The National Unity Government (NUG) is not only resisting the junta’s coup attempt, but, alongside Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations and other components of the Spring Revolution, is building the new Myanmar. This is manifest in its latest announcement regarding the establishment of the Spring Development Bank, another step towards replacing the junta’s failing institutions. This is vital as the junta’s disastrous economic and financial policies are only punishing the people of Myanmar, sending the country into economic ruin.
The Spring Development Bank established by the NUG is an online bank that will use cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies. It is currently in its pilot phase and will be fully operational by the end of August. The Spring Development Bank will allow for national and international payments and it aims to open branches in liberated areas. Next steps include offering typical financial services and adding more currencies – it currently deals with Myanmar Kyat, US and Singaporean dollars, and Thai Baht. Ultimately it is about replacing the failing financial system of the junta-run banks and rebuilding Myanmar’s economy, and will also assist the financing of the Spring Revolution through safe transfers. This means people can avoid using junta-run and junta-affiliated banks which have been blocking accounts, seizing assets and transferring people’s data to the junta, in addition to the high fees and plethora of restrictions imposed by the banks in Myanmar currently under junta control.
This is essential as the misery that the junta’s financial and economic policies are inflicting on the people of Myanmar is severe and alternatives are needed. Since the coup attempt inflation has rocketed and the value of the Myanmar Kyat has massively depreciated. This means that people are struggling to make ends meet, and having to reduce their intake of food, medicine and other essentials. The cost of rice – the staple food of the country – has doubled since the coup attempt while palm oil which is used for cooking has tripled in price. To make matters worse, the junta has released a new 20,000 Kyat note, double the existing highest denomination of 10,000 Myanmar Kyat. This is ostensibly to commemorate the building of a giant Buddha statue in the capital Naypyidaw – a vanity project of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing as well as to celebrate the 1st birthday of a white elephant – a self-declared sign of his greatness. Not only is the lavish Buddha construction at odds with the economic hardship of the rest of the country, but Min Aung Hlaing’s eliciting of donations from cronies can be seen as a money-making exercise for the cash-strapped military to purchase more arms. Concerns about the rising inflation and the release of the new note, however, have only further depreciated the Kyat. As a real-life example of the impact of this, as the Kyat reached 3,500 against the US Dollar, this in turn pushed the price up of essential drugs and medicines, 85% of which are imported, meaning many people have had to go without. Upon the release of its most recent report on Myanmar, the World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos PDR stated, “Worryingly, progress against malnutrition seems to have halted or reversed. More than half of households have been forced to sell assets, increase borrowing, or limit their spending, including on health and education.”
As ever, it is working class people and rural peasants who are struggling the most while well-connected cronies and military generals continue to extract as much wealth from the country as possible. The junta is determined to squeeze every last penny out of the people to fund its terror-inflicting war on the people of Myanmar in order to try and grab power – a repeat of disastrous military-led economic policies since 1962 which systematically impoverished the country. For example, the Myanma Agricultural Development Bank, which the junta took control of after its coup attempt, is threatening to seize land from farmers for late loan repayments. Furthermore, it is restricting the amount of loans it typically gives rural landowners due to cash shortages – laying the groundwork for future food shortages and even more poverty. It has also banned the production of oil from thousands of small-scale oil wells in the central Dry Zone, the scene of intense resistance, as it attempts to stop the flow of money to resistance groups. Yet the on-the-ground impact of this ban is a massive loss of livelihoods – up to 300,000 people now without income.
The junta’s actions have necessitated the imposition of international penalties that are aimed at reducing the flow of foreign exchange to the Myanmar military. This was the reasoning behind the United States sanctioning two junta-run banks – the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank and the Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank. These are the two banks through which the junta has been receiving foreign currency, especially from oil and gas revenues, two of the biggest sources of its income. While such sanctions are welcomed, a more comprehensive, coordinated round of sanctions, as well as effective enforcement of sanctions, are needed to ensure that the junta cannot circumnavigate such penalties.
The junta has no intention of easing the financial burden on the people – its ultimate goal is annihilation of the people’s resistance movement. In an attempt to weaken people’s resolve, it is using economic and financial strategies to fund its failing coup by purchasing more weapons to commit further atrocities at the expense of people’s livelihoods. Perhaps the junta hopes that daily struggles to survive economic hardship will cause fatigue and dampen the resistance’ momentum. Furthermore, creating more financial burden on people is a part of the military’s strategy to diminish people’s capacity to support the democratic resistance movement. Yet, the Spring Revolution is not just about resisting, but constructing the new Myanmar, and part of this is a new financial system that the people can trust and feel safe with, and has legitimacy. Thus, the establishment of the Spring Development Bank, coupled with the type of economic sanctions that specifically target the junta’s ability to maintain itself, are essential.
However, while the people’s movement is taking the necessary steps, despite the hardship and struggles against a brutal military junta, the international community must do more. This includes more targeted and coordinated sanctions against the junta’s sources of revenue, such as oil and gas, effective enforcement of such sanctions, and taking all measures to prevent the flow of arms to the military. In this regard, now is the time for the US Government to make good on its promises and take effective action, especially as it has been seven months since the Burma Act under the National Defense Authorization Act was passed. The US Government must therefore take effective action and impose sanctions on the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), the largest source of revenue to the illegal junta. This combination of pressure from inside and out, such as the sanctioning of MOGE, will help bring the Spring Revolution closer to its goals of establishing a federal democracy and dismantling the junta.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Burma Campaign UK
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières
By Fortify Rights
By International Labour Organization
By Justice For Myanmar, Mekong Watch, FoE Japan, Human Rights Now, Human Rights Watch and Japan International Volunteer Center
By Shan Human Rights Foundation
By U.S. Attorney’s Office
By United Nations Children’s Fund
By Burma News International and Myanmar Peace Monitor
By International Institute for Strategic Studies
By International Labour Organization
By Myanmar Witness
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”