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NDI Study Mission Myanmar: "Promoting Responsive and Effective Government and Strengthening Democratic Institutions"

Sunday, June 9, 2013 to Monday, June 17, 2013


1. Following existing State Department practice, NDI referred to the country as Myanmar -- rather than the official State Department usage “Burma” -- as a courtesy to the visiting delegation.   We have continued this practice in this report.  

2. Delegates were selected based on the suggestions of Speaker Shwe Mann and Chairman U Hla Myint Oo in conjunction with the U.S. Mission in Yangon. While the group does not represent the gender and political diversity of the Parliament, each member was selected based on historical support for reform and for their positions of prominence in Parliament.

From June 9-17, 2013, the Institute for Representative Government (IRG), in cooperation with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), organized a program for a delegation of six members of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Parliament) of Myanmar.  The delegation was led by His Excellency the Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw (“House of Representatives”), U Shwe Mann, who was visiting the U.S. for the first time.  There was substantial interest and significant press coverage of the delegation’s visit, given the U.S. interest in the Myanmar transition, the Speaker’s current coordination with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Speaker’s status as Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, leader of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and likely 2015 presidential candidate. Among others, the delegation met with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Dianne Feinstein, former Republican Presidential nominee Senator John McCain, Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and senior White House staff.    

For program agenda, see attachment below.

During their stay the delegation traveled to Washington, D.C.; New York, New York; and San Francisco, California; where they met with members of Congress and senior legislative staff, executive agencies, members of the broader foreign policy community, representatives of the United Nations, and other influential policymakers and civil society representatives. The exchange provided an opportunity for the group to examine the U.S. legislative process at a critical point in the country’s transition process.  In particular, the delegation examined institutional mechanisms of executive oversight, government accountability, issues of legislative leadership, the U.S. committee system and processes, and mechanisms for constituent relations. The program also provided ample opportunities for the delegation to discuss international engagement in Myanmar from the perspectives of the public, private and non-profit sectors.  This high-level delegation was comprised of five members of the Pyithu Hluttaw and one member of the Amyotha Hluttaw (“House of Nationalities”).  In addition to the Speaker, the delegation included three other members of the USPD: U Hla Myint Oo, Chairman of the Pyithu Hluttaw’s International Relations Committee and long-time advisor to Speaker Shwe Mann; U Thein Swe, Chairman of the Pyithu Hluttaw’s Transport, Communication and Construction Development Committee; and U Hyket Hting Nan, Secretary of the Nationalities Affairs Committee in the Amyotha Hluttaw.   In addition, the delegation also included U Win Myint, representing the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS) and member of the Pyiithu Hluttaw’s Public Accounts Committee; and Dr. Myo Aung, from the National League for Democracy (NLD) and member of the Pyithu Hluttaw’s Economic and Trade Development Committee.

The group was accompanied by Dr. Richard Nuccio, NDI’s Chief of Party for parliamentary technical support in Myanmar, as well as three staff members of the Pyithu Hluttaw, designated by the Speaker and financially supported by the parliament.  There was significant cost sharing for the visit from the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, with the parliament covering the costs associated with the additional staff members accompanying the delegation, as well as the costs of upgrades for members of parliament for their flight to and from the United States.  The total contribution of the parliament for the visit was approximately $21,000. In addition, NDI was able to cover the costs of one-way business class tickets for the full delegation, including staff, from New York to San Francisco using “points” from the Institute’s frequent flyer program, resulting in an additional cost savings to the program of approximately $18,000.   

The U.S. Legislative Process and Political System

The program began with a welcoming session by the President of the National Democratic Institute Kenneth Wollack, the President of the International Republican Institute Lorne Craner, and the President of the National Endowment for Democracy Carl Gershman.   The introductory session provided an opportunity for these individuals to share information about their experience supporting past democratic openings and transitions, their work in Myanmar, and to relate the delegation’s meetings in Washington to issues of particular relevance to the current political reforms occurring in Myanmar. Speaker Shwe Mann responded by thanking the organizations for their work in Myanmar and emphasized his commitment to Myanmar’s democratic development, noting that it will depend significantly on the country’s ability to develop economically.

