Of Pianos and Harmony

At the Africa National Congress office in Kliptown

This is Thamba (in the photo next to me), originally from Swaziland but who was born and brought up in Soweto, Johannesburg. I had the pleasure of Thamba’s company as he showed me Soweto and helped me understand the history of South Africa, the impacts of apartheid era on society and on him personally. He went to school with Mandela’s daughter and therefore had the unique experience of having walked with Mandela and been very much a part of the struggle for equality as a young man.

Thamba recounted a very interesting anecdote about Nelson Mandela’s view on social cohesion and the need for harmony between the different races in post-apartheid South Africa. Madiba  (as Mandela is known fondly in his homeland) used the parable of a piano to highlight why everyone needed to march together to achieve progress. He explained that playing the piano with just the white keys or just the black keys, whilst able to produce a tune, will never be as rich as the symphony one can create if one was to use both the black and white keys together. This, he explained, was the route towards a  better and greater society and stressed the need for the white, black and other communities to all work together to achieve social progress. 

A simple message, elegantly put and to very powerful effect!

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The last coup ever in Turkey?

The events of 15th July 2016 in Turkey with the attempted coup could go down in history as one of the most pivotal moments in Turkish history.

On the 16th of July, acting army chief of staff, General Umit Dunar announced that,  “the time of military coups and juntas is over,” and he could well be right.

It is worthwhile understanding the implications of the Turkish events for history has shown that when the Ottomans sneeze, Europe gets a cold and the Middle East falls into a catatonic shock and paralysis.

Modern Turkey has had a history of coups led by the military and often it has been due to the underlying philosophical and ideological conflicts between Kemalism (the secular principles enshrined by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) and Sunni Islamism.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) are now back in full control of matters in Turkey following this very serious development in Turkey.

The fate of the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood (the ideological partners of the AKP)  who lost power in a coup in Egypt before being sentenced to death must have always weighed heavily on President Erdogan’s mind.

In a very prescient article by Gonul Tul for the Foreign Affairs magazine in May 2016, the risk that the empowering of the military generals by Erdogan to fight Kurdish separatists was raised and the danger that the “President was riding a tiger that is…wilder and more vengeful.”

At the heart of the matter is that the military with its strong Kemalist and secular traditions was always going to be viewed as a threat by the religiously-motivated AKP. However, 14 years of a more religious and conservative rule by the AKP would almost certainly have had the effect of changing the ideological mindset of the Turkish people as well as some of the military. Despite this, the military still refused to let graduates of religious schools enter military academies for fear of diluting the secular principles the modern Turkish state was founded on.

The latest failed coup attempt will no doubt see a mass changes in personnel and policies in the military which will have the impact of shifting some of the ideology underpinning the Turkish military.

In the longer term, the broader question is whether this could see the slow shift and tilt of modern Turkey away from very strict secular traditions towards Sunni Islamic traditions? Could a more Islamic Turkey, centred round more inclusive and tolerant beliefs be a bulwark against the extremist and fanatical Islamic terrorist ideology that is consuming the world in hate and anger?

The present Turkish government (under an Islamic leadership) signed a reconciliation agreement with Israel in June 2016 and seek to work with Israel to bring peace to the region. This is a much welcomed development in  world beset with too much hate and difference.

What happens next in Turkey remains to be seen, but Turkey could well establish some precedence within the Islamic world and be more than a physical bridge between the Muslim and Western worlds but go beyond this and be a spiritual and ideological bridge between both worlds. Watch this space.

 

Muzzling a rockstar central banker – the Indian way

This article reflects only my own personal thoughts and do not reflect the official position of any other organisation. Responsibility for the information and views expressed this article lies entirely with me. 

The news of the resignation of India’s central banker Raghuram Rajan has unsettled Indian investors, and rightfully so.

Rajan was one of India’s best central bankers and was a cornerstone in driving the Indian economy over the last three years.

Here is a man who in 2005 at a conference in Jackson Hole made some prescient statements about how financial developments have made the world a riskier place and called out the systemic risks posed by banks to the global economy. (His speech can be found here: https://www.imf.org/external/np/speeches/2005/082705.htm). He was derided as a luddite who was misguided. However, the developments of the 2008 financial crisis proved him right and a number of his proposed safeguards have since been implemented.

Some may question why the current Indian administration has removed a man who is widely recognised as an architect of India’s growth story.

It goes back to 2014, when Rajan questioned Modi’s “Make in India” campaign and cautioned against “against picking a particular sector such as manufacturing for encouragement, simply because it has worked well for China. India is different, and developing at a different time, and we should be agnostic about what will work.”

Last year, Rajan also questioned the rising of sectarian tensions and intolerance propagated by factions associated with the currently ruling government.  In a speech to the Indian Institute of Technology last October, Rajan lambasted the rising intolerance and stated: “India has always protected debate and the right to have different views. Excessive political correctness stifles progress as much as excessive license and disrespect.”

