It has been seven months since the State Administration Council took over the responsibility for leading the country back on the path to truly free and fair elections, which are the hallmark of democracy.
In August, the government demonstrated significant progress in ensuring the rule of law and achieving a greater measure of stability and security than in previous months. The government is now accelerating measures to revive the economy, which has and continues to be deeply affected by the COVID crisis. Vaccination programmes across the nation have achieved a certain measure of success. Effective control and response measures put in place through the combined efforts of the government, civil society organizations and the Tatmadaw have lowered COVID-19 test positivity rates.
The high points in August are the new governance structures, the firm support of ASEAN member countries, disease control and management measures, achievements in economic sectors, and supportive public participation in the fight against terrorism.
On 1 August, the State Administration Council introduced governance reforms to enhance effectiveness and decentralize decision-making. The Management Committee under the State Administration Council was reconstituted to become the “Provisional Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar”, to undertake state duties directly according to the goals set by the Five-Point Road Map and Nine Objectives. The State Administration Council Chairman serves as the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government, while the Vice-Chairman serves as Deputy Prime Minister. The Union Ministers, Union Attorney-General and Permanent Secretary of the Provisional Government Office also serve in the Provisional Government. Some changes were introduced among the ministries, and among regional/state governments in the interests of greater efficiency.
On 1 August 2021, to mark the six months since the State Administration Council took over the responsibilities of State, the SAC Chairman pledged to continue working towards new, free and fair elections in line with the provisions of the state of emergency and following the annulment of the 2020 General Election results. He emphasized the importance of disciplined practices to maintain stability and the rule of law, and the collaboration between the government and the entire Myanmar people in the fight against the pandemic. Moreover, he underscored the need to promote unity in the country and to enhance the agriculture and livestock sectors.
Prime Minister Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing presided over the sixth national coordination meeting on the COVID-19 emergency on 2 August, the seventh one on 9 August, the eighth one on 16 August, the ninth one on 23 August and the tenth one on 30 August. At these five national coordination meetings on the COVID-19 emergency in just one month, the theme was the effective implementation of disease prevention, control and treatment measures in a timely manner.
As an outcome of the work ensuing from these coordination meetings, the country was able to receive and utilize international assistance effectively and accelerate the vaccination programmes across the nation. The logistics of the vaccination programme was facilitated by the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Ministry of Defence, which together provided the necessary vehicles, aircraft and helicopters to transport the 10.2 million vaccines, which had been purchased or donated by friendly countries and organizations, to the respective regions and states. The government continued efforts to expand the supply of medical oxygen, including through import. Strict measures were enforced with the help of the business sector to ensure the sale of essential drugs and medical supplies at reasonable prices and prevent price gouging. Those on the priority list to be vaccinated received their shots, including those from areas controlled by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), from camps for internally displaced people, and those from Bengali communities in Rakhine State.
As a result of combined efforts by the government, health workers, civil society organizations and communities, test positivity rates have declined significantly. On 23 July, at the peak of the COVID-19 Delta variant, 41% of tested cases were positive, and this proportion declined to 21% on 26 August and has continued going down since then.
Arrangements were made for the sale of essential food items at reasonable prices from mobile markets mounted on small trucks, to alleviate hardship for people faced with high food prices.
During the State Administration Council (13/2021) meeting held on 7 August, the Chairman and SAC members reviewed the decline of terrorism, the implementation of road map and objectives, COVID-19 prevention, treatment and control activities, stability and the rule of law and socio-economic measures to reduce inter-regional disparities and urban-rural disparities.
On 10 August, the first meeting 1/2021 of the Provisional Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar was held where the Prime Minister as Head of Government emphasized the need to collectively carry out development tasks of the State. These included measures to improve the education and research sectors, increase the income of individuals, ensure food security, reduce imports of non-essential goods, develop both state-owned and private factories and enterprises, improve the health of citizens, and speed up the issuance of national identity cards to all entitled citizens before the new elections.
On 17 August, the SAC Chairman provided policy guidance at a meeting on the development of Nay Pyi Taw Union Territory. He highlighted the establishment of training schools, colleges and universities to build up human resources, the development of the industry/ manufacturing sector, municipal affairs, as well as the promotion of the transport, agriculture and tourism sectors in Nay Pyi Taw Union Territory.
On 23 August, the State Administration Council (14/2021) meeting was convened. The meeting focused on economic relief plans for COVID-hit businesses, vaccination processes, the issue of proportional representation in elections, the rights of ethnic people and democratic norms.