The introductory session was followed by an introduction to Congress and the U.S. political system by three distinguished experts: Dr. Norman Ornstein, a Congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI); Mr. Kevin Kayes, former Parliamentarian of the Senate; and Dr. Michael Martin, Congressional Research Service (CRS) analyst for Myanmar.  Dr. Ornstein discussed how the Constitution provides an “invitation to struggle” between the executive and legislative branches, particularly with regard to the budget. He described why the founding fathers decided to call the U.S. legislative body a “congress” rather than a “parliament;” this distinction pervaded the week’s discussions, as evidenced by Speaker Shwe Mann’s use of the English word “Congress” when describing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.  Dr. Ornstein outlined the broad respective powers of the executive and the legislative branches, focusing on Congress’ power to declare war and the power of the purse, concluding with the example of the foundering of President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations by a small group of non-internationalist Senators (thereby demonstrating the separate but equal powers endowed to those two branches of the U.S. government). Mr. Kayes described the fundamental differences between the House and Senate in their institutional make-up and representational functions. He also drew lessons for their respective processes, explaining that the House tends towards majority rule while the Senate, due to rules necessitating 60 votes for a cloture motion, tends towards “rule by consensus.”  

Discussions on the legislative process continued later that week over lunch with professional staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The delegation met with two members each of the majority and minority committee staff to delve into the role of committees in lawmaking and executive oversight. The delegates asked questions about how committees are divided between the ruling and opposition parties in both member make-up and staffing; the SFRC staff went into detail about proportional representation on committees, including rules and oversight, as well as the need for members of the majority and minority staff to work closely together. The staffers also described the importance of committee hearings in collecting information and conducting oversight of executive agencies. Finally, the SFRC staff also went into detail about the confirmation process for presidential appointees as another example of checks and balances. 

In their last meeting on Capitol Hill, the delegation had an opportunity to meet with Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Peter Roskam (R-IL) of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP), a bipartisan commission that works with 16 countries to support the development of effective, independent, and responsive legislative institutions. Representatives Price and Roskam reviewed the protocol behind Congressional subpoena power. In response, Speaker Shwe Mann asked why representatives of executive agencies who are called to testify before Congress would obey; Price and Roskam responded that, because Congress has the power to appropriate funds, agencies find it in their best interest to respond positively to Congressional requests. The conversation complemented previous discussions about the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches and the de jure and de facto checks each branch has on the other, including a discussion with professional staff of the Senate Rules Committee. 

Congressional Support Institutions: Research and the Budget

The delegation also met with representatives from congressional agencies that support Congress’ legislative and budgetary roles. The group had two opportunities to interact with representatives from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).   First, the introductory session on Congress at NDI included Dr. Michael Martin, who gave a detailed description of the structure and function of CRS.  This included the process by which CRS staff receive and process research requests from Members of Congress and legislative staff. Dr. Martin described the confidential nature of requests, and the legal requirement for CRS to respond to all requests in a non-partisan, objective manner. He also described what types of requests CRS cannot respond to, such as those involving members of congress or opposition candidates during election seasons.  Second, the delegation had an opportunity to continue this discussion during their tour of the Library of Congress with CRS docent David Burelli.  Dr. Martin joined the tour and between the two CRS experts, the delegation learned more about the history and role of the Library of Congress in general and the CRS in particular.

The group visited the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), where they met with Peter Fontaine, Deputy Assistant Director of Budget Analysis, who walked the group through the basics of the U.S. budget process and the role of the CBO in making budgetary and spending projections under current legislation; analyzing costs associated with proposed legislation; and tracking appropriations. Mr. Fontaine also went into detail about what the CBO is not authorized to do, including making policy recommendations; writing legislation; implementing programs, or auditing spending, which is the responsibility of the Government Accountability Office. The delegation voiced surprise at the relative size of the CBO compared to CRS and the GAO.   Dr. Nuccio made the point that the relative size of each organization reflects Congressional priorities: executive oversight, legislative research, and budgeting. The Speaker also asked about the potential for partisan reactions to CBO outlays or reports. Mr. Fontaine responded by emphasizing the importance of non-partisan, objective, and transparent research in maintaining the CBO’s credibility and ability to stand up to criticism.

