Published at the star on Friday February 17, 2012 MYT 8:32:00 AM
WASHINGTON (AP): The World Bank said Thursday it is re-engaging with Myanmar to support reforms and is sending experts to analyze the country’s economic infrastructure and banking and finance sector.
It is the latest sign of the international community stepping up its involvement in the country also known as Burma as it takes steps toward democracy after five decades of military rule.
The bank says, however, that it will not be giving financial support to the government, and can only restart lending once Myanmar’s arrears to international financial institutions, believed to total several hundred million dollars, are cleared.
“We are encouraged by developments in Myanmar and we have begun the process of re-engaging with the government to support reforms that will benefit all of the people of Myanmar, including the poor and vulnerable,” the bank’s vice president for East Asia and Pacific, Pamela Cox, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Cox said the bank would conduct a public expenditure review highlighting the importance of budget transparency, and would work with civil society organizations to promote social accountability and open communications in Myanmar.
Her statement came after the board of the Washington-based lender was briefed Thursday about Myanmar, once a rice-basket of Southeast Asia, but now the region’s most impoverished nation.
Although the bank stopped lending to Myanmar 25 years ago, its experts sometimes have supported the work of other donors and last month joined an annual economic assessment mission by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF also is advising the government about reforming its Byzantine currency exchange rate system.
The U.S., the World Bank’s largest shareholder, waived a sanction this month to lift its opposition to limited technical assistance for Myanmar, but other sanctions still require the U.S. to oppose new lending by the multilateral lenders.
The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank approved their last loans for Myanmar in 1987, a year before a bloody crackdown by the military on democracy protesters that heralded the country’s descent into pariah status.
The U.S. and other Western nations say they will consider easing more restrictions on Myanmar if it conducts free and fair by-elections that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will contest April 1. They also are concerned about long-running ethnic violence.
Myanmar’s government has announced cease-fires with several insurgent groups in recent months. Brutal army campaigns have displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers over the years.
The World Bank says it will explore ways to provide technical assistance to support the peace process, such as determining ways to provide jobs and livelihoods for former combatants.