On 31 August, at the (4/2021) meeting of the Security, Stability and Peace, and Rule of Law Committee of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, the Senior General led a review of the security situation. He addressed the issue of systematic security management at border trade camps, the effective management of forest areas, the importance of preventing the use of agricultural land for other purposes, the long-term plans for urban and rural management, and the necessary measures for security, peace and stability and the rule of law.
Vice-Chairman of the Financial Commission, Vice-Chairman of the State Administration Council Deputy Prime Minister Vice-Senior General Soe Win participated in two coordination meetings on budgets. The meetings focused on the six-month Union budget for the period October 2021 to March 2022, and the budgets of regions and states for the same period. The Vice-Chairman emphasized the need for the ministries to scrutinize the use of the budget, the prioritization of the COVID-19 preventive measures, and sectors directly benefitting the public.
The State Administration Council enacted laws amending the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure in August.
Closer ties with ASEAN and other partner countries
In August, Myanmar was able to further strengthen its cooperation with partner countries, including those in ASEAN.
On 8 August, the SAC Chairman sent a message on the 54th Anniversary of the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In his message, the Senior General extended his warmest greetings and best wishes to his fellow citizens and the peoples of ASEAN across the region. He expressed full confidence that collective efforts would enable ASEAN to overcome the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. He further noted that as the responsible Member State of ASEAN, Myanmar had been working together with ASEAN as guided by the theme “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper.” Myanmar remained firmly committed to work with ASEAN and its people to ensure a strong and successful ASEAN Community and regional integration.
On 2 August, the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting took place, together with its associated meetings: the 23rd ASEAN Political-Security Community Council Meeting, the Seminar of ASEAN Foreign Ministers and ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, the 29th ASEAN Coordination Council Meeting and Meeting of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Commission. A collective agreement was reached on the appointment of Brunei’s second foreign minister as the special envoy to Myanmar.
On 3 August, Union Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin and other relevant officials attended the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of ASEAN and Dialogue Partners. On the same day, the Union Ministry addressed the Second Mekong-US Partnership (MUSP) Ministerial Meeting, expressing appreciation for the US contribution of COVID-19 protective equipment to the Mekong countries. He requested further assistance, including the provision of COVID-19 vaccines for Myanmar to save lives. He welcomed the adoption of the MUSP Plan of Action (2021-2023).
On 4 August, the Myanmar delegation led by Union Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin attended the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of ASEAN and Dialogue Partners and East Asia Summit and emphasized the collaborative spirit of Myanmar regarding the ASEAN partnerships. Moreover, the Union Minister co-chaired the ASEAN-Canada Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. He also attended the ASEAN-New Zealand and ASEAN-EU Foreign Ministers’ Meetings in the first week of August.
On 6 August, Union Minister for International Cooperation U Ko Ko Hlaing attended the 14th Mekong-Japan Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and expressed thanks to Japan for its assistance in the third wave of COVID-19.
On 7 August, the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs attended the 28th ASEAN Regional Forum. At the event, the Union Minister discussed cooperation with ASEAN and pointed out that non-state actors and unlawful organizations committing terrorism acts should not be included in meaningful political dialogue, and that ARF countries should condemn such terrorist actions. He also pledged that Myanmar would work with ASEAN regarding the repatriation of displaced persons from Rakhine.
On 10 August, China provided more than $6.1 million from the Mekong-Lancang Special Cooperation Fund (2021) to Myanmar for 21 agreed projects under this fund. Eleven ministries will use the funds for projects related to non-traditional security, human capital development, vaccine production for animal diseases, culture, agriculture, science, technology and so on.
On 11 and 13 August, the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Union Minister for International Cooperation respectively presided over virtual meetings with Myanmar Ambassadors, permanent representatives and consuls general from the Asia Pacific Region, Middle East and Africa zone, Europe Zone and America Zone. The meetings focused on the current political situation and ongoing work plans.
In the second week of August, a Preparatory Meeting was held via videoconferencing on the 3rd Inter-Governmental Russia-Myanmar Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation and Business-to-Business Virtual Matching.
The Myanmar delegation led by Commander-in-Chief (Navy) Admiral Moe Aung participated in the 15th ASEAN Navy Chief’s Meeting held on 11 August and the 4th International Maritime Security Symposium (2021) on 23 August, held by videoconferencing. Union Attorney-General Dr Thida Oo led the Myanmar team’s participation in the virtual 42nd General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly.
On 24 August, the Union Minister for Hotels and Tourism and officials of the Myanmar Tourism Federation attended the CLMVT Plus Forum 2021, held via videoconferencing. The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Chairman and its members joined the Second Working Group Meeting of Southeast Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum and Side Event and discussed the activities of the commission and the challenges it faced.
To be continued….