Legislative-Executive Relations: Oversight and Policy Priorities

There were numerous opportunities during the delegation’s time in Washington to get perspectives on the nature of legislative-executive relations in the U.S., including previously detailed meetings with committee staff, Members of Congress, and the CBO. In addition, the delegation also met with representatives from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), where they heard from Director of International Relations and Trade Loren Yager, who discussed the mandate and structure of the GAO, as well as the role of his department in ensuring that Congressionally-mandated policies are implemented by executive agencies. Muriel Forster, Assistant Director of Strategic Planning, emphasized the importance of the GAO’s independence: its own internal audits and international peer reviews ensure quality work; all employees except the director are hired based on merit (only the director is a political appointee); and 94% of requests come directly from Congressional requests and mandates. Towards the end of the meeting, the discussion shifted to sanctions, as the delegation had several questions about the legal basis for U.S. sanctions. This topic became a case study in legislative-executive relations and the interagency process, and was discussed at length in various meetings throughout the week.

The relationship between the executive and legislative branches was a major theme in meetings at the State Department as well. Both Patrick Murphy, Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, and Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Robert Hormats discussed the importance of reporting clearly and accurately to Congress on foreign policy issues, citing the example of economic development and investment in Myanmar. Speaker Shwe Mann agreed, pointing out that Myanmar is quite unique in its historical transition and is looking to strengthen the rule of law to improve the investment climate and pave the way for economic growth. In response, Under Secretary Hormats stressed the importance of creating and supporting independent financial institutions, such as a central bank, to ensure stability and bolster confidence. More broadly the discussions focused on checks and balances as crucial components for sustained economic development.

Leadership, Political Culture and Constituent Relations

In addition to in-depth discussions about the institutional mechanisms of lawmaking and oversight, the delegation met with individual Members of Congress (current and former) to discuss how these institutions and mechanisms work in practice, including challenges in legislative leadership and the importance of constituent relations.  Discussions began over lunch with the IRG Board, including Ambassador James Jones, Hon. Nancy Johnson, Hon. James Slattery, and Hon. Bill Clinger.  The former Members of Congress on the IRG board had an open discussion with the Speaker and the delegation about the challenges facing Myanmar and the efforts of the parliament to address these challenges --- from issues of ethnic violence to the need to address investment and infrastructure issues.  The informal setting provided an opportunity for the IRG board to share personal stories from their political careers to illustrate the points under discussion, which also helped the delegation to better understand how the formal components of the U.S. system work in practice.   

The delegation also joined former Majority Leader Senator Tom Daschle and Dr. Pat Griffin, former Director of Congressional Affairs in the Clinton White House, to discuss the challenges of building a secure, stable democracy amidst social, economic, and political transition. Senator Daschle emphasized the importance of tolerance, participation, leadership, and rule of law in ensuring the longevity of democratic systems. Sen. Daschle also spoke of five “tests” that demonstrate the strength of democratic government: resilience, innovation, collaboration, engagement, and outreach (the last focusing on the importance of participation and inclusive governance). The Speaker responded by emphasizing the importance of economic development in Myanmar. The discussion transitioned to the importance of partisan cooperation to achieve political and economic ends; Senator Daschle addressed the problems created by political gridlock in Washington, D.C., to which the Speaker responded that bipartisan cooperation was crucial to the future of democracy in Myanmar, which was one of many reasons he hoped to work closely with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the coming years.

