How will the global aid machine transform Burma?


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi talk prior to dinner at the US Chief of Mission Residence in Rangoon, Myanmar, December 1, 2011.


Saul Loeb

The Burmese military's horrendous abuses have long scared off international aid.

According to the most recent U.S. State Department stats, official development assistance is a measly $4 per person.

Compare that to Burma's impoverished neighbors: Cambodia gets $46 per person and tiny Laos gets $68 per person.

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to change all that.

She's ending her historic tour of Burma with a pledge to support the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the U.N. in officially sizing up Burma's needs (of which there are many) and look into doling out aid.

In a briefing sent out to journalists, a State Department official suggested the U.S. would "agree to and support IMF and World Bank assessment missions ... particularly in the area of health and microfinance."

But it begs the question: why hasn't the regime done more to take care of its own people?

And why, in recent years, has the military swallowed up most of the national budget while only 2.2 percent goes towards health care?

As the IMF prepares to put money into Burma's tragically underfunded social service sector -- essentially doing what the regime hasn't -- the military-backed ruling party should brace for this question.

A similar critique has dogged nearby Cambodia, where abuses persist even as the government relies on global donors for a whopping half of its budget.