This is consistent with the pattern of behaviour displayed by the current Indian administration .

What have Modi and his administration achieved in the last two years:

 

So what does this administration do in response? Remove one man who can help make a difference and help improve matters.

Another great article here: By getting Raghuram Rajan out, Modi may have won, but India has lost

I am genuinely concerned at the state of affairs in India and despite the sometimes effective PR campaign Modi’s government may run, the cracks are beginning to show.

India’s always been a home to alternative thoughts, ideas, ideologies, religions, faiths, beliefs, ethnicities and ways of life. We have been a beacon of hope and democracy for all and it is very sad to see the very edifices of inclusivity and secularism crumbling.

 

 

The Singapore Budget 2016 in a nutshell

The Singapore Budget 2016 was announced on the 24th of March 2016 by Finance Minister, Heng Swee Keat.

Below is a simple view of the budget (please click here to download high resolution version):

budget 2016
A summary of the Singapore Budget 2016

Some have claimed that this budget represents a ‘game plan for the next 50 years’ but my view is that this is a very functional budget that sets out a 5-year planning approach.

The budget itself can be split across five areas: support for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs); Economic Transformation; Social support; Infrastructure Investment; and Individual Taxation.

The main focus of the budget has been primarily around partnership (particularly between government and industry), internationalisation (and support for companies that seek to establish Singapore as a trusted brand) and a transformation of the economy, towards greater efficiency and focus on high value drivers.

Theme of the 2016 Budget: Clarity, Consistency and Compassion

The aims of the government seems to be very much around providing clarity to businesses across a number of areas (from finding relevant grants, to addressing their pressing issues and providing them with the right information to ensure their alignment to the government’s wider aims).

There is also significant consistency with previous policies and measures and little deviation to what has already been established. This includes buttressing of existing policies around SkillsFuture or other social policies.

It is the final theme of compassion that strikes me the most. There is a tacit acknowledgement that social mobility is a critical matter that needs to be addressed urgently. The Deputy Finance Minister in a speech has indicated as much.

Looking at the slew of social-focused policies and support pillars designed to help the underprivileged and support social mobility is important as Singapore enters her 51st year.

Income disparity and social mobility remain the biggest threat to our social systems and to any country’s progress. Putting into place the pillars to enhance mobility is an important investment to ensure the harmonious development of society and nation.

Climate change

One area that could have been addressed in more detail is the impact of climate change and the government’s wider approach to addressing this important area – particularly given the severe consequences this has on Singapore. In time to come, I suspect, governments around the world will start devoting more of the government budget and resources towards addressing this and report on the developments.

The government touched on tax rebates for companies for CSR practices. I hope over time this extends to wider sustainability measures adopted by companies to reduce their carbon footprint.

Big Data and Planning

Another interesting development is the development of the National Trade Platform (NTP) that seeks to integrate all business and finance data of companies. This is going to support the predictive ability of the government in understanding the various levers of economy and also develop more timely and appropriate interventions to support businesses. If done right, the type of data and the insights gained from this initiative could be hugely  influential and something other nations will sit up and take note of in order to have a better handle on their wider economic affairs.

 

The Triumvirate of Technology, Education and Employability – Solving the Policy Riddle

I has the privilege to speak at the ACCA Asia Pacific Future Education Summit in Beijing earlier this month (January 2016).

 

Slide1

During the course of my presentation I touched on the changing trends in learning, the impact of technology on learning and jobs and ACCA’s response to these global changes.

Below are my thoughts on this critical triumvirate of technology, education and employability and how it will help resolve some of our major policy issues and challenges of the day.

 

Slide3

Young people today are three times as likely as their parents to be out of work.

I have been considering this very urgent issue of employability and the growing ‘employability gap’: the fact that the skills students have as they leave our educational institutions aren’t meeting the expectations of employers, and that employers also want wider, softer skills as well as demonstration of knowledge and hard competencies.

It is also my view that technology is often woefully underexploited when it comes to giving students the opportunity to develop their professional skills.

 

Slide4

Globally 75 million young people are out of employment. The issue of employability is not one limited to a certain geography or country. Below are some of the main challenges across some of the major nations/regions of the world.

INDIA

According to a survey conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU) in conjunction with Indian partners, it was felt that the employability of Indian graduates is low due to skill and geographical mismatch.

The survey also concluded that this gap can be bridged by digitisation of learning.

It is worth noting that the employability ratio of management graduates was only 15 per cent, engineering (20 per cent), law (14 per cent) and medical graduates (32 per cent).

JAPAN

An estimated 700,000 young people, known as hikikomori, have withdrawn from society and rarely leave home. These individuals have collectively withdrawn from the economic population of the country as a result of employability and the subsequent marginalisation.

EUROPE

Across the 28 countries of the European Union, unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds was 22 percent in 2014/2015. The lack of prospects in the job market for young people is a serious problem in large parts of the EU. The highest unemployment rates are found in the south of Europe.Spain has the highest rate, with half of 15- to 24-year-olds out of work. In Portugal, Cyprus, Italy, Croatia and Greece a little more than one in three people in this age group are out of work.