 A variety of meetings in and around the Capitol helped the delegation better understand the role of individual legislators.  A highlight came during a meeting with Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY), when votes were called on the House floor.  Rep. Crowley invited the delegation to watch the voting process from the House gallery, which they observed with great interest, noting in particular the transparency of the process.  For example, delegation members noted that each individual Member's vote is displayed on a large screen in real time, that television cameras provided live public coverage, and that members of the press were watching from the gallery.  They also commented favorably about the collegiality of Members’ interactions with each on the House floor. This opportunity to see the House in action was one of several chances for the delegation to view the Capitol Building itself, including both a professionally guided Capitol tour and an impromptu private tour led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) for the Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker and the International Relations Committee Chairman U Hla Myint Oo. In a brief but valuable exchange, the delegation also met for a question-and-answer session with Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).  Among other questions, Sen. Schatz responded to a question about how to recruit and retain good staff by highlighting the need to create a culture where working in government is prestigious.

The delegation also met with two long-term staffers from the office of Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to discuss the role of party caucus leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. Leader Pelosi’s Senior Adviser Jonathan Stivers opened with a statement that the test of a speaker’s effectiveness is how well she can keep caucuses together, citing the difficulties of maintaining cohesion between “blue-dog” and progressive democrats as an example.  Policy Director Dick Meltzer also discussed the critical importance of committees in fulfilling Congress’ legislative, budgeting, and oversight functions, and explained the role that the majority and minority parties play on committees in Congress.  The panelists then addressed two questions from the delegation regarding the alignment of cabinet-level secretaries and agencies to committees of jurisdiction in Congress, providing another opportunity to go into detail about the relationship between executive agencies and committees in Congress in the authorization and appropriations processes. Representative Pelosi later joined the group after voting was completed, focusing her discussion on Myanmar’s constitutional amendment currently on the books which would prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency in 2015.

Finally, the delegation met with Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) district office in New York City. Mr. Martin Brennan, State Director for Senator Schumer, led a pragmatic discussion on constituent relations and service delivery at the state level. Mr. Brennan discussed basic management best practices for running a state level office, as well as typical accounting, structural, and organizational details of an office environment. The delegation was very interested in the “on-the-ground,” operational aspects of the office. Mr. Brennan also shared a report from the CRS on Congressional Salaries and Allowances, which was distributed to the members of the delegation. 

Civil Society and Open Government

The delegation participated in a discussion with representatives from the open government community, including Linda Frey, Executive Director of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Support Unit; John Wonderlich, Policy Director for the Sunlight Foundation; and Nathaniel Heller, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Global Integrity. Much of the discussion centered on Myanmar’s pledge to join OGP by 2016; the discussion focused on the eligibility requirements of fiscal transparency, access to information, asset declaration, and continued progress on freedom of the press, association, and protection of minorities. John Wonderlich went into detail about how the Sunlight Foundation works with Members of Congress to make bills and budgets available for the public online, as well as how the Sunlight Foundation hopes to focus internationally to assist other governments in harnessing technology for greater openness. Nathaniel Heller focused his presentation on Global Integrity’s work with OGP in consulting with government leadership in developing transparency action plans. The delegation had some questions specific to each group, including interest in how NGOs such as the Sunlight Foundation and Global Integrity are funded, indicating limited sources of domestic funding for national civil society. 

International Engagement in Myanmar: Trade, Economic Development, and Reform

The delegation had several opportunities to meet with representatives from the private sector to discuss engagement in Myanmar.  The delegation participated in a roundtable event jointly hosted by the U.S. Chambers of Commerce and U.S.-ASEAN Business Council and attended by representatives from a variety of U.S. companies, including General Electric (GE), Dow Chemical, John Deere, Target, and Coca-Cola. Marc Mealy, Vice-President of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, and John Goyer, Senior Director for Southeast Asia at the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, opened proceedings by commenting on the opportunities that exist in Myanmar for private sector engagement. Speaker Shwe Mann responded that Myanmar’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture and that over 70% of the population is employed in that sector. He asked what opportunities there were for private sector investment and innovation to improve efficiency and boost yields for rice and soy, two of the most important crops produced in Myanmar. Each company had an opportunity to address the delegation directly, and most pointed to the importance of the rule of law and a fair, transparent, and enforced regulatory framework to ensure the security of businesses operating in Myanmar.   Following on a recent visit by Google CEO Eric Schmidt to Myanmar, the delegation met with Scott Carpenter, Deputy Director of Google Ideas in New York City. The delegation and Mr. Carpenter discussed topics related to this visit, including the need for a strong telecommunications law and the importance of improving Myanmar’s telecommunications infrastructure to make the Internet and mobile technologies more widely available in the country. 

