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19 Jun, 2012

Thai Royal Projects Chief: Global Rich-Poor Income Gap Could Trigger Next World War

CHIANG RAI, North Thailand: In a powerful, historic speech at the Mekong Tourism Forum on June 13, a man who has played a key role in one of the world’s most successful opium-eradication projects warned of another world war if the global rich-poor income gap is not addressed. Mr. Disnadda Diskul, Secretary-General of Thailand’s Mae Fah Luang Foundation (MFLF), indicated that entire top-down development paradigm that has guided the tourism industry needs to be revamped in favour of a bottom-up approach, and that it can only be done via trusted leadership, commitment, dedication and the right partnerships.

He took an indirect jab at the World Economic Forum’s policy of pushing “competitiveness” by questioning why the Mekong Subregion countries need to compete for visitors and instead proposed that they “care and share” together to put the interests of the people and planet before profits.

The speech needs to be carefully studied because it provides a comprehensive root-cause assessment of complex global issues, which then have a trickle-down impact on the poor. It positions travel & tourism as being both a part of the problem as well as the solution. Most importantly, because Mr. Disnadda is not directly a part of the travel & tourism fraternity, he enjoyed the luxury of telling it without fear or favour. Dealing with such hard truths is part of the responsibility this generation owes future generations.

Indeed, the speech is all the more historic because it was delivered in the 20th year since the start of Mekong tourism cooperation efforts and the silver anniversary of 1987 Visit Thailand Year, arguably the most important event in the annals of tourism marketing. As the full text was not made available, Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil, in addition to being the moderator of the keynote speech, transcribed the recording and has reproduced it here in a slightly edited format, including the Q&A.

Mr. Disnadda’s biodata can be found here.


He began with an acknowledgement of the economic benefits of tourism, citing the growth projections of the UN World Tourism Organisation and the 35 million people who visited the GMS last year. He said another major trend in the GMS’ favour is that people are moving away from the big cities and the popular beaches in search of tranquility, nature and culture in the countryside – “just exactly what we have to offer.”

Then he launched into his early-warnings. “Now, I know most of us like to strike while the iron is hot, but that is one pitfall I would like all of you to be aware of. I call it the 3Gs model.

The first G is greed. We are living in an era of radical capitalism where we are taught to want, take, and want more and more. Individuals constantly seek to acquire a higher salary, a better car and a bigger house.

This leads to the second G, which is growth, the goal of the day. Success today is directly related to money, political power and social status. Like (getting) on the Forbes 400 list and Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Companies fuel consumers’ desires in an attempt to generate more profit. Governments care solely about the overall number of goods and services reflected in GDP. But does such materialistic growth have anything to do with the general public’s good quality of life?

The last G is global imbalances. These are the direct consequences of centuries of our greed and consumption. The world has lost balance – the environment, water, weather patterns, equality, economic and social environment, and last but not least, happiness. While more tourists to the region will mean more profits for the tourism industry and higher GDPs, host communities and people don’t necessarily experience the same economic progress. In this same Asia-Pacific region for example, 1.7 billion people are living on less than $2 a day. 50% of the Asia-Pacific population does not have access to improved sanitation facilities.

The ADB (Asian Development Bank) says the current demand for water by  agriculture, industry and domestic use is drastically increasing. While water resources are depleting and degrading, food demand in the Mekong River basin is projected to increase by 20% to 50% by the year 2030.

Conflicting Demands

Mr. Disnadda indicated that addressing these conflicting demands will require some fundamental changes in resource management policies. Tourism, as a major consumer of natural resources, will have to be involved. He said:

“My only humble wish today to urge you today not to look at tourism simply as a business opportunity, your responsibility and a means of alleviating poverty. This is where sustainable tourism has come into play. Sustainable tourism in principle is very much in line with the principles of His Majesty’s (King Bhumibhol Adulyadej of Thailand) rural development approach in many ways. In the past 66 years of his reign, His Majesty has initiated over 4,000 royal development projects throughout the country in the areas of agriculture, environment, public welfare and many more.

To improve people’s economic and social development and ultimately, happiness is the goal. This can be achieved by meeting immediate development needs as well as considering future generations and the environment. Before implementing any project, His Majesty believes in taking time to learn the socio-geographical context and understanding the localities in order to have a true insight of the situation. Then the individuals and communities must be engaged in planning and decision-making so that the project is tailored to their real needs and wants, and solve problems at the root cause or causes.