CHINA

According to a study by McKinsey, the number of students graduating each year from university or vocational school has risen from 1 million a year in 2000 to 6.1 million in 2011. This stunning increase means that the number of new graduates exceeds demand for their services in many areas of the country, resulting in an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent for college graduates.

McKinsey also estimate that by 2020, Chinese employers will demand 142 million more high-skilled workers—those with university degrees or vocational training—or about 24 million more than the country will likely supply. Companies could fill this high-skilled labor gap with less-skilled workers, but this would result in productivity losses or poorer quality products and services. Other companies may leave roles unfilled, delaying the decision to grow or expand.

The study estimates that if China does not bridge this gap by 2020, the opportunity cost could reach some $250 billion (about 2.3 percent of GDP)—which is almost the same as that of Singapore or Malaysia’s GDP! That’s a very large amount of money to put at risk – not to mention the impact on social welfare and harmony.

Slide5

There are a few reasons as to why this employability gap exists.

The first reason is a difference in what employers want from graduates and what they are getting. Surveys of employers consistently show that they are not satisfied with the skill levels of their new tertiary hires, whether these are graduates of universities or vocational schools. The main complaints, according to McKinsey research (and a wealth of anecdotal evidence), are lack of technical training, inadequate English, and deficient soft skills, such as the ability to work in teams, critical thinking, and innovative flair. For instance in China, in 2013, more than a third of employers in China surveyed said they struggled to recruit skilled workers, with 61 percent of these companies attributing this to a shortage of general employability skills.

A second mismatch has to do with the knowledge requirements of the future and the structural makeup of the workforce. As countries’ evolve their underlying economic models, their labour needs shift as well and the resultant demand for higher skilled talent is not met by the status-quo educational systems.

Thirdly is one of a geographic mismatch. There are instances where the universities in certain countries tend to be concentrated in an area and this leads to a distribution problem as there are other areas where there are not enough universities to support the demand.

There is also a large question about how the education and training system also operates in. In a number of countries, there is growing concern—among parents, employers, and policymakers alike—that the system’s emphasis on rote learning and focus solely on exam performance does not foster the mental agility and innovative flair that the modern work place requires.

Slide6

Therefore as you see, employability is a very real and serious issue that has serious economic and social consequences.

But before we proceed, it may be useful to have a brief view of what we mean by employability skills.

I have here a list which is not meant to be exhaustive but provides a flavour for some of the skill sets and capabilities we need to consider when talking about employability.

  1. Communication skills that contribute to productive and harmonious relations between employees and customers.
  2. Team work skills that contribute to productive working relationships and outcomes both within teams, the organisation and with external parties.
  3. Problem-solving skills that contribute to productive outcomes and with a commitment to finding solutions.
  4. Initiative and enterprise skills that contribute to innovative outcomes and driving stronger business performance
  5. Planning and organising skills that contribute to long-term and short-term strategic planning and building the processes to achieve desired outcomes
  6. Self-management skills that contribute to employee satisfaction and growth and ensuring they contribute to their organisation’s well-being in the process.
  7. Learning skills that contribute to ongoing development.
  8. Technology skills that the modern workplace requires.

Slide7

Institutions and organisations tackle student employability in a number of ways, including through for example through professional experience requirements,  and employability modules, careers services, work-placements and experiences, work-based mentors, volunteering and increasingly through looking at employability awards. We know there is already some excellent practice, particularly in vocational and professional disciplines where notions of ‘what it is to be professional’ are embedded in the curriculum, but for others this is less apparent. Few use technology really effectively in an integrated way to support student employability, although some are exploring this.

There is evidence of an ‘employability gap’ in the skills that students are actually starting with on day one of employment and the skills that employers are expecting from them. However, there is an increasing appreciation that ’technology for employability’ can provide many potential benefits to students, institutions and employers

Digitally savvy graduates are essential for shaping tomorrow’s entrepreneurial activities, but digital literacies aren’t well articulated.

Slide8

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. The notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by education providers and consider how it can be an enabler for employability.

Technology acts as an enabler in supporting employability in the following ways:

  • ensuring that opportunities are provided throughout the curriculum in a scaffolded and supported way for learners to reflect, plan, and articulate and showcase their knowledge and skills in an integrated way
  • embedding digital literacy skills more broadly across the learning
  • ensuring that assessments and learning are ‘authentic’, and more closely aligned to the workplace and real-world tasks
  • using a principles-based approach to change which places the importance of developing self-aware, independent learners (which some argue is the main purpose of education at the heart of institutional strategy, policy and practice
  • Supporting tutors through better management tools to help their students. By using technology as a tool for learner management, teachers can develop and execute individual learning plans and track the progress being made by the learner in relation to the employability skills.
  • empowering students as agents of change, which evidence shows benefits all stakeholders including students in the development of wider employability skills. Students and learners can also document their employability skills and self-assessment notes as evidence of their competency and knowledge levels.

