Myanmar’s military government, with soldiers scattered throughout the country, is arbitrarily levying fees from the rural poor, pushing some into hunger and debt, experts say.
“In Burma taxation has become associated with violence and human rights abuses,” said Alison Vicary, researcher for Burma Economic Watch at Macquarie University in Australia. She has just written a report on “taxation” for the Network for Human Rights Documentation - Burma (ND-Burma).
The report, released on 1 September, says many people in rural areas are forced to relinquish property and assets at the will of soldiers who, as a matter of course, live off of locals.
Ten percent of the country is food insecure, with more than 90 percent persistently on the brink of hunger in some regions, according to the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
“I grew up knowing that the army has the absolute right to demand anything they want, but we didn’t realize how systematic and widespread [arbitrary taxation] really is. This report makes it clear,” Cheery Zahau, an activist campaigning for the rights of the Chin ethnic minority and ND-Burma adviser, told IRIN.
The World Bank estimates 50 percent of the population live in rural areas and ND-Burma says random demands for money, land or property - are taking a serious toll on some of the most vulnerable.
People do not know when, how much or what they will be taxed on, which creates an atmosphere of fear, Vicary said.
“In an agricultural setting, people don’t have savings or even a bank account,” she said. “When the tax is levied they can’t pay and are forced to borrow money or sell their property and assets.”
Fees disguised as “taxes” are rarely accounted for and very little of the money ends up in services such as education and health care, ND-Burma says.
Furthermore, checkpoints and road and bridge tolls restrict movement, making trade unprofitable, and at times impossible, and the requisitioning of land and labour for government projects such as roads and pipelines is also common, ND-Burma says.
Myanmar’s first national election in 20 years is scheduled for 7 November.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions