to healthcare, 225 hospitals were opened and 100 hospitals were upgraded within the last five years. Similarly, 421 ward and township clinics, 225 village-level health, maternal, child departments, and regional departments, 44 state-level hospitals, and 9 nursing and midwifery schools were opened.
Additionally, to improve access to high-level healthcare close to where people live, 15 state/regional hospitals were upgraded to 500-bed hospitals. The Yangon General Hospital was also upgraded to a 2000-bed facility. At the same time that hospitals were upgraded, free healthcare programs were also expanded.
Members of the Hluttaw:
The telecommunications sector is an important component of a developing economy. Therefore, during our government’s term in office, we focused on increasing mobile and Internet usage. Not only did this enable better communications, but it also increased the public’s access to information and general knowledge. People living in the rural areas can now access the latest market and weather updates thereby narrowing the information gap between city and rural dwellers, and contributing to the development of the rural areas. Since the government permitted the participation of international operators, mobile usage has increased from previous 4-5% to about 80% today. SIM cards became more affordable with the price of each card falling from MMK 1.5 million to about MMK 1500. Soon, Mobile Banking will be expanded further, opening more opportunities for people in the rural areas.
The one weakness in our country’s development is access to electricity. Therefore, our government drafted a National Power Policy and a long-term master implementation plan in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Additionally, the National Electrification Plan was developed in cooperation with the World Bank.
During the past 5 years, power generation grew to 1822 MW enabling 422 towns and villages access to electricity. Due to these improvements, Chin and Rakhine States are now connected to the national grid for the first time since independence. Furthermore, rural electrification is now bringing power to 10421 villages. Under the master implementation plan, 1.7 million households will have access to electricity between 2015-2019.
Members of the Hluttaw:
For citizens to enjoy the benefits of the political and economic reforms, our government also implemented administrative reforms. Since the success of the democratic system is tied to a good administrative system, we are promoting responsibility, accountability, and working fairly for the benefit of the public, in accordance with laws, regulations, and procedures.
We also initiated bottom up—from citizens to the government—administrative approach in place of the top down approach. We enabled direct election of neighborhood, village, and township development support groups, and municipalities. These entities will work with members of Hluttaws and planning committees for the development of their regions.
To foster better collaboration between the Union government and the State/Regional governments, Delivery Units headed by deputy ministers were opened. Two hundred and sixty seven One Stop Shops were also opened to promote transparency and delivery of governance services.
Civil servants are the most important components of administrative reforms. Therefore, our government has placed a priority on capacity building and education programs. We have also increased salaries and pensions. As with other democratic nations, governments may change. However, to ensure stability during transitions, permanent secretaries were appointed and the necessary structural reforms were implemented. Over the past 5 years, over 1 million civil servants have strived to nurture a new administrative system from the old and completely different system. I use this opportunity to recognize their efforts.
Members of the Hluttaw:
Another important area of reforms is the reform of the media sector. Under our government, laws no longer compatible with the times were repealed and new ones were signed into law. To foster media ethics and standards, capacity-building programs were held, and foreign media was allowed to freely report from inside the country.
As well as establishing an independent press council to further develop the media sector, an independent television and radio council will also need to be formed. Additionally, a Right to Information bill has been drafted to assist in independent newsgathering, and will be transferred to the new government. Because of the emergence of these organizations and laws, the difficulties media face today with ethics and existing laws will soon be diminished.
The Human Rights Commission is also actively carrying out its tasks. In parallel with the government’s Anti-Corruption Committee, an independent Anti-Corruption Commission has been formed. According to Transparency International, the country is moving in the right direction, having moved up the Corruption Perceptions Index from 183 in 2010 to 147 in 2015. Long time practices cannot be changed immediately but we are making progress.
With the aim of making Myanmar a middle-income country by 2020, our government worked to develop the private sector—the main driver of the economy—by increasing output, trade and investment. As a result, private sector participation in manufacturing increased to 72.8%, in agriculture to 97.2%, and 83% in services. In international trade, private sector participation grew from 53.16% in 2010-2011 to 65.81% in 2014-2015.
Members of the Hluttaw:
The 2010 general elections were the first steps in the country’s democratization process. The government and Hluttaw that were elected worked hand in hand to nurture a democratic system grounded on responsibility and freedom. Since our government initiated democratic reforms, we recognized that the 2015 general elections would be an opportunity to take another step forward.
Therefore, the objective of our government over the last 5 years has been to achieve peace, political stability, emergence of inclusive politics, and improvement of citizens’ livelihoods and skills. In other words, regardless of which party wins the 2015 elections, our aim was to lay the groundwork to enable the country to be in a better place politically, economically and socially than when we first initiated reforms in 2010. Our goals were much more expansive and ambitious than winning re-election for the USDP or myself. They are greater than one individual or organization. In fact, these objectives are crucial for the strength of the democratic system in Myanmar.
In implementing these objectives, while we had successes we also faced many difficulties, constraints and challenges. There were also confrontations and disputes. However, by harmonizing what is possible and what is not, and depending on the practical political situation permitted, I addressed these issues in order to prevent the reforms from stalling or backsliding. Ignoring my own personal feelings, I carried out my duties for the benefit of the citizens of this country. Instead of acting as an authoritarian, I sought consensus from all stakeholders.
Consequently, no one can deny that in Myanmar today, political forces with diverse viewpoints and convictions now participate in politics, and a culture of resolving differences through dialogue has taken root. Furthermore, democratic practice has flourished among citizens, and political institutions that align with democratic practices are stronger. For this reason, Myanmar’s democratic transition has gained local and international confidence. Therefore, the stature of Myanmar citizens around the globe has been raised, and the country has enjoyed success in foreign relations including normalizing relations with countries that had once imposed sanctions, serving the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014, hosting the 2013 South East Asian Games and actively participating in the affairs of the Asia region.
Members of the Hluttaw:
As a result of the reform process and our hard work these past 5 years, the 2015 general elections—an important milestone in our democratic transition process—was held freely and peacefully. In accordance with the election results, the National League for Democracy will soon assume legislative and executive duties. As pledged by our government before the elections, power will be systematically transferred to the new government in accordance with existing laws, regulations, procedures and directives. This will mark the first time since independence that a sitting head of state and government will peacefully transfer power to a newly elected head of state and government. I repeat my pledge that this essential and important political process of power transfer will be carried out systematically and successfully.
Members of the Hluttaw:
Holding regular elections is a feature of a democratic system. And depending on the decisions made by the people, there will be winners and losers. While the winning majority parties will have to work for the benefit of the country and citizens, the minority parties will have to cooperate for the nation’s benefit, and when necessary, provide constructive criticism. In this way, political parties will operate according to democratic principles and practices and in ways to gain the public trust and confidence for their policies in future elections.
In Myanmar today, whichever political party assuming office will need to continue implementing peace and development. Members of our government and I personally will cooperate with the new government on this effort. I urge those members of the Hluttaw who will not be part of the future Hluttaw to work together outside the Hluttaw for peace, stability and development of the country.
Members of the Hluttaw:
On March 30th, our government’s term in office will end. Over the past 5 years, our government has strived for a stable and successful implementation of peace, stability, development and democratic transition to the best of our abilities. I would like to thank everyone from the branches of government, civil society, civil servants, international community, international organizations, academics, experts, media, and all the citizens of Myanmar for working together on the successful implementation of reforms initiated during our government’s term in office.
I hope the new government and Hluttaw will bring about more peace and development to Myanmar.
I wish you all good health, and my sincere hope that all our ethnic brothers and sisters will join and work together to build our Union.
I bid you all good luck and farewell.