We know however that although there is a lot of excellent practice, it is not widespread. Technology can support all of the aims above, but further work is needed to ensure that good practice is shared and teams dedicated to developing learners are supported in maximising opportunities offered by technology, and in exploring how existing employability opportunities can harness technology to best effect.

Slide9

According to research conducted by Cleary, Flynn and Thomasson (2006), it is recommended that for effective employability skills development; the design of an overall active teaching and learning and assessment strategy adheres to the following four adult learning principles:

  1. Responsible learning – learners take responsibility for their learning. Responsible learning emphasises self-management and initiative and enterprise as learners work independently to develop new knowledge and activities in the interest of furthering their skills.”
  2. Experiential learning – learners learn from experience. This “emphasises ‘learning to do’ and ‘learning from doing’. Authentic learning occurs when learners have an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in authentic work environments or in contexts which attempt to simulate the real.
  3. Cooperative learning – learners learn with and through others. This form of learning “encourages learners to learn from each other, share learning tasks and learn from a range of people including colleagues, mentors, coaches, supervisors, trainers, and others.
  1. Reflective learning – learners reflect on and learn from their experience. This can be introspective, where learners are encouraged to examine changes in their own perceptions, goals, confidences and motivations. It addresses: developing critical thinking skills, learning to learn and developing attitudes that promote lifelong learning. Reflective learning can be useful in directly addressing problem solving, initiative and enterprise and self-management skills

Digital or e-learning can foster these four types of learning and the development of all of the employability skills.

Slide10

Universities and colleges have a responsibility to develop students into individuals who can thrive in an era of digital information and communication – those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically secure and these skills are especially important in higher education given that graduate white collar jobs are almost entirely performed on computers and portable devices.

But it’s not just about employability – increasingly digital literacy is vital for learning itself. Digital tools such as virtual learning environments, e-portfolios and social networking software for peer mentoring are now common within further and higher education and students without the skills to navigate them risk suffering an inferior student experience at best, and being left completely behind at worst. It goes beyond IT skills, a complete culture change is required to live fully within the modern digital society, from understanding how to communicate ideas effectively in a range of media to managing digital reputation and history.

Slide19

There are a number of success factors that will be critical as organisations consider an effective use of digital learning to support employability of their students.

They include the following and it is worth bearing in mind that this is an iterative and progressive process which will in turn drive better outcomes.

CONCEPT AND ROLE

  1. Develop the employability skills based on a strategic and structured approach that links the employability skills to each other
  2. Recognise the value of the employability skills in all aspects of life in addition to their employability role, and include recognition of prior developments in these skills in learning and assessment strategies.

PEDAGOGICIAL ASPECTS

  1. Use e-learning in blended learning strategies to cater for a range of learning styles and encourage individualised, self-directed learning.
  2. Adopt active learning strategies such as role plays, real work and simulated work environments, and incorporate e-learning.
  3. Recognise the centrality of learning skills as the foundation for addressing all of the other employability skills.
  4. Break the learning skills into four types: responsible; experiential; cooperative; and reflective learning.
  5. Implement an upfront induction/orientation program to develop awareness and understanding of the employability skills and the e-learning role using a conceptual structure that shows the linkages between these skills.
  6. Link remedial education for basic skills, such as literacy, and development of the employability skills in integrated strategies that harness e-learning.

ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING

  1. Use e-portfolios as a tool for student reflective learning as well as a tool for reporting and assessing learner progress in the employability skills.
  2. Pay attention to the different levels of application and performance of the learners and aid them through the journey,

MANAGEMENT ASPECTS

  1. Use a technology-based learning management system to support individual learning plans, tracking of learner progress and achievement, and the efficient use of teaching resources.
  2. Adopt whole of institution strategies, effectively coordinated and supported by staff development activities in both employability skills and e-learning and particularly e-learning facilitation skills to enhance cooperative learning opportunities.

KEY AREAS FOR FURTHER DEVELOPMENT

  1. Recognise that further innovations and improvements will be required to further strengthen the education framework and support learners and students.

Slide20

There are some efforts we can do to help bridge the employability gap.

We need to make a better case for using technology to develop employability. We need to raise digital aspirations of employers, universities, learning partners and professional bodies such as ACCA and develop students as ‘digital entrepreneurs’ that can go on to act as agents of change for business. Digital literacy often isn’t related to employability skills, and we need to see this change to make a clear link.

We need to work in partnership with employers to understand needs better

We must not forget about those youth that are outside the formal education system, or are otherwise marginalized due to disabilities or their gender. Many youth are employed in the informal sector, and may not be able to access traditional schooling or have access to schools in their regiosn. Offering alternative, non-formal models of relevant education are crucial.

