Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dr. Nay Zin Latt: President's Political Adviser

Dr. Nay Zin Latt.
Dr. Nay Zin Latt, the most-spoken member among three presidential political advisers, was interviewed by DVB (Democratic Voice of Burma) in April 2011 and the first part of this post is the translation of that interview about the recently-established Presidential Advisory Board of Burma’s newly-elected President Thein Sein, a former army general and the last Prime Minister of now-defunct SPDC Government.

(Q)       Dr. Nay Zin Latt, Good day! When did you first learn about the formation of   Presidential Advisory Board?
(A)       I first knew of it in 22 April.

(Q)       How is the Advisory Board formed and who are the advisors?
(A)       Basically three teams. Economics, Politics, and Legal Affairs. Dr. U Myint is in Economics Team. U Set Aung and U Sein Hla Bo are in the Economics Team too. The Politics is U Ko Ko Hlaing. Then me. And U Ye Tint too. In Legal Team is Police Colonel Sit Aye (Retired). Daw Khin Myo Myint and U Than Kyaw are in the Legal Team too.

(Q)       Do you and other advisors have any plan or arrangement on what advises the Advisory Board will be giving to the Government and the new President?
(A)       Now is a bit too early to answer that. We’ll only know what sort of responsibilities we’ll get only after we report for the duty. Right now we don’t know yet. We’ll see each other only then. Right now many of us are away travelling. We haven’t met yet. May be in the middle of next month I can say something. Right now it is a bit too early.

(Q)       Could you possibly say a little bit about what advises you and other political advisors would provide to the President?      
(A)       Roughly, our country now has some minor difficulties politically. Some minor obstacles! We need to smooth out these internal problems, I think. Our country now is unlike before and we really want to solve these small problems. Mainly on that we will advise the President.

(Q)       Yes, Dr. Nay Zin Latt. There are already many people criticizing that you and the Advisory Board will just be used by the Government and new President for their political benefits only. Do you want to say anything on that?
(A)       Time will decide eventually.   Right now the new Government is not even a month old yet. But we could definitely say the reform process here is gaining speed very fast as we already have the Advisory Board plan even before the Government is only a month old. There were no such positions as the advisors ever before. Only with this new Government we now have the Advisory Board, I think. Now I’ve been finding out our Government really is willing to solve the problems our country is facing. Anyway to criticize is the right for the critics. But time will eventually answer their questions.

(Q)       Thank you very much, Dr. Nay Zin Latt.

Dr. U Myint and President Thein Sein.
Burmese President Thein Sein has appointed a presidential advisory board consisting three teams—politics, economics and legal—which is made up of three members each. The economic advisory board is led by U Myint, a well-known Burmese economist with a close personal relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi.

U Myint, 74, was previously a professor of economics at Rangoon University. He also served as the director of the economics department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Later, he headed the Research Department at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Bangkok-based ESCAP). He is currently the director of the Tun Foundation Bank in Rangoon.

In the president's new political advisory board, Ko Ko Hlaing, a retired military officer who used to work in the Research Department at the War Office of the Ministry of Defense, was appointed chief advisor. He was recently working on an international news program for the state-run MRTV-4 television channel.

The other two members in the political advisory board are Ye Tint and Dr. Nay Zin Latt, both former military officers—with Ye Tint, the managing director of a government-backed printing and publishing enterprise, and Nay Zin Latt, an executive member of the Burma Hoteliers’ Association.

The legal advisory board is led by Police Col. Sit Aye, the former director of the Home Ministry’s International Relations Department. Other two members are Khin Myo Myint and Than Kyaw.

Dr. Nay Zin Latt.
Dr. Nay Zin Latt was interviewed again by the Messenger Journal recently in January 2012 and the following part of this post is the translation of that interview about his role as one of the three members of the Politics Team of Presidential Advisory Board advising Burma’s reform-minded President Thein Sein.