What can we draw from His Majesty’s development principles to apply to sustainable tourism?  The starting point is to respect the landscape and the people’s way of life. Then for tourism to be successful we have to make the community part of the plan or the business plan, and never consider them a part of the problem. By working together this way, we can create a sense of collaboration and understanding, and a sense of ownership for the local people from Day One.”

Mr. Disnadda narrated what he called “a sad case study for all of us to learn from to see what could happen without community participation.” He said that the popular Amphawa Floating Market tourist attraction in Central Thailand was once a habitat for fireflies. It became popular in its own right “but it was not so welcomed by the host community who were greatly disturbed in the night-time by roaring engines of the boats.” So the villagers cut down the trees and eliminated the habitat “in the hopes that fewer tourists or preferably none would invade their neighbourhoods at night. Close to no fireflies are found these days. The boat tours are out of business. Nature is destroyed. Only harsh feelings between the business operators and the local people remain, a desirable tourist destination full of potential but sadly failed.”

The Story

He then narrated the story of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation and how its rural development projects have become the top tourist attraction of Chiang Rai. The foundation was set up by the Princess Mother, the late mother of King Bhumibhol, (known to the Thai people as Mae Fah Luang, or Royal Mother from the Sky) in order to help the poor, especially the hilltribes people, build immunity for rural communities and ultimately benefit national security.”

The first flagship was an art and cultural site which was designed to support and preserve the local tribal handicraft skills to prevent further exploitation by the middlemen. They were provided with sales and marketing support for their handicraft pieces, domestically and abroad. This improved the economic conditions of the hilltribe minorities but not their living habits. So the Princess Mother took it a step further and with the cooperation of international organisations established several youth leadership programs for six years to provide food, clothing and lodging and provide the minority children with basic education, hygiene and social skills for them to live as part of mainstream societies, and not be taken advantage of.

In 1988, she started her second project at the age of 88 in the neighbouring area which eventually evolved from a small one hectare area to 18 ha to become the Mae Fah Luang Art & Culture Park (where the MTF delegates held the opening dinner). Today, the park houses the region’s largest Lanna art and cultural heritage, where people of the region gather for traditional ceremonies and in remembrance of the King’s mother. Mr. Disnadda went on:

Fifty kilometres from the park is a mountain called Doi Tung, once a most notorious site for opium production. In 1987, it was plagued with social and environmental problems with a dramatically degraded environment caused by shifting cultivation and lack of agricultural knowledge and techniques. Opium was the only real source of income and the only available medicine at that time. It provided only 6 months of food for families. The rest of the year, they didn’t know where their next meal was going to come from so they had to turn to produce opium which led to drug abuse and drug trafficking. Then came human trafficking, selling their daughters into the sex industry and which led to the spread of HIV. Insecurity and deteriorated social structure prevailed.

But the King’s mother commented that these opium growers, drug traffickers and prostitutes, even prostitutes, were fundamentally not criminals. They just wanted a life! I would have done it! You would have done it if you were in their position! So she initiated the Doi Tung development project of 50,000 hectares to eradicate poverty and revive nature via agricultural development. The mission was to help the communities to help themselves so that even without us, the people could control their livelihoods and continue their development upwards through the socio-economic ladder. Our approach is holistic and integrated. It addresses the three fundamental problems: Health, livelihood and education.

We start with health because sick people cannot work. We then started to provide viable livelihood options starting with food security. Finally, when people have stable income, children no longer have to work to support their families. Let me repeat again, children no longer have to work to support their families. It’s NOT child labour. It’s a must that they have to help. The priority then becomes education which leads to long-term development and breaks them from the vicious cycle of poverty.

30 Year Development

M.R. Disnadda Diskul, Member & Secretary-General, Mae Fah Luang Foundation
Credited by Thaipublica.org

Realising that development is complex and takes time, we planned the framework for development of Doi Tung for 30 years. Our government only plans for 5 years. But we planned for 30 years! The 1st phase focused on solving their immediate problems and this had to happen within the first 150 days and lay a firm foundation. The very first step of the process was called a quick-hit strategy to earn the people’s trust. We started hiring ex-opium growers to work as forestry workers. Not only was the forestry land restored but the people received a secure and legal source of income immediately, which was three times more than they had earned from opium cultivation.