Without these strategies, there is a risk that students leave university or college equipped with the right qualifications for their chosen career but without the tools and understanding they need to thrive in the connected, globalised digital world of today.

Slide21

Overall, I would like to conclude that digital learning and the employability skills should be seen as two of the dynamic influences whose interaction is likely to have a significant impact on shaping the evolving approach to l education and training now and into the future. There is much work to be done but finding effective solutions in this closely interlinked areas of technology, education and employability will help resolve some of the major economic and social issues of our time.

The inequities of India’s proposed Land Acquisition Bill

The Indian government led by Modi has proposed a series of wide-ranging reforms to the Land Acquisition Bill which, in my personal view, will have a deleterious effect on the nation and her people.

The long and the short of this new Bill is that it will allow for the government to take over land from landowners without sufficient due diligence or understanding the social impacts in the name of ‘public interest’ whilst not actually defining what this ‘public interest’ may mean.

The proposed Land Acquisition Bill fails the most material principles of the Indian Constitution – that of democracy, welfare, justice and equality.

The context

Flawed analysis – leading to incorrect conclusions

The problems with the proposed amendments

Conclusion

Paddy Fields in India
Paddy field in India

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The context

For almost one hundred and twenty years, India’s land acquisition was governed by the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which was a fundamentally exploitative, oppressive and inherently unjust piece of colonial legislation. Since Independence, over 50 million people have been displaced in the name of development. A large segment of the displaced includes entire scheduled tribal communities. The vast majority of the displaced have faced declines in the quality of life, received inadequate compensation and have ended up being marginalised in their own lands.

The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act of 2013 was subsequently passed with the official mandate to support the twin objectives of farmer welfare along with the strategic development of the country.

When Modi and his government took over, they decided that they wanted to amend a number of major aspects of the LARR as one of their core priorities. The proposed amendments have drawn widespread condemnation and flak, not just from the opposition, but from within the ruling party itself and more importantly the majority of the populace, particularly those within the rural community.
.

Flawed analysis leading to incorrect conclusions

Part of the problem arises from the fact that current Indian administration’s economic analyses predicated on the notion that greater freedom by the State and large commercial interests in acquiring land and property will promote accelerated economic growth. Land acquisition is often cited as an impediment to India’s growth and India’s policymakers and a number of corporate-sponsored industry bodies would have us believe that having a draconian bill to confiscate land is the panacea to India’s economic ailments.

On the contrary, according to a Ministry of Finance-led Economic Survey of 2014/2015, it is less than 1% of projects that have stalled in India as a result of land acquisition issues.

India’s true obstacles to economic progress include corruption (which imposes a cost of between 1% to 3% of total GDP), tax evasion and ultimately a lack of a consistent and coherent economic policy.

Land grabs by the State actually have a huge cost, both economic and societal, for India. An unfair and unjust land acquisition campaign will only serve to further exacerbate the problem of rising income inequality and social disparity that remains a stain on India. The economic, social and environmental cost of displacement and conversion of forests/agricultural land towards industrial assets have never been truly understood or analysed by the government.

The ownership of land is a fundamental basis of livelihood and subsistence for a majority of Indians. Mere monetary compensation, without a resulting benefit in the form of employment will have devastating consequences for farmers, farmhands, artisans and other individuals whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and farming. Forest tribes, adivasis (large segments of tribal and aboriginal groups in India) and dalits (the most marginalised segments of the Indian population) who have been impacted as a result of past land acquisitions will in turn be even more marginalised and suffer even more inequity and exploitation.

The current Indian government is pushing for its “Make in India” slogan. There is no point making in India, if it does not benefit the majority of Indians and only serves to undermine and taint India.

“Make in India” – but not for Indians’ benefit?

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The problems with the proposed amendments

There are a number of serious problems with the amendments being proposed by the government.

1

First and foremost is the deletion of the clause to consider the social impact assessment of the land acquisition. Without the ability to assess the possible adverse impact a potential land acquisition has on people in an area, how can we truly understand the externalities (negative or otherwise) and make an informed judgement about the wisdom of acquiring the land. How will we be able to say, to a high degree of comfort, that the benefits of the land acquisition will indeed be substantively higher than the resultant costs and consequences and benefit a broader segment of society?

2

Secondly, agricultural land has to be viewed as strategic assets designed to support the development of the nation in order to preserve food security. We have seen countless nations, who in their rush to convert viable agricultural land into vast sweeping industrial or tourist outposts, have lost their ability to feed and serve their people and have had to resort to food import in order to sustain themselves. It can be argued that agricultural efficiencies have improved and that the same output can be delivered with a smaller land area – but in order for this to be truly understood, there has to be a clear understanding and assessment of impacts, which this government does not want to do either. India cannot surrender her independence in her ability to feed, serve and protect her people.