The Myanmar Embassy arranged for a number of additional meetings for the delegation during free time in the formal program with private sector representatives.  While not part of the official program, these included meetings with the Myanmar-U.S. Chamber of Commerce affiliate in New York for a roundtable lunch and the Myanmar-U.S. Chamber of Commerce affiliate in San Francisco for a dinner reception.   In addition, a dinner, organized by the Myanmar Embassy, was held between members of the delegation and former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.  There was also a meeting, organized by the Myanmar Permanent Mission in New York, in coordination with the US Embassy/Rangon, between the delegation and representatives of General Electric. 

United Nations Agencies

At the United Nations in New York, the delegation had individual meetings with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Under-Secretary-General and Special Advisor on Myanmar Vijay Nambiar, and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Helen Clark. The meetings were held as bilateral exchanges between the delegation and UN officials and neither NDI nor the State Department-provided interpreters were in the room.  However, the delegation members and staff affirmed the value and importance of meetings with the UN afterward.  The Secretary-General’s office described the need “to address the underlying causes of communal violence” and noted the “supportive role that Parliament could play in furthering the national reconciliation process in Myanmar.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also underlined the importance of cooperation by all stakeholders to further political reforms.  In addition to these meetings, the group enjoyed a tour of the United Nations complex and spent several hours meeting with various United Nations agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Population Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and others.

Public Events and Invitation-Only Roundtables 

The delegation engaged in several public events and invitation-only briefings during their trip to the U.S.  The Myanmar Embassy organized a reception for the Washington D.C. Myanmar diaspora community on Sunday evening after their arrival to the United States.   The Speaker made remarks at the reception and answered a range of questions from members of the diaspora community and Burmese community press.  It was in this setting that the Speaker was quoted as indicating his intention to run for the Presidency in 2014.  The delegation also participated in a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (video of the event is available here).  Approximately 150 people joined the Wilson Center discussion. The Wilson Center event was preceded by a private, invitation-only roundtable discussion with the human rights and policy communities interested in Myanmar, which was moderated by Brian Joseph of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  These events provided an important opportunity for the delegation and Speaker Shwe Mann in particular to hear areas of concern from critical voices and for the delegation to discuss the current political situation and potential reforms to a larger audience.

In San Francisco, approximately 100 audience members joined in a conversation between the delegation and the Myanmar diaspora community.  The event was held at San Francisco State University.[1]  The delegation also presented at a breakfast event co-hosted by The Asia Foundation and Pacific Council. Speaker Shwe Mann emphasized the strides in political reform that have occurred in the country and reinforced the need for reform to continue, particularly in the area of education and infrastructural improvements.[2]

Issues in the Bilateral Relationship

Over the course of their meetings, the delegation discussed a number of aspects to the U.S.-Myanmar relationship, including economic sanctions; aid and economic development; the 2015 elections; the country’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014; and the general questions about transparency, rule of law, and reform in Myanmar. 

The delegation met privately with White House National Security Staff, including Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhoades and Vice President Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, in order to discuss a range of issues in U.S.-Myanmar bilateral relations with the White House. A private meeting was held between the Speaker and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the delegation’s hotel.  The meeting was requested by the Speaker given the role that the State Department had played under Secretary Clinton’s leadership in assisting Myanmar in moving forward with internal reforms and in repositioning itself internationally. 

A similar meeting to discuss bilateral issues was arranged with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. Also at the State Department, Under Secretary Hormats focused on economic development and issues before Congress, including sanctions and business development in Myanmar. He reiterated that the U.S. government is pursuing means to encourage responsible investment in Myanmar, and that U.S. companies were eager to find opportunities for trade and investment. He emphasized that throughout Myanmar’s transition, it is the responsibility of the Parliament to do all it can to encourage inclusive growth.  