Basic life necessities, jobs and skills training were provided to all, men and women, old and young.  In the cleared forests, economic forests of coffee and macadamia were planted to create medium and long term economic benefit for local people. We invested through a collaboration with several prominent Japanese and Thai organisations on one condition:  The profit must be ploughed back into the Doi Tung community for social development.

The forestry workers were trained by experts from universities in the U.S., Australia and Thailand to tend coffee and macadamia trees. This was 25 years ago when the term CSR (corporate social responsibility) or social enterprises were unheard of.

Then we moved to the second phase where income generation was highlighted. The Foundation introduced the concept of value addition through several economically viable resources and activities to maximise the use of limited resources. The coffee and macadamia growers were taught to handle post harvest processing. Coffee-cherries, merely commodities for the first year, were processed into finished consumer food products, maximising their values and generating additional income. Now we grow our own coffee, multiplying the value of the cherries ten-fold as well as brand and package our coffee to further increases their value.

The ultimate steps in the value chain is coffee sold through 25 branches of the Cafe Doi Tung (nationwide). We command a price of over US$200 a kilo. The coffee growers nowadays own the trees and manage the plantations themselves with technical assistance from the project to improve the quality of the products and productivity of their land.

At first, we may need to hold their hands but our job is to empower them to stand on their own feet as soon as possible and to be able to cope with external forces. Other than coffee and macadamia, we recently created more businesses to help diversify the risks and create jobs for more groups of people.

Enter Tourism

After food, came handicrafts, horticulture and tourism. We opened the handicrafts training centre to capitalise on their traditional resources and skills such as weaving, mulberry paper-making and ceramics. We are providing training in intermediary technology; you can see even the elderly ladies using bicycle wheels (to spin yarn). They are illiterate and cannot use computers like you people. But, at the same time, you people can’t do what they can do. So we have to go back to our roots and build on what we have. Another tissue-culture project has helped create jobs for 150 young women who would otherwise have landed up in the brothels of Bangkok or other cities but are now growing bananas, African violets and award-winning Lady’s Slipper (flowers) for export all over the world.

Mr. Disnadda then outlined the history of the Mae Fah Luang Garden, located on the spot of an Akha village, a major rest stopover on the drug caravan routes. The villagers were asked to build a new village in a safe spot to be landscaped into a garden. That killed three birds with one stone: We could end the drug trafficking caravans, create jobs for people and add values to the flowers. Today, there is plenty of work to do to keep this garden fresh and vibrant all year. The flowers and plants are changed regularly, (30% are changed every 10 days) thus visitors see an ever-changing collection of flowers while at the same time the underlying purpose to create local jobs is achieved.

Another garden is the Mae Fah Luang arboretum, also standing on the spot of an important former opium trade route. The Princess Mother wanted to reforest the denuded area and obstruct the drug routes. Now, it boasts countless varieties of plants and flowers, including rhododendrons, which by the way I got from Myanmar, various kinds of cherry-blossoms and orchids. Two years after the arboretum was finished, nature was revived. Animals started to come back, as did numerous birds and species of plants.

In 1995, after the Princess Mother passed away, the Doi Tung royal villa where she used to live was opened to public for the first time. This helps raise another source of revenue for the foundation. In 2009, we opened a permanent exhibit entitled the Hall of Inspiration, to show Their Majesties’ philosophies and working principles. Those who visit the Hall of Inspiration will better understand the role of the Royal Family for the Thai people and how their examples can inspire the rest of us to do good works for the benefit of society.

Mr. Disnadda lauded the role of tourism in generating a revenue stream for the projects. “All these tourist destinations in Doi Tung could not have happened if it was not for the TOT (the former Tourist Organisation of Thailand, now known as the Tourism Authority of Thailand). It acquired a loan from (Japan’s former) Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (later known as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, JBIC) to build many of the sites. For the past 20 years, the Foundation takes care of all the maintenance, fees and management.”

Learn from Mistakes

Mr. Disnadda said although he had highlighted the projects’ successes, “nothing is perfect.” He admitted that mistakes had been made, which he said he would like to share.

“When we first started, I asked the government to build a road (leading up to the park and gardens) because 25 years ago, I knew that Doi Tung would be a tourist attraction. Before we came, about 2,000-3,000 people were going to the top of the hill to pay respects to a chedi (which contains the relics of the Buddha). But 25 years ago, I was aiming already at attracting one million tourists to come. I got them for the last 10 years. But this was a bad mistake.