3

Thirdly, the previous Act had a provision which required the consent of 80% of affected individuals prior to the land acquisition. The amendments proposed will allow for the government to unilaterally acquire land without the permission of the people who depend on the land. The principles of democratic conventions are being violated here. Unlike a few other countries, India’s rule of law is not enforced by a dictatorship of some nature or under a command economy where all ownership belongs to the State. India is a democracy – a government of the people, by the people, for the people. With the proposed amendment, the state will be a government of a very small group of people, by the faceless/nameless corporates and industries, and certainly not for the people.

4

Fourthly, the amendments themselves are vague and, it appears, intentionally ambiguous. ‘Public purpose’ has not been clearly defined and no indicators are being proposed to indicate whether the nation benefits and aids the welfare of all. Five categories of projects are being proposed (national security and defence; rural infrastructure; affordable housing; industrial corridors; and infrastructure (including public-private partnership projects (PPPs)) which are being defined in the broadest possible way which will allow for the government and their industry and corporate partners to acquire/confiscate land without a robust case. It is the absence of a sufficiently strong check and balance that is the biggest cause for concern here.

As the law stands, if no development takes place on acquired land within five years, it has to be returned to the people. This has also now been amended and the land can be held on indefinitely from the time of purchase with no recourse made available to the people who are being impacted. Under the amendments, more land than is required can also be acquired by the government, including the purchase of an additional one kilometre of land on both sides of an industrial corridor – which again will have severe debilitating effects on farmers and small land owners. There is also no consideration of efficiency on the part of the industries and the state looking to acquire the land for their uses and it does not spur or promote more efficient use of the land and instead ends up subsidising the absence of efficiency improvements made by industries.

5

Finally and most fundamentally, the proposed amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill violate the principles of individual liberty and human rights. What this Bill does is redistribute land away from the poor and the most vulnerable to the richest and most privileged segments of society. The principles of prior consent and recognition of the societal and economic impacts on the people most directly impacted by any land acquisition is essentially a land grab by those who can from those who cannot do anything about it.


Land Grab

Conclusion

Land is not just a mere economic commodity or factor of production to a large number of people who will be affected by the proposed amendments of the Land Acquisition Bill. Land is a source of life, of sustenance, of faith and of hope. It is a function of the culture of the people who depend on it, be it the farmers, the forest tribes or the dalits. It is a source of livelihood, of dignity through employment and of a symbol of progress and growth.

India can only truly progress, economically and socially, if there is an improvement in the lives of all Indians and not just a select and privileged few.

A nation must be judged not just on what economic progress it has made but on how it has enhanced the welfare of its most vulnerable constituents.

The proposed amendments violate the principles of the Indian Constitution which dictate that India remains a sovereign, socialist, secular and a democratic republic. Socialism and democracy will be the first casualties if this Bill comes to pass – for how can a nation claim to be democratic when it tramples over the rights of its own people to own land without a proper recourse and safeguards.

The amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill must be opposed at all costs. At stake here is not just about India’s principles of fairness and equity for her people but about the future of a prosperous India which benefits all and not just a select few.

 

References:

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-land-acquisition-bill-implies-deep-trouble-2072222 (Shivani Chaudhry)

Myanmar’s Development Agenda – Opportunities and Challenges

I was fortunate enough to participate at the recent Myanmar Development Summit held in Yangon on the 10th of August 2014. I participated in a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges for Myanmar’s development agenda.

 

Panel discussion: Myanmar's development agenda - opportunities and challenges
Panel discussion: Myanmar’s development agenda – opportunities and challenges (L-R: Dr Thet Thet Khine, U Aye Chan, U Kyaw Tin, Dr Maung Maung Lay, Reza)

The panel was moderated by U Kyaw Tin, Chairman of the Myanmar Institute of Certified Public Accountants and I shared the panel with Dr Maung Maung Lay, Vice President of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, UMFCCI, Dr Thet Thet Khine, Secretary General of the UMFCCI and U Aye Chan, CEO of IMA Group.

Developments to date

Over the last few years as Myanmar has opened up economically and politically, there have been some major strides made in a number of areas:

1. Social and political reforms:

Politically we have seen a greater freedom of speech, improved press freedom and broader steps towards national reconciliation. The ongoing dialogue with armed groups in a number of states is also a step in the positive direction.

In the last three years government spending on education has more than trebled (it was increased by 30% in the last year alone) and government spending on healthcare has almost increased five-fold (it grew by 78% in the last 12 months alone).

The government has also implemented a strategy for greater public financial management reforms to enhance efficiency and transparency of government spend.

 

2. Improved monetary policy and central bank independence

The monetary policy has improved starting with the unification of exchange rates (there used to be a time where the official kyat to US dollar rate was 8 kyat to a dollar whilst the market rate was closer to 800 kyat to a dollar!).

The regulations governing central bank independence have also been brought more in line with international best practices, granting the central bank greater independence and autonomy.

 

3. Improved tax collection and reforms

With support from the World Bank, Myanmar is also embarking on a series of ambitious tax  reforms to strengthen revenue administration, which will increase the effectiveness of tax and non-tax revenue mobilization.