(Q)       There had been many unexpected good things implemented (by the President) in 2011. What can you say for 2012?
(A)       I presume, in the New Year, what we think or expect will materialize. We will begin to see the benefits of that basic foundation laid down last year.

(Q)       Last year soon after the New Government had been formed the Presidential Adviser Board came out. So many people were talking about it. The people tipped widely to become the Presidential Advisers didn’t become one and the people we never heard of before became the advisers. Have you ever met the President before? Why do you think he has chosen you?
(A)       I’d never spoken to the President before, not even once. I’d been retired for over 20 years now. I do not know exactly why I was given this duty. Maybe I wrote too much (in the popular magazines and journals). I don’t really know.

(Q)       According to the records you’d given most interviews during last year. Why? And please tell us your experiences (of those interviews).
(A)       Part of my job I least wanted to do is giving interviews. I kept on asking myself the same question of “To View or not to View”. If I say a wrong thing I can get into a serious trouble. Nothing bad will ever happen if I give no interview. But our President is really doing the progressive reforms. And we (the Government) are not media-friendly at all. So, finally, I let myself become a scapegoat (in case if anything goes wrong by giving interview) as I really wanted to get the people on board with us in what we (the Government) are doing. At the beginning I was quite often in tight spots. In politics even the choice of words has to be extremely careful. Especially when answering the foreign media in tricky circumstances as they could ask brutal questions without mercy.

(Q)       What kind of duties or tasks is yours? Are there any restrictions or strict directives?
(A)       Basically we are to advise the President. I can’t really say more than that. Surprising thing is there are no limits in what we could say to the President. I can act on my own initiative. For example my primary responsibility is International Politics. But when I think the domestic politics is important in particular cases I would involve and directly report to the President. Our President is very flexible and he is also a visionary. So for me it is very easy to work for him.

(Q)       Do you have any difficulties performing the tasks given by the President? Is there enough time to do the jobs?
(A)       We are very lucky. Only three days after our appointments we faced some difficulties when we were attending the APF (ASEAN’s People Forum) in Indonesia. After that the President has been assigning us only the fair load. Just one difficult time during the first 100 days of him becoming President when we had to meet V J Nambia (UN Special Envoy for Burma) and Quintanar (Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma) and other  ambassadors. After that it is okay. Time wise we really have to struggle, of course, especially with meeting the guests and diplomats. We cannot refuse to see the diplomats if they want to see us. Only through them we can send our messages and opinions back to their governments.

(Q)       Since you are seeing the diplomats a lot nowadays can you please tell us a bit about your opinions and experiences with them?
(A)       I’ve met nearly all the ambassadors. Some even four or five times. People from UN organizations and the INGOs (International Non-government Organizations) too. I even think we spend too much time meeting them. Especially after the meeting between President and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and also after the Myit-sone Dam suspension. Almost every day meetings after meetings. Some diplomats are okay, but some are very clever. I have to watch out what I say to them. But as you know our position is in the vague middle (never here or never there) so we can and also they can openly talk between us and them. Some tried to patronize us. Then we gave them back their own medicines. Diplomats are the cleverest people. Full of tactics and tricks. Sometimes they are strongly forceful. Sometimes they are softly persuasive. Sometimes they test us to our limits. So many varieties.

(Q)       We heard the advisory teams have been working real hard and diligently. Mostly good news. I would like to know what sort of attitude you put on doing your serious job.
(A)       I have a serious attachment with the work I do, but not with my position (job). That way I could do whatever I really felt like doing. And so far I’d done what I thought I should do. The main person, of course, is the President. He is the sole decision maker. Since he has a strategic vision it is so easy to work for him. But for me I am still half-expecting that I can retire early (from this adviser job) if I ever make a serious mistake. So my only worry is that we don’t do what we should or could do (for the betterment of our country). There is nothing else I worry about. Once in my early interviews I said I would only take the “Win-Win” path. If you look at today’s world politics non-“Win-Win” solutions usually caused opposite results between immediate outcomes and future outcomes.
(Q)       This question, answer only if you feel like answering it.  For the public interested in the Presidential Advisors. According to the Public Service Protocol, which level is the Adviser? How about salaries and other facilities? It is sort of new position for all of us.
(A)       I can answer it. For Protocol you should ask the Office of the Government (President). I myself thought our position is not really that important at all. Our money, they don’t call it salary, but a gratuity. You can imagine our rewards just by looking at the way our President himself is basically living (like a pauper).