“In order to get them, I hoped to build the road so that the 45-seater buses could go up there. And that is the gravest mistake. The Highways Department built a road which was 5.5 metres in width with space on both sides of 1.5 metres. Now, for all of you from Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, don’t do this. The roads in the mountains, make them small. Because you don’t need actually need four or even two lanes. One lane should be enough.

Then we had soil erosion, which was also a huge expense to fix. The King suggested using vetiver grass which is very good as the root is very long and can hold the soil together. This led to the Vetiver Grass Research and Development Project and we can produce 40 million vetiver plants a year to solve this problem. When landslides were ended, we even made money out of the grass. We turned a crisis into an opportunity by using vetiver grass to boost our handicraft production such as flower pots and placemats.”

The lessons from all this, said Mr. Disnadda, is to “never stop thinking. Innovate all the time. Never stop. Nothing is ever finished. It is changing all the time. Go to another platform paradigm all the time and shift it further and further. It’s never ending. Good or very good is never enough for us, it has to be excellent.”

Downside: Garbage

Every year, almost one million visitors (Thais and foreigners) come to see the gardens and Princess Mother’s villa (which also leads to business for) hospitality services, restaurants and souvenir shops owned by the local people. However, we do not aim for the highest profit or the highest number of tourists possible. We realise that visitors bring in to the area both money as well as garbage. Each person who comes up also generates one kilo of garbage. So I have to move 1,000 tonnes of garbage.

We receive the money but the downside is the garbage. So, I controlled the tourist (numbers) by increasing the price. You might try it. Tourism is no longer just a business opportunity but also accountability to the people and environment affected by our business. So you have to think. The project is now in third phase of sustainability. We have been financially self reliant since 2000. Our income has reached US$15 million.

Last year, we partnered with Ikea, the world’s largest home furnishings store, to produce ceramic dinnerware to be sold in Ikea Thailand as part of their CSR initiatives. Ikea came across us five years ago and was impressed with our sustainable alternative development work. Ikea’s work philosophy is very similar in that we both make people and environment central to the manufacturing process. We are lucky to be working with Ikea. Its standards and management processes are of high quality. Our collaboration is like having a senior teacher give us intensive tutoring, helping us develop our quality and raise the standards of our products. It helps give our local people a broader view of the world. Global and local both come together.

Let me show you our latest fashion collection inspired by the hand-crafted skills of our artisans. We call it “From the Hands Of The Hills”, and produce exotic western-style clothes. The collection was specially designed for the launch of a new fashion magazine. The design team consisted of Thais, an Indian designer from the University of Arts in London and others in the U.S. and students from several universities in Thailand.

The fabric was all made by our hilltribe weavers, the elderly women spinning yarns. Do I need them? No. I can buy the yarn cheaper. But we are a social project. They needed the work so we have to find work for them. The middle aged women do the weaving and the young women are the sowers. Some of them used to be in the sex industry. Others are illiterate but now have an opportunity. They regain dignity and self esteem which money cannot buy. This is the real profit of our business!

Education Focus

The Doi Tung environment now focuses on giving education and vocational training. There are eight schools in the project area. We worked with the Ministry of Education to integrate new teaching methods of child centered learning like Montessori to foster them to become capable and responsible citizens as well as future leaders of Doi Tung. We also offer education to business through our living university. Each year hundreds of domestic and international study groups, come to learn from us and gain hands on experience.

We have opened domestic and international internships to work on the issues that are vital to the future of people of Doi Tung, for example ownership transfer models. In five years, we will return all this to the local people and we will be out. That is sustainability. Because if we are still there, we always will be helping and giving. So we will never ever get to the point of sustainability.

So far, we have 43 interns of 30 nationalities from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, New York university, and several other leading universities in Thailand also. After two months in Doi Tung, and immersing with local people in villages, they absorb the Mae Fah Luang DNA and become our ambassadors to mainstream our principles. Some of our current summer interns are sitting with you here in this room – one from California polytechnic state university, one from San Francisco, University of Pennsylvania, Flinders University from Australia, Univ of Glasgow and Srinkharinwirot university in Thailand. They are with us here for two months to do a feasibility study and develop homestay projects in the Doi Tung area.