This was further supported by the passing of the Union of Myanmar Revenue Law of 2014 and four other tax bills in March this year.

 

4. Improving business, investment and trade climate

Approved FDI has increased to US$4.1 billion in 2013/2014 (almost 300% from 2012/2013 when it was only US$1.4 billion). The investment has also been distributed across a diverse range of sectors from manufacturing (45%), telecommunications (30%) and hospitality hotels (10%). This will prove beneficial in the long term as it will increase employability whereas investment primarily in the resource sector would have not necessarily created sufficient job opportunities. The investment has also come from unlikely trade partners including Ooredoo of Qatar and Telenor of Norway (both in the telecommunications sector).

This improved business climate has come on the back of passing of the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) in late 2012 which provided better clarity for international businesses seeking to do business in Myanmar along with the removal of restrictions and barriers to foreign investment. The highly efficient Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) have also reduced the time for businesses to establish operations in Myanmar (this is also on the back of my own personal experience as we established our operations in Myanmar).

 

5. Progressive financial sector developments

The government is working very closely with industry stakeholders as Myanmar seeks to establish its first stock exchange in Yangon – the Yangon Stock Exchange (YSE).  This is following the passing of the Securities Exchange Law last year.  Japan’s Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) and Daiwa Securities Group, a Japanese investment company will supporting Myanmar in delivering the YSE by October 2015.

A microfinance law was also passed last year to improve access to finance for small and medium sized firms and to increase the level of liquidity in the market.

Banks are also being held to more stringent regulations and are required to improve their capital adequacy ratios to be more in line with international best practices.

 

Some key facts to consider:

  •  GDP growth was 7.5% in 2013 (forecasting 7.8% in 2014).
  • Agriculture provides jobs for over 50% of Myanmar’s workforce.
  • Government budget for 2014 was US$ 19.5 billion (a third of Myanmar’s GDP)
  • Inflation has been creeping up and is expected to increase to 6.6% in 2014 from 5.8% in 2013. This is as a result of the weakening of the kyat vis-à-vis the US dollar, increasing wages (both in the private and public sector), a real estate boom/bubble and increased credit.
  • According to McKinsey, Myanmar has the potential to achieve a GDP od US$200 billion per year by 2030 (it was just under US$60 billion in 2013).
  • The average productivity of a working individual in Myanmar is currently only US$1,500 per annum (which is 70% less than other Asian economies including Thailand, China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, etc). This low productivity also results in the low GDP per capita.

 

Key areas of focus for sustained development and progress:

Below are seven areas I view as critical for Myanmar’s continued development and progress. The achievements to date remain delicate and can be easily derailed if some of the below trends and developments are not addressed sufficiently.

 

1. A need for harmonious development.

One of the biggest perils faced by rapidly emerging economies is a severely widening income gap. It is vital that Myanmar addresses the issue of income inequality by providing broader employment opportunities and increase the number of middle-class Burmese.

It is also important that Myanmar’s leadership resolves on-going ethnic and sectarian tensions and friction in the country. This can severely destabilise the country and reduce the quality of life for Myanmar’s people. There has to be greater social and religious tolerance. Persistent incidences of communal violence between the Buddhists and Muslims are exacerbating the tensions. The government should support further initiatives by centrist leaders of the Muslim and Buddhist communities and support greater dialogue between the various communities. There needs to be greater efforts to reform education starting with the primary levels, to encourage greater tolerance for the different ethnicities and religions in the country.

The role of the military is still not entirely clear and this ambiguity needs to be resolved for a greater entrenchment of democracy taking root in the country so as to produce the optimal opportunities for further growth.

 

2. Improving access to education and creating educational opportunities for all.

Myanmar’s investment in education has increased significantly over the last three years but it still has one of the lowest averages of schooling the world at just four years. The universities and institutions of higher learning remain chronically underfunded and after four decades of neglect, do not yet have adequate infrastructure. However, this is slowly changing with the likes of Yangon University, Yangon University of Economics and Dagon University striking up partnerships with other top universities and organisation. This will help improve the teaching faculty and also provide greater exposure for the students and staff of these universities which will in turn improve overall performance.

A good national education is also essential for enhanced social mobility. The notion of social mobility is critical in helping people move out from the cycle of poverty and in increasing the middle class segment of a nation. Social mobility can only take effect if the right opportunities and education is provided to the people. As Myanmar continues its growth and development, the educational institutions will need to prepare Burmese youth with the right skills and capabilities so that they can gain meaningful employment and support Myanmar’s development.

 

3. Improving employability, productivity and efficiency

For growth and development to remain inclusive and sustainable, it is important that investment continues in the areas of labour intensive industries and sectors such as manufacturing.

The majority of the population still live in poverty (GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity is about US$3.60 per day)

The government is focusing on an export-led growth supported by productivity gains in agriculture and industrial development. President Thein Sein’s ‘Framework for Economic and Social Reforms’ launched in 2011 emphasised the need for a market-driven economy to support economic growth and to provide jobs and opportunities for Burmese.