(Q)       When you were first appointed there were so many on the internet criticizing you. Some even said you were using the Shadow Writers for your articles? Do you have anything to say about that accusation?
(A)       I know who are writing those accusations. If they really want to know if I am using the Shadows I would like to tell them that just bring me a ball-pen and blank papers. How could I answer with a borrowed-mouth to the questions asked at the seminars and conferences? How about the interviews like this one now. Answer with a borrowed-mouth? From right here I just would like to say that I know who these people accusing me are!           

ASSK Meets President Thein Sein.
(Q)       At present there has been a persistent rumor floating outside. One piece of crucial news but so many versions. About the first ever meeting between the President and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Was it the result of so-called Third Force? Or the result of an influential outsider? One of those external forces had forced the President to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi even though he wasn’t really willing? We honestly believe that matter should be cleared now otherwise it would become a serious mess later. Do you want to say anything?
(A)       Those rumors are the work of opportunists trying to steal a place for themselves in the history books. If it was just an ordinary rumor I wouldn’t want to say anything. But it is the rumor with a hidden agenda. No external forces were involved and none from the so-called Third Force! I myself had verbally proposed to the President that 37 political parties and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be invited (to meet the President). President himself had agreed (to my proposal) within seconds. It was very obvious that he has acted on his own wishes. The wish to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must have been in his heart and his mind for a very long time. The hanging of Bo-gyoke Aung San’s photo in his office and his repeated talks of implementing National Reconciliation are the proof of that. I think these opportunists shouldn’t be saying such bad things to the good leader doing good things (for the country). They shouldn’t be that selfish and self-centered. I was thinking of not involving in it. But now I have to as I believe they are attacking the integrity and good intentions (of an extremely decent man). The fact that no external forces were involved has been proved by my fact that the President made the decision in less than 5 seconds. Because of his own good intention he was able to make the decision within that very short time. His Political Will is the principal force (behind the decision to reconcile with 37 political parties and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi).

(Q)       Oh, that’s why you were the first one talking about inviting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to the Economic Development Workshops at Naypyidaw. We noticed it back then. But instead of telling the domestic media, why did you give that important news to the foreign media first?
A)        Once President’s accepted (my reconciliation proposal) my part was over. The rest were to be followed up by the office and the person President would assign (to do the job).  I do not need to know. I just had to get back inside my boundaries. But, maybe, you people did  notice that (during that period)? A foreign broadcasting station came out announcing the news that the foreign minister from a big western country were going to give a strongly-worded speech at a ceremony or conference to apply more pressure on our country. I didn’t really want to put unnecessary pressure on the President. So to prevent that from happening (and to let that Foreign Minister know our reformist intentions, so that he wouldn’t be overly aggressive towards our country) I intentionally released the good news (of reconciliation with Daw ASSK). Unfortunately the Development Workshop was delayed a few days and many people were even criticizing me and saying that I was completely wrong. But anyway I was right all that time as if that Foreign Minister had given his strong speech it would be very difficult for them (and the West) now for all their softening attitudes (towards our country later).

(Q)       MDRI, I would like to ask about it? Can you explain its purpose and nature?
(A)       MDRI is Myanmar Development and Resources Institute. Some other ASEAN countries like Cambodia and Vietnam also have (similar institution). The idea was initiated by U Myint. And President has given his permission. It’s same as what U Myint said in some news reports. Initially from our politics side we were going to do something like Strategic Studies Institute. But eventually we all collectively agreed into the MDRI idea. Primarily basing on us nine advisers for political, economic, and legal development tasks. On our politics side we will concentrate on politics and human resources. Local and foreign experts will deliver lecture classes. Anyone can attend. From any political party. No restrictions. All the political parties will be invited. Instead of blindly shouting out, it is definitely better to say things after knowing what politics is all about. Basically for the people to know more about the State Building.