Our last flagship project was the Hall of Opium. This Golden Triangle region was once the source of more than half of the world’s heroin. We tried to solve the drug problem on the demand side. The Princess Mother regarded that learning should be fun. The design of the Hall of Opium is based as an edutainment centre that tells the history of opium trade and is a source of knowledge about opium, opiates and other narcotics in the hope it can educate public and that people will join together in combat against drugs.

The whole thing was my idea. I paid for Cornell Ph Ds to do the research for 10 years before building this. I went to see the Holocaust Museum, and the Chinese government helped us in designing the section on what happened during the Opium wars in China and how Hong Kong was lost and so on, so forth. If you go there, leave your mind and your heart open and think as though you are still in the 18th or 19th century not the 21st. Please keep this in mind. You will know why.

Key Performance Indicators

How do we know we are doing our work well enough? Through our KPI. We ask ourselves one question all the time: What do the people get out of it? Now we are in business. You who are in business are always thinking what you will get out of it. That won’t last. But if you think about the people you are working with and ask yourself what they are getting out of it, that will last.

So, economically within a 20-year period, we were able to increase people’s income almost tenfold. In 1999, the income of the Doi Tung villagers surpassed the poverty line of a city like Bangkok. This is a testament to the improvement of their economic well being. More and more children have access to higher education. Many of them have graduated and are preparing for the challenge to transfer the entire project to the local communities by the year 2017.

Let’s take a look at the last 24 years. Today the natural environment has revived. They do not need a Seven-Eleven or supermarkets. Everything they need for their survival can be found in their backyards, in the rice fields and forests. Forests are well cared for and survive because the people realise that they need to rely on it for their livelihoods. Our achievements are not measured by profits alone. Our tourist attractions are in fact the by-products of mainstream development work designed primarily to eradicate poverty.

The intended goal since day one has always been human and livelihood development. We gained back natural abundance and people’s happiness perfectly coincide with the triple bottom line concept of People, Planet and Profit. We always put people, their well-being and happiness in the centre. Because people are both the problem and the solution in themselves. In Doi Tung, people on empty stomachs had no choice but to do anything to survive even though their actions were illegal activities or caused social or environmental problems. But with a full stomach, they can take care of themselves. The environment, societies won’t be bothered by them.

Creators or Destroyers?

So, ladies and gentlemen, do you wish to be creators or destroyers? Each of us play different roles in tourism but all can contribute to steady tourism.

I would like to leave a few questions for you to answer yourselves. As tourists, how open-minded or respectful are you to the area and the people (you visit)? Do you go to new places with a superior attitude and expect to see the local people like animals in a zoo? Do you damage the environment before you leave? These are just a few questions. I have tons more I would like to ask.

For business people working in the same industry, don’t always be competitors but more likely partners. Why do you think of yourselves as competitors? The people of Laos, Myanmar, Thai and Chinese people, why are we competitors? Why are we not working as one, sharing and caring together?

The three main tourist and cultural spots of Chiang Rai take two full days to enjoy. But if you spend two more nights, that will be a 100% increase in tourism, without adding to the numbers. The income will double. So, why does growth have to be measured by numbers alone. If you extend the visitor stay, it will in turn boost sales of rooms, car rentals, etc.

So ask yourself, how much are you willing to join hands with your fellow businesses, sacrifice your own short-term gain to lift the tourist business as a whole for the long-term benefit of the people and nature. This way, you are helping not just your individual businesses or the industry but the entire society can benefit and the gap between rich and poor can be narrowed before social and economic inequalities get too wide and beyond repair.

During these times of rapid globalisation, local communities need to be empowered. Their  confidence and adaptability to external shocks must be strengthened. Once nature is maintained and the people are socially and economically strengthened, tourism will continue for generations and years to come.

Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Q. Imtiaz Muqbil: You began by citing greed. Curbing greed is a central tenet of Buddhist philosophy. Why has Thailand not been able to abide by this tenet?

A. It’s not just Buddhism. Every religion refers to the greed factor. We have to be practical, logical and sensible. Use common sense. Everyone has greed. No-one can deny it. You have more than others, ask yourself how many pairs of shoes have you got? How many shirts? How many dresses? Look in your cupboard. How many items can you see and how many do you use? 10%? If this is not greed, what is it?

Greed is motivated by the media. Are there a lot of media sitting here? They are the worst of the lot. You people are the worst of the lot because you are helping the rich to rob the poor. Why? Look at the television, radio, newspapers. You make people want more and more. But many people cannot afford those things. They have to borrow money to buy the stuff. So you are helping the rich to rob the poor. Tell me I am wrong.

