On 16th April, 06, under the title of Dilemma in funding Burmese NGOs, Kaowao News editor U Cham Toik and his colleague Saimon, have discussed the allocation of Funds provided by the Canadian Government for Burmese democratic forces through the Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as the Inter-pares, and Burma Relief Centre (BRC).
Just by looking at the substance of the news article, one can assume that the report is written with the sole intention of chiding the NGOs like BRC and Inter-Pares without acknowledging the positive contributions those NGOs have made even with a single sentence in their article. Well, I am not surprised by the fact that there are some activists criticizing NGOs working for Burma because this is a commonplace in our revolutionary movement. Realistically, as those NGOs are operating with limited resources by adhering to a certain criteria, keeping every party and organization in the struggle for Democracy in Burma satisfied should not be anticipated.
Frankly, I am quite struck by U Cham Toik’s misinformation about the 2nd Burma Forum and its outcome for which I am going to clarify below. I understand that we are all entitled to our own opinion and that we can freely express our views as long as we are accountable to our own deeds. This is one of the bedrocks of democratic values. With this understanding in mind, I know that U Cham Toik and his friend are entitled to exercise their freedom of _expression, such as speaking out their minds on any issues, important and trivial.
Among the claims they have made in their news article, as a participant of the 2nd Burma Forum, I am compelled to clarify the point in which they misquoted the 2nd Burma Forum Conference. I quote what they wrote here, “During the Burma Forum meeting held in Ottawa, Canada on March 17-18, 2006, the participants urged the Government of Canada to increase humanitarian assistance significantly in order to cope with the increasingly appalling humanitarian situation along the Burma border as well as inside the country. However, the participants also criticized Canada’s NGOs, such as Burma Relief Centre (BRC) and Inter Pares, in which funds are misallocated and mismanaged, resulting in further weakening and dividing Burmese civil society and the disenfranchisement of certain sections of the Burmese population. Some delegates even advised the government to include Burmese Canadian taxpayers in the consultation process on how aid should be provided”
While the Canadian government is committed to providing $ 600 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, one can argue the fact that only $ 8 million is provided for democratization in the Union of Burma is a tiny amount. In the 2nd Burma Forum Conference, it is true that we strongly urged the Canadian Government to provide more financial assistances to the pro-democratic forces as a whole. However, we were not suggesting the Canadian government on the question of how the funds should be allocated to the Thai-Burma Border area or Indo-Burma area or who should control the funds to be specific here.
What we simply as a whole agreed was that we should ask the Canadian government to increase their existing amount of funding. We did not touch on the specific issues of Canadian NGOs such as BRC and Inter Pares and whether or not they mismanaged or misallocated the funds and resulted in further weakening and dividing Burmese civil society and the disenfranchisement of certain sections of the Burmese population” as the article wrongly suggested.
I am wondering it could be that U Cham Toik and his friend have quoted the previous report of the first Burma Forum and not the 2nd Burma forum in which I was a part of. During the first Burma Forum Conference, it was true that the participants criticized the said NGOs in their report, using the same phrases that they used against BRC or Inter Pares. Whatever the case, the bottom line here is those are not our recommendations in the 2nd Burma Forum Conference in which I took part and should not be taken serious.
I know that these cited NGOs such as BRC and Inter Pares are based on the ground where funds should indeed be allocated and used by closely working with democracy activists and political actors, both inside and border based activists, who are risking their lives in the ongoing struggle for a democratic change in the Union of Burma.
As a matter of fact, people who have been closely working with such projects funded by the said NGOs on the ground in Thailad-Burma and India-Burma border for the past several years have seen the benefits of Canadian assistance in strengthening civil society organizations, bridging cooperation across ethnic lines and in providing vital resources for the capacity-building project, medical and humanitarian relief works inside Burma and among refugees on the border areas. While they are not operating without funds limit, it is understandable that there are activists whose works are not funded.
Coming back to the conference, though there might be a handful of participants who criticized the said NGOs in the discussion, it would be very misleading to use the specific term “participants of the conference” criticized this and that which they integrated in the published news article. As a matter of fact, it is totally unacceptable for Kaowao to say that “ the participants” criticized NGOs etc. in their news article, which indeed is a false statement. In a greater detail, I will discuss what should be quoted or integrated as a substance in their news article.
When they used the term, “Participants”, it implied the impression meaning that all the attendees to the conference agreed or criticized for what they just said. That was not true. During the conference, there were a handful of participants, who expressed their dissatisfaction over the way the Canadian government channelled their funding through the Canadian NGOs. To be precise, the organizers of the Burma Forum conference are those that long bashing the Canadian NGOs such as BRC and Inter Pares. Given this scenario, it is not surprising that those organizers criticized the BRC or Inter Pares whenever they got a chance.
However, as the article mistakenly suggested, we were not as whole, criticized any NGOs. If that were the case, I would have walked out of the conference personally. This is my standpoint that I will never rubber stamp any provision of the recommendations or agreements we made for which I cannot approve or endorse. Personally, I kept reminding the participants the need to stand behind our political actors, who are holding the people’s mandate. As a pressure group, it is critical that we are aware of our role, which is to move within the bounds and apparatus of the calls make by our legitimate actors.
To make it clear for everyone, the issue here is not whether one supported or criticized any NGO during the discussion on any issue in the conference. The issue important to consider here ONLY is the outcome of the conference and the recommendations we came up with when we sent out our clear message to the Canadian government.
Therefore, I strongly suggest that all interested parties and individuals should pay heed to substances of our recommendations and the outcome of the 2nd Burma Forum Conference. No matter whether one criticized or not to any party in the conference, as I staked out already, that is NOT at all important. What is important is the outcome of the conference, and NOT those baseless criticisms.
Lastly, I suggest that U Cham Toik (whom I dearly respect for his contributions in our struggle) and his friend, Saimon, use the term like “ some participants or handful of participants criticized this and that during the discussion” and not as “participants of the conference” which even include me as a participant in their article, which indeed is misleading. Even then, to make their news article valid and well-taken one, it is important that they integrate and quote the recommendations that we (participants of the conference) made and not such personal grievances or discontentment made in the discussion simply because those are not our recommendations.
By Salai Za Ceu Lian
19th April 2006