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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #45

Mainichi Daily News, Sunday, October 13, 1996

"Pay as You Go"

Letter from Burma (No. 45) by Aung San Suu Kyi

	On my release from house arrest last year, people gathered outside the
gates of my home to greet me and to demonstrate their support for the
movement for democracy.  It was the monsoon season and the crowds would
stand and wait in the dripping rain until I went out to speak to them.  This
continued day after day for more than a month; then I negotiated with our
supporters an arrangement which was more convenient for all concerned:  We
would meet regularly at four o'clock on Saturdays and Sundays.  Thus were
born the public rallies that have been taking place outside my house every
	A few months after the weekend rallies had become established as a regular
political feature, I invited the audience to write to me about matters they
would like me to discuss.  The response was immediate and enthusiastic.
Letters on a wide range of subjects, political, economic, social and
religious, were put into the mailbox we hung outside the gate for that
purpose.  A recurring theme in these letters, which continue to come in, is
the widespread corruption among civil servants, in particular in the sectors
of health and education.
	In Burma, health care is ostensibly provided free of charge by the state.
But in recent years, the contributions expected from the community have
risen to such an extent that it is no longer possible to think of health
care as "free."  By "contributions" I do not mean just monetary donations
made by the public toward health care projects, although such donations are
not inconsiderable.  I am referring to the fact that government health care
facilities now provide merely services while patients have to provide almost
everything else: medicines, cotton wool, surgical spirits, bandages and even
equipment necessary for surgery.
	Patients not only have to make their own arrangements for getting the
necessary medical supplies, they also have to bribe the hospital staff in
order to receive satisfactory service.
	It is not just doctors and nurses who have to be sweetened with gifts;
hospital orderlies also have to be paid if one's time as an invalid is to be
passably comfortable.  Apparently it is a common practice for orderlies to
neglect their cleaning duties unless they are duly compensated.
	And they are also said to give patients who have to be wheeled from one
part of the hospital to another a rough ride until a requisite sum of money
has changed hands.  Then there are the door keepers and other administrative
staff whose hands have to be greased to smooth the path of family members
who need to go in and out at all hours to delivery necessary supplies.
	While nothing can excuse callousness in those who should be giving succor
to the ill and dying, it cannot be ignored that the deterioration in state
health care is largely the result of maladministration.  High motivation
cannot be expected of grossly underpaid staff working with poorly maintained
equipment and dilapidated, unhygienic surroundings.
	In recent years, the emergence of a private sector has made health care at
expensive clinics and nursing homes available to those who are well off.
There are indications that among those who cannot afford private health
care, that is to say, the large majority of the population, there is an
increasing tendency to rely on folk or traditional medicine rather than
place themselves at the mercy of the state health care system.
	Even more than letters about the unsavory conditions in our hospitals, I
receive letters about the disgraceful state of our education system.
Education, like health care, is ostensibly free in Burma but again, as with
health care, the contribution exacted from the community is getting higher
by the day.
	Inadequate school funds are supplemented by "donations" collected for
various purposes: sports day, new buildings, school furniture,
teacher-parent association funds, religious festivals.  Underpaid teachers
supplement their incomes by giving tuition outside school hours.  The fees
range from 1,000 kyats to 10,000 kyats for each pupil, depending on the
grade in which they are studying and the number of subjects in which they
are coached.  The poor quality of teaching in the school forces all parents
who can afford the fees to send their children to such tuition classes.
	Examinations provide teachers as well as employees of the education
department with opportunities for lucrative business.  Examination
questions, advance information on grades achieved and the marking up of low
grades can all be obtained for price.
	There was a time when civil servants in our country were seen as an elite
corps: well educated, well-trained and well-paid, capable of giving good
service to the community.  Now they are generally regarded with fear and
revulsion, or with pity.  State employees who have not become part of the
syndrome of daily corruption, either from a matter of principle or from lack
of opportunity, are unable to maintain a standard of living appropriate to
their functions.  They are the nouveau poor of Burma.

* * * * * * * *

This article is one of yearlong series of letters.  The Japanese translation
appears in the Mainichi Shimbun the same day, or the previous day in some areas.