Our aim is to raise the intellectual quality level of new generations. Just by looking at this MDRI initiative and program you can see the true essence of President’s reform spirit.

(Q)       My next question is ‘America-China-Myanmar’ situation. Role of Myanmar? And the head-on conflict between America and China?
(A)       What I first want to say is the neighbors are not a choice for a nation. It is a geographical determination. Whether we like them or not we must have a good relationship with our neighboring nations. So I don’t see any significant change in Myanmar-China relation. Next one is in Myanmar-America or Myanmar-EU relation current situation can do a U-turn anytime. Right now they are discriminating us. We are not avoiding them. By the way while we are on the topic I have to say this. The West has been saying that we have discriminations in Myanmar. If one really think of it one can easily see the West has been discriminating against us (by economic and financial sanctions). Anyway that is my feeling and we can forget it (here for a while).

USS George Washington in Singapore Waters.
Right now America is basing its naval ships   in Singapore and expanding its army in Australia. Their Pacific Grand Strategy is now more prominent than before. How they’ve been treating us (harshly) as per their tactical Point Of View can also be about-turned. If they ever look from their Strategic POV. All depend on their will only.  For us we just have to get along with all 200 odd nations on this earth.

Next one, is there any possibility of head-on conflict between America and China? In my opinion there is very little chance these two countries will meet head-on (in near future). From America’s POV China with a different political system is quickly becoming a threatening and competing tiger (in our ever shrinking world). So it will do its best (to strategically contain China). For China to gain the political supremacy it needs to protect its (rapidly growing) economy for at least a decade or even two decades. So it will try to avoid any direct conflict with any powerful nation (like United States). If one looks at the present global strategic alliances China doesn’t have many nations on its side (yet). Thus my conclusion is there wouldn’t be a head-on conflict between America and China (soon). I can say this situation is very good for our country.

(Q)       How about the coming by-elections? How fair do you think will it be? How much of a winning chance will NLD have?
(A)       Much fairer than before. That’s what the Parliament President and Election Commission Chairman and the elders have already been saying. Present situations are unlike ever before. This Government also has a nine month long valuable experiences in practicing democracy. NLD also is in a pretty good situation. Myanmar political scene will also become livelier (once NLD won the seats in coming by-elections). Truthful and united, we just have to work the things out for the betterment of the country. Everyone should be able to take the truthful and constructive criticism. Also everyone should be able to abandon self-importance and also self-centered selfishness.

Thaksin Shinawat Meets SG Than Shwe.
(Q)       This is our last question. According to the Bangkok Post, when former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin was visiting here recently he met both President U Thein Sein and Senior-General Than Shwe. What is your opinion on those meetings?
(A)       I basically see SG Than Shwe as the person who’d laid down the best path and the solid foundation for democratization in our country. A good end of (seemingly never-ending) military rule and a good beginning of new pages (for our country) as the graceful exit of the Senior General. He might have been really sick of his more-than 20 years of an extremely stressful job (as being a dictator).

Thaksin might be just giving his respect to a deserving elder. It is a lovely cultural practice of Burmese (and also Thais as the Buddhists) to be able to give respect to an elder even well after his retirement. If you still remember, big Suharto like Thaksin also came and met U Ne Win once around 1990. I also am still helping my old teachers and bosses till today. Very good Buddhist practice!                   

Dr Nay Zin Latt is a well-known columnist regularly contributing socio-economic and general-knowledge articles in various Burmese magazines and journals such as Shwe-Amyu-Tay and CEO. He is the President of both AMBO (Asian Myanmar Business Organization) Co. Ltd, and AMBO Hotels Group in Rangoon, Burma. He is also serving as the General Secretary of Myanmar Hoteliers’ Association.