On Capitol Hill, the delegation discussed bilateral issues with a range of Congressional leaders, including Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) on a range of issues including sanctions. At various points, the Speaker criticized the use of sanctions, citing them as one of the primary causes of the high poverty rate in Myanmar (estimated at between 26 and 40% of the population, according to the Speaker). Representative Crowley responded by stating that the U.S. Congress plays an important role in offering legislation that could amend or nullify legal sanctions, conditioned on Myanmar’s ability to achieve progress in several key areas: encouraging public votes in parliament and transparent budgeting and ensuring a separation of powers between branches of government and between the civilian and military leadership.  Senator Feinstein emphasized that, given her past leadership on sanctions, she feels an obligation to help ensure Myanmar’s economic development in light of its political transition, and expressed support for enhanced U.S. economic assistance to the country.  Senators McConnell and Feinstein, as well as Minority Leader Pelosi, each raised the question of the constitutional amendment barring Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president in 2015. The Speaker explained that the appropriate parliamentary committee was currently reviewing the amendment that bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency and the parliament would make a judgment based in its constitutional authority to do so.  Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, emphasized his support Myanmar’s continued political and economic opening.  He commended Myanmar’s recent progress and highlighted the crucial role of an independent parliament in Myanmar’s democratic development.  He also emphasized the need to increase the diversity of the Myanmar parliament.

Local Government and Innovative Governance

Meetings in San Francisco provided an opportunity to meet with local government officials to learn about their interactions with the federal government, as well as to explore additional cooperation as San Francisco and Yangon work toward a possible sister city relationship.  Ellen Schumer, the head historian of San Francisco City Hall, provided the delegation with an informative private tour of City Hall, situating the structure among the political history of the city. The group was joined by former Mayor of San Francisco Art Agnos, who discussed his rise to mayor from his childhood as a non-English speaking son of Greek immigrants. He discussed his strategies in spurring development within the city and his later career in urban development. Mr. Agnos also discussed the transparency measures taken by the city council, including online and television broadcasts of all meetings in the chamber, and efforts to make the building accessible to persons with disabilities. He emphasized how critical diversity of voices is to the success of city council committee deliberations. The delegation also met with current San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee during a breakfast meeting. The brief meeting provided the opportunity to discuss ongoing activities within the Myanmar diaspora and the U.S.-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco. It also provided a useful opportunity to connect in advance of Mayor Lee’s planned trip to Myanmar this fall.

Perspectives from Academia

While in San Francisco, the delegation met for an off-the-record discussion with democratization expert Professor Larry Diamond, director of the Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).  Professor Diamond shared his expertise on a number of important facets of the Myanmar reform process, including the upcoming elections and constitutional provisions, as well as factors critical to the success of a multiparty system. The delegation thanked Professor Diamond for a number of books he previously donated to establish a resource library in the Myanmar Parliament, and Professor Diamond offered to bring along more resources when he visits Myanmar in the fall.

Cultural Activities

In addition to substantive program activities, the delegation had the opportunity for a number of cultural activities in Washington, New York, and San Francisco. The group toured the National Mall shortly after their arrival. One highlight was the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, which held special resonance with Speaker Shwe Mann and other members of the delegation with military backgrounds. While in New York City, the group visited Times Square, Chinatown, the Empire State Building, and Battery Park. NDI also arranged for a VIP tour of the 9/11 Memorial. In San Francisco, the group took a private tour of City Hall and posed for pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge while at Fort Baker. Besides the sight-seeing activities, the Myanmar Ambassador to the U.S. hosted a reception with the delegation in Washington, D.C., as did the Myanmar Ambassador to the United Nations at his home in New York City. Before departing New York, the Myanmar Permanent Mission to the UN hosted a reception with various members of the Myanmar diaspora, where Speaker Shwe Mann delivered short remarks.