Q: In Burma, everybody would like to see the release of all political prisoners as a sign of substantive national reconciliation. Our Burma Democratic Concern, with your guidance, is also working on the signature campaign demanding the release of all political prisoners. But we understand that the government of [newly elected president] U Thein Sein, instead of releasing the political prisoners, has only reduced their sentences by one year. We would like to know your opinion with regard to this matter.
A: I have heard that there are not even 40 political prisoners included among the 10,000 prisoners that are to be released. It has also been reported that out of the 2,096 prisoners definitely released from Insein prison, only nine were political prisoners. This is not the type of amnesty that I had wanted. This is why one wonders whether the new government really wants democracy. I would therefore like to ask you to accelerate your efforts in the movement for the signature campaign demanding the release of all political prisoners.
Q: I understand that the government side reneged on their agreement to give compensation for those who lost their lives at Depayin [in a 2003 attack on political supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi]. I would like to know whether the NLD [National League for Democracy] has any plans to help, in one way or another, those who suffered at Depayin.
A: With regard to those who lost their lives and those who suffered, I understand that members of the NLD helped one another as much as they could. Before the government reneged on the things we had agreed to in our discussions, the authorities fulfilled some of their promises. As I was out of touch with the NLD during the last six years [during her period of house arrest], I have not been personally involved in such matters. I am thankful that you have reminded us of the things that still need to be done. I will make the necessary enquiries about this matter.
Q: What is your view with regard to the persons and the group that formed a separate opposition party after the NLD’s decision not to participate in the recent elections? Also, how do you view their use of the “khamauk” [farmer’s hat], the symbol that the NLD used to win the 1990 elections?
A: The position officially taken and declared by the NLD with regard to the 2010 elections is also my position. In accordance with democratic principles, just as everybody accepts the fact that each person has his own aspirations, I believe that in accordance with democratic practice, the minority must respect and accept the decisions of the majority. I believe that because the people already identify the khamauk symbol with the NLD, it is inappropriate for others to use that symbol and then take a line that is opposed to the path that the NLD has taken. This will confuse the people.
Q: Migrant workers from our country are now in Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries. Since our country’s production resources are now going abroad, in the future—say in 10 or 20 years’ time—our country’s manpower will become depleted. And just as there will be a problem with scarcity of workers, there won’t be anybody to serve in the military, and therefore children will be rounded up and recruited into the army. I am worried that the people should be advised on what to do if this situation comes about.
A: The human resources of our country are being depleted not just because Burmese workers are going abroad, but because investment in public sectors like health and education—sectors that can enhance the productive ability of the country’s workers—is very low. The people should be aware how large these problems will become if we do not deal with these matters in time. Efforts must therefore be made to make the necessary changes.
But it is not just enough for democracy groups like ours to make that effort. The people must understand that they should also participate in these efforts. Just as the NLD is endeavoring to help people to understand these things, we would like people like you—who have social and political perspectives—to work together with us.
Q: There is corruption everywhere in Burma. Everywhere. Nothing can be done without bribery, and one cannot even visit a high official’s house without bringing a box of cash. Everything must be greased with money; otherwise, nothing happens. What do you think should be done to gradually eliminate such corruption?
A: Corruption becomes widespread in a country when high-ranking officials, including government ministers, are not free from corruption themselves. So for corruption to cease, high-ranking officials must first of all be free from corruption. As a second step, all government officials should be given salaries in accordance with their responsibilities and in an amount that will appropriately cover their cost of living. To achieve this, a country must have financial resources.
Corruption cannot be eliminated with just those two steps, though. Additional steps must be taken, including taking necessary actions to uphold appropriate rules, regulations, and laws and to raise the level of the ethical conduct of the people. I can imagine even now that this is going to be a really very difficult undertaking.