Naypyidaw | Nestled among towers of moldering paperwork, the few flickering computer screens at Myanmar’s information ministry are a sign that change is afoot, and nervous bureaucrats expect more to come under the first civilian government in decades.
A novice administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her president proxy Htin Kyaw takes office later this month, facing a raft of challenges including conflict, poverty and a still powerful military. One of the new government’s few stated priorities so far is to streamline the country’s notoriously labyrinthine civil service, which bloomed to 36 ministries under military rule and became a byword for corruption and inefficiency.
We have no idea what will happen to us, we have had had no clear instruction, said one ministry official yesterday, asking not to be named, just hours after MPs across town in the capital Naypyidaw elected the country’s first civilian president in decades.
With its dimly lit corridors, papers stuffed into bags and stray dogs snoozing in the afternoon heat, the ministry which churned out propaganda under the military is emblematic of much of Myanmar’s civil service and the junta’s legacy. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) have yet to name any ministers.
But party sources said senior members were hunkered down in private meetings today with a streamlining plan expected to be announced tomorrow. Even we are hoping for change, admitted another information ministry staff member, also asking for anonymity, alluding to Suu Kyi’s simple election message, adding that he expects a merger with the culture ministry.
Myanmar has come a long way since 2011, when the military that drove the country into isolation and poverty for decades suddenly loosened its grip. President Thein Sein’s outgoing army-backed administration unleashed dramatic reforms that saw the end of most Western sanctions and a flurry of investor excitement.
The resource-rich country now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, forecast to expand around 8 per cent this year, and a vibrant young population. Foreign visitor numbers have surged from less than a million in 2011 to 4.7 million last year.