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Experts Fear Burma's Reforms Stalling


From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

Some experts fear that rights reforms in Burma are slowing ahead of national elections planned for 2015. The Asian Development Bank has said that Burma, also known as Myanmar, can become a middle income country by 2030. To do so however, the economy must continue to grow at more than six percent a year.

Burma’s military rulers began reforming its economic and political systems in 2011. These reforms led most nations to end restrictions against Burma.

FILE - A couple takes a self-portrait at People’s Square on Valentine’s Day near Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon, Feb. 14 , 2014.

John Hancock is an Australian lawyer and expert on Burma. He says Burma has made strong progress in the past 6 to 7 years. He adds that foreign investors see opportunity for profits in Burma.

However, Mr Hancock says that Burma must rebuild government operations, and complete land reforms. He says the government must increase spending on education, roads and power systems. More than 25 percent of Burma’s 61 million people live below the national poverty level. Many of the poor live in rural areas.

Aung Zaw is the editor of the Irrawaddy newspaper. He says many in Burma fear the reform efforts will not be enough. He says poor supervision of land records leaves people in danger of losing their land.

Aung Zaw says there is evidence that the Burmese army has forced villagers out to make room for foreign investment. He says foreign investors have shown interest in new Special Economic Zones. But he says, these new economic areas come with huge social and environmental costs. He says often villagers are forced from their homes without fair payment.

The government of Australia has warned investors that people and companies with close ties to Burma’s military influence areas of the economy, including the oil, gas and wood industries.

Sean Turnell is an economist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He says agriculture reform has slowed in Burma, although a majority of Burmese make a living through agriculture.

"What I am really struck by is the lack of progress in agriculture," said Turnell.

Mr Turnell says that without land rights, farmers have limited opportunity to borrow money at fair rates.

Experts say some who fear changes in Burma are trying to slow reforms by creating ethnic and religious conflict ahead of the planned 2015 elections.

And that is the Economics Report for VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter.