Interview with Dr. Stephan Paul Jost (WHO representative to Myanmar)
Q: How important do you think this event is for our country?
A: I think it’s a very important event. The Development Assistance Policy is a key framework for partners and the different institutions and sectors in the government and civil society. And the Draft Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan too is a new departure, and both together are going to be very important markers for the development debate and implementation.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for our country in the democratic transition?
A: That’s a very big question; I hope I can do justice to its magnitude. I think there are many challenges but also significant progress has already been made. If anyone were to predict how far Myanmar had come in the last 5 years, I think very few people would have dared to actually say so. So the country has moved ahead fast both socially and economically and I hope also in terms of protecting the environment. In addition, of course, many, many problems remain as well. For peace, in certain areas of the country, it’s still the key to achieve for sustainable development, continued progress and induction of poverty in economic development and in doing so in an environmentally sustainable way so that all future generations will not suffer, but benefit.
Q: What suggestions or recommendations would you like to make on our country for achieving sustainable development?
A: I’m the WHO representative here and I’m privileged to work in this country. Our assessment is that a key thing would be to strengthen the state and regional level effectively so that these different states and regions can really fulfill the functions they were designed to do and that will really help Myanmar move forward in a much faster and more equitable way as well. Because development cannot just be directed from the center, it does need to be multipolar and here, I think the states and regions in this country are the key level to strengthen next in terms of human resources, capacity building, and material resources in a comprehensive and serious way.
Attention to implementation and implementation capacity is key because we all know that it’s already difficult enough to do good plans and policies but to implement them is even a much bigger challenge still. And to give sustained attention to implementation capacity and progress will be crucial.
Perhaps, finally, people should be at the center of our endeavors and the end of communal strife in the country where it still exists will be very important for development to be sustained and for the fruits of development to be shared with all. It’s very important that the different ethnic nationalities and all groups of societies are included and feel that they have a stake in the future of Myanmar because ultimately it’s a beautiful country and has tremendous potential.
Q: Some economists say that Myanmar’s economy is stagnant in this time of the new government, so I want to know your opinion about the prospect on Myanmar’s economy and the achieving of sustainable economic and potential investment from western countries.
A: I think the prospects for Myanmar’s economy are good. We’ve heard from the World Bank representative this morning saying that growth has averaged 8 per cent close to it since 2011 and that future prospects for growth are also good, provided of course that there are further structural reforms and the improvement of implementation capacity which is really building up people’s ability to also implement for foreign investment in the country, and to do it in the different sectors. Education and health will remain crucial for this investment to come because you need good human capital, so to speak; healthy and well-educated people for sustainable progress to be made. Myanmar people are very clever, capable and a lot of prospect. Plus it’s a young population overall so there’s a demographic dividend as well and there is still a lot of catching up to do especially in the different parts of the country. Some people suffer more than others and it’s very important that this is addressed. That, again, will give more confidence for economic investment. I think western investment will remain good and strong but it’s really getting the structure of things right in the country, and sustained equitable development will be the keys to promote further investment.
Of course, the less conflict, the better. The more peace there is, the better. The idea of a federal democratic union is basically very sound. I come from Germany, which is a federal country and has done well with the federal constitution. We have 16 states and Myanmar has 17 states so it sounds very similar. I think there is a good prospect here if not everything is directed from the center and relative autonomy can be given to the states and regions to look after their own affairs as best as they can. If they are really enabled to do that then that will be very important for the future of the country.
Q: What are the key to Myanmar economic development?
A: I think the social sector needs to be strongly supported. Education is key, training for people both in the school and universities and also for vocational training and skill-building. The modern world is moving so fast that a lot of new skills and technologies are coming in. For that training an open mind will be crucial. Health is also key because you do need to be healthy in order to lead a fulfilling life and to contribute socially and economically.
We know from experience around the world that Public Health is a key thing to move further and faster and to have the greatest benefit for the people. Here Myanmar has quite a good record and the current union minister is a public health expert himself. So I think there are a lot of good things happening that need to continue. Strong support for states and regions and for implementation capacity will remain crucial.