There must be greater support provided to farmers and the agricultural sector (which as I’ve stated above provides employment for more than half of Myanmar’s working population) to introduce modern practices and improve productivity. Over time, this ensures greater food security for Myanmar and it also helps to boost the export-driven economy which Myanmar is gearing up towards as food production increases. Myanmar’s agricultural sector is also endowed with the 25th largest arable land in the world and has ten times the per capita water endowment of China and India. This gives the opportunity for Myanmar to be a true powerhouse in agriculture and help feed the world’s growing population.

 

4. Increasing access to finance

As Myanmar’s banking sector continues with reforms, increasing access to finance for smaller and medium sized businesses will help increase further growth, productivity and employment. There isn’t sufficient liquidity in the market and SMEs in Myanmar do not yet have the same impact as SMEs in other ASEAN countries. Part of this is due to a lack of sufficient access to finance which will allow for Myanmar SMEs to compete with their regional counterparts.

On an individual level, more than half of Myanmar’s population have no access to financial services, 30% are using unregulated services and only 20% have access to regulated financial services. The limited access to regulated financial services not only impose significant costs on poor people given interest rates of up to 240%-a-year compared to up to 36%-a-year for regulated services, but informal mechanisms also offer individuals limited protection, less choice and lower returns.

 

5. Sustained commitment to reforms and global standards.

Myanmar has adopted international standards in a number of areas. They adopted the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) along with the International Standards on Auditing (ISA). The government, in an effort to boost transparency and greater fiscal control and management have also adopted the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).

Myanmar is also currently reforming the Companies’ Act which is still loosely based around the 1914 Burma Companies Act! This will ensure greater clarity for enterprises operating in Myanmar and also improve business and investor confidence and sentiment.

Myanmar has also recently become a signatory to the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global anti-corruption scheme that requires member governments to disclose payments earned from oil, gas and mineral wealth. Burma’s EITI arrangement could also be expanded to include hydropower and forestry.

Such initiatives will support Myanmar’s reform efforts and development and pave the way towards strong frameworks that support sustainable and inclusive growth.

 

6. Greater transparency, accountability and robust governance

President Thein Sein set up an anti-corruption committee to weed out corrupt public officials. Corruption poses one of the most severe threats to Myanmar’s reforms and development. Crony capitalism exacerbates issues of income inequality and social discontent and the government will need to continue to act to curb corruption.

He also implemented various initiatives to improve administrative reform and cutting red tape.

Though efforts have been made to establish a stronger rule of law, the daily papers recount stories of land grabs, ethnic and sectarian conflicts and corruption and the pervasive conflicts of interests across all levels of government and business. There needs to be grater efforts in the areas of establishing an independent judicial system that will allow for a stronger implementation of rule of law. A clear and robust rule of law improves public confidence, enhances investor sentiments and paves the platform for sustainable growth.

 

7. Capacity building with an eye on sustainability

Myanmar has to undertake sufficient capacity building – both in terms of people capacity as well as physical capacity.

Myanmar’s current physical infrastructure is not adequate to meet future growth demands needs. Massive infrastructure investment in the areas of power, water, rail, road are being planned both locally and with foreign investors’ assistance. However, as Myanmar builds more roads, more railway tracks, better power grids and improved water systems, it will be important that there is effective and well-managed town planning and resourcing. We already are witnessing severe traffic congestion and delays, particularly during peak periods, and it this continues, Yangon’s traffic issues could well rival Jakarta’s or Bangkok’s and this becomes a huge social and business cost. Investment in technological upgrades and telecommunications must also continue as Myanmar’s telecommunications and Internet infrastructure still lags that of the rest of ASEAN.

These infrastructure improvements must also consider the wider impacts on sustainability (including social, human and environmental). Myanmar’s decision to suspend the construction of the Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam in Kachin state due to environmental concerns was a step in the right direction. It is important that Myanmar’s leadership consider the longer term impacts over the possible short-term benefits when making infrastructure plans and decisions.

Physical capacity building must be matched by sufficient human capacity building too. As has been described earlier, there needs to be appropriate educational, training and development opportunities for people to ensure that they have the right skill sets, aptitudes and capabilities necessary to support Myanmar’s development. People and physical infrastructure development go hand in hand and a holistic approach needs to be taken to ensure longer term, viable and sustainable development for Myanmar.

Ultimately, it is vital that the right implementation approach is taken to the policy developments taking place in Myanmar. Policy must translate into action or inclusive growth, economic and social progress and sustainable development will merely remain a pipe dream for Myanmar.

 

References:

  1. Myanmar Economic Update, Asian Development Bank
  2. Myanmar’s Moment, McKinsey
  3. Myanmar:  Between Economic Miracle and Myth, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)
  4. Sustaining Myanmar’s Transition, Asia Society