Q. Imtiaz Muqbil: What can the tourism industry do help you sell Doi Tung products?

A. Nobody can help us. We have to help ourselves. We don’t ask anybody for help. Otherwise it becomes charity. You have to stand on your own feet. Your product has to be competitive. We have compared our coffee to that from Kenya and Aceh. But ours has a much better taste and smell. Our profit is that people earn the money. Everybody else is working on profit for short term gain. That’s why I am worried. So the coffee is for social purposes. It’s not for money. It’s for the people to meet the triple bottom line.

Q. Mason Florence: How do you stop your tourism attractions from being overrun by tourists?

A. You raise the price. Easy. You don’t need a Ph.D for that. It’s simple. Tourism has changed in the last decades. It’s going to be about boutique hotels. Why are people of the west coming to the east? They can go anywhere. Why should they come to these boutique hotels? So why not do something different. This is the Lanna region. Let the tourists go to the fields and plough the land, plant the rice. This is not educational tourism. It is our culture. In Doi Tung, we speak seven languages, and I am a minority. In my own country, I as a Thai, I am a minority. Don’t look to the western people. The western people are looking east. They are looking for something different. And they are getting the same all over. How stupid.

Q. Peter Richards: Thank you for a very inspiring speech. The organisers are to be complimented for starting the Mekong Tourism Forum with such a speech. My question is: When you operate a business, how do you know when is enough?

A. One size does not fit all. There is no package to tell you what is right and what is wrong. But you have to achieve a balance. And you have to ask yourself: What are going to take away from the world? These days, if humans take a lot out of the planet, it will be exhausted. Cultures all change. You have to sell your ideas to them, you have to talk and feel for them. This is a totally upside down (way of looking at things). But do you think anything is going to change? I don’t think so.

Q. Martin Craigs: The world is at a very historic cusp of change and PATA is trying to take that account. It’s a very tough balancing act. Aung San Suu Kyi, during her recent visit to Bangkok, noted the time-bomb of her country’s young population. They will soon become active politically. The young people all need jobs, which is a difficult process. But thank you for being blunt and honest, and walking the talk, setting the example and inspiring many young people. We (at PATA) will do what we can. This discussion needs to be continued for many years in future.

A. Politics. What is politics? It is the art of lying. Politicians talk a lot. They promise but never deliver. I am a doer, not a talker.

Q. Imtiaz Muqbil: Would you welcome opportunities to work with the tourism industry to hold fashion shows or expand sales of your coffee and other Doi Tung branded products? Why not start a Doi Tung brand of boutique hotels?

A. Yes, we would welcome opportunities. No, we are not going to start a boutique hotels Doi Tung brand. We are doing enough.

Q. Imtiaz Muqbil: How can His Majesty the King’s principles of the sufficiency economy fit in with tourism?

A. It’s very difficult to explain the sufficiency economy. You have to understand it yourself. The whole world at the moment is at a loss. Communism failed, socialism failed, capitalism failed. All of them failed. So what are people searching for in the 21st century? (The sufficiency economy) is the way for the world. Look at a very elite country like England, what has happened with all this technology? Look at the Arab spring. It’s going to spread in future to China. It all boils down to the rich-poor income gap, to inequality. The gap is getting wider and wider. You will have to close that gap. If we cannot, we will have a third or even fourth world war. Even we in Thailand have not succeeded in closing the gap in spite of the King’s work.

Q. U Htay Aung: I am very worried about Myanmar. How do we narrow the disparity between rich and poor?

A. Myanmar is the world’s most watched country at the moment. Everybody is going to rake Myanmar. They want your gas, your oil and your minerals. They are not coming to your country for your well being. They (all say they) want to help you but they are not, they are taking from you. Nobody will help you, you have to help yourselves. (He cited the presence of many Burmese workers in Thailand because of the lack of jobs back home). You have to work with someone who is genuinely (sincere about) working with you. Are they doing it for themselves or the people? You gave to do it gradually, don’t do it fast. Do it step by step but very firmly.

(He cited the presence of 135 ethnic groups in Burma and the challenges faced by the Burmese military leaders in dealing with them). So you still have many problems. So, you have to gradually do it. In the past, you were all told what to do and what to think. Now the government is trying to decentralise. Even if the central government says yes, the other area also has to say yes. The transition period will take time. Learn from your mistakes.