A wide-ranging Interview with Norwegian Ambassador to Myanmar Ms. Tone Tinnes by the Global New Light of Myanmar and MRTV touched upon democratic and economic reform, peace process and bilateral relations between Norway and Myanmar.
Q: Please share your impressions on Norway-Myanmar relations.
A: Norway has a long lasting relationship with Myanmar and we cooperate on a broad range of issues. In July this year, our Foreign Minister visited Myanmar and had very good meetings with the State Counsellor and other Government representatives. In those meetings, he emphasized the good relationship between the two countries and the willingness from the Norwegian side to continue to assist Myanmar in its democratization process. The Union Minister for Information Dr. Pe Myint attended the Oslo Forum in June this year. In Oslo Forum, key persons from countries with an ongoing peace process come together and exchange experiences on the peace process behind closed doors.
Q: At the second session of the Union Peace Conference 21st Century PangLong, the participants talked about inclusiveness and patience and understanding so what is your impression on Myanmar’s peace process and democratization?
A: We see an eagerness from all parties to move forward and find solutions and a willingness to try to find compromises. The peace process will however take time and it’s important that the process is inclusive and includes everyone who has a stake in the peace process.
Q: What would be your expectations as Myanmar is moving forward towards federal democracy?
A: Federalism is a very important discussion and therefore a substantive part of the political dialogue in the peace process. We see that the government and EAOs are now seeking experience from many countries. Norway is not a federal country, but our experience on how we manage our natural resources and how we share income between central and local levels might be of interest. For instance, in Norway many smaller hydropower plants are owned by the local communities and the substantive part of the incomes are kept at the local level.
Q: Can you tell us about Norway’s support in Myanmar’s economic and political reform?
A: First of all, we see that Myanmar has a lot of potential when it comes to economic development. The country has so many resources like rivers that can be developed into hydropower, minerals, land and fish resources, and a young labor force. The country continues to open up to foreign investment and many Norwegian companies like Telenor, Statoil and Yara are already here. These companies bring competence and are responsive businesses.
The Norway-Myanmar Business Consul was established in 2015 and the embassy works closely with them. We try to encourage more Norwegian companies to come to Myanmar and be a part of the economic development.
Q: We’ve learnt that Norway has established unique and trusted relationships with Myanmar civil society organizations. We want to know more about social support programs.
A: Norway has a vibrant civil society, which has played a very important role in developing and strengthening the democratic process. In Myanmar Civil Society Organizations play an important role in providing social sector services like education and health, but also act as a bridge between people and government. CSOs have also an important role in the peace process in Myanmar.
Q: Please elaborate about Norway-Myanmar cooperation programs and projects.
A: Norway tries to assist in the peace process by sharing some of the experience we have gained assisting peace processes in other countries. We also provide financial support to some of the initiatives and structures in the peace process, for instance through Joint Peace Fund.
We have increased the relationships and cooperation with the Government. We share Norwegian experience in managing natural resources; not only the good experiences but also the bad experience so Myanmar will not make the same mistakes. We also bring in experts from Norwegian institutions to work with experts in Myanmar institutions. To give some examples, we have cooperation with the Ministry of Electricity and Energy. Through the cooperation the Ministry has established a unit that assess environment and social impact of potential hydropower projects. We also work with MOEE and share our experience in managing petroleum resources. We have similar cooperation with the Ministry of Environment where we also bring in Norwegian institutions and we help to increase capacity on waste management, water resources and biodiversity.
When the Norwegian foreign minister visited in July, Norway and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on capacity building of the fishery sector.
Q: MRTV is trying to move to the public service broadcasting so could you share your opinion about media development?
A: Norway has state media as well as independent media. We have established regulations that ensure a level playing field and give equal opportunities for the state media and independent media.
As Myanmar has opened up the country has developed independent media that has an important role to play. It is very important for the government to continue providing information to its citizens, but it must also provide good regulations and framework that encourage independent media. Independent media might have a different angle and cover different stories and will therefore contribute to the democratic development that Myanmar is going through.
Q: Do you have any more remarks for the democratic transition and peace process in Myanmar?
A: Democratic transition takes time in every country. Myanmar is continuing its transition and we see important progress in both the political as well as economic area.
The country has in addition a complex peace process. The advantage in Myanmar is a strong commitment both from the government and other stakeholders to take the peace process forward, to find compromises that will lead to a sustainable peace.
Norway has supported the democratic transition and will continue to support in many areas and we are ready to continue to respond to requests.