Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Economies

Social Sector Development in Myanmar: The Role of the State

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Economies

Social Sector Development in Myanmar: The Role of the State

Article excerpt

The current policy of the Government of Myanmar emphasizes the role of the state in the social sector. On the other hand, the government announced its commitment to promote private sector development and less government intervention in the market. Although expenditure in the social sector is increasing in absolute terms, it accounts for less than one per cent of GDP. This may be because the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education are usually the least powerful among the ministers and, therefore, are in no position to fight for a bigger share of budgetary expenditure. Also, domestic policy generally tends to favour physical infrastructure over social infrastructure. While the need for physical infrastructure cannot be denied, the budget allocation for it by far outstrips that for the social sector. It is suggested that the neglect of the social sectors will cost the country dearly in the near future.

I. Introduction

Soon after the military took over civil power as a self-declared caretaker government of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in September 1988, it adopted a market-oriented policy. Later on in March 1989, the 1965 Law of Establishment of the Socialist Economic System was formally revoked and "proper evolution of a market-oriented economic system" was officially declared as one of the four economic objectives of the State. Moreover, the need to "uplift health, fitness and education standards of the entire nation" was also declared as one of the four social objectives of the State.

Taken together, these two objectives imply on the one hand, promotion of private sector development and less government intervention in the market, and on the other, continued government involvement in the development of the social sector. Given the low per capita income of the Myanmar people, commitment by the government to improve the health, education and living standards of the people is only natural and as expected. However, given also the likely expansion of private sector activities in both the health and education sectors, the two objectives also indicate an awareness on the part of the government to take on a more effective management and regulatory role.

Needless to say, both of the above mentioned interdependent objectives are extremely important for sustainable development of the economy. The success enjoyed by the newly industralizing economies (NIEs) of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore in the past three or four decades clearly confirms the importance of having a sound and healthy market-oriented economic system. Then again, according to most scholars, "human resources in the NIEs in terms of skills, work motivation, adaptability and `trainability' have played a crucial role in their industrial success".1

Section II of this article presents the human resource development (HRD) status of Myanmar in the perspective of ASEAN and East Asia Pacific region. Section III, describes the efforts by the government to promote the health sector. Section IV examines the role of government in the educational sector. Concluding comments are given in Section V.

11. HRD in Myanmar and the Asia-Pacific Region

Table 1 shows the human development index (HDI) in ASEAN. It may be seen from this table that Myanmar's HDI value in 1997 was higher than that of Cambodia and Laos because of Myanmar's better performance in life expectancy index and / or education index. Both Cambodia and Laos have a higher GDP index than Myanmar.

Apart from the above, the level of social development in six original member ASEAN countries plus Vietnam is well correlated with their overall economic performance. In other words, the higher the GDP index, the higher will be the life expectancy index and / or education index. This is further attested by Table 2 which shows selected social indicators of Myanmar and the Asia-Pacific (AP) region.

As may be seen from Table 2, economies in East Asia and Pacific with a higher level of economic development than Myanmar, also outperform the latter economy in most aspects of social development. …

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