A ‘Crony’ with a Conscience

Zaw Zaw, one of Burma’s youngest but best-connected tycoons, in his Rangoon office on March 8. (Photo: Reuters)

Zaw Zaw, the chairman of the Myanmar Football Federation and founder of Max Myanmar Group, may be the most socially conscious of those among Burma’s business elite who are regarded as cronies.

In a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, Zaw Zaw insists he has always played by the rules and has never exploited anyone for his own gain. He also laments that his business ambitions have been hampered by the imposition of international sanctions against him.

Zaw Zaw went on to say that fighting against one another, whether ideologically or physically, was a weakness of Burma’s people. As for younger generations at this time of great change, he said more job opportunities should be created and Burma’s education system must be improved for the betterment of the nation’s future.

Question: You used to say that even if you are a so-called ‘crony,’ you want to be a good one. Why is that?

Answer: I am Burmese and a native of this country. I have never betrayed my country. I love it and want it to be honored. I do business and pay taxes. At the same time, I take care of my staff as I would my children and carry out CSR [corporate social responsibility] for them. Nowadays, I have become a political victim and been called strange names. I don’t have any comment on that. What I do is just important. My belief is that I will do my best for my country no matter how I have been criticized. I will continue doing my business honestly. I will also help young people and nurture them to be brilliant.

Q: What is the value of your assets right now?

A: A valuation on my assets should be carried out first in order to answer this exactly. There are international valuation companies that assess us. What I mean is that I bought a house for 100 million kyat [US $125,000] before, but it may be worth a billion kyat now. So I can tell you exactly only after the valuation.

Q: Prior to 1990, you worked in Japan. You were an ordinary worker then. How did you manage in the last 20 years to build this life for yourself from those origins?

A: Actually, I went to Japan in 1990. In 1988, I was studying my final year at Rangoon University, majoring in mathematics. I am very careful with my time. I strove full time with the intelligence and prudence I gained, thanks to my teachers and parents, from primary school to graduation. I have always tried to achieve good results. Whatever I do, I want to make it happen and finish it. I also want to make it successful.

Another thing is that I have many friends and I don’t find it difficult to tolerate others. Besides that, I am honest, have never cheated anyone in my life even for a penny, and never committed any crime either. These are parts of my life profile. To be frank, I am where I am now because I have been striving full time and [this is the] cause and effect of what I’ve done.

Even though a 20-year period is not that long, in reality it is about a quarter or one-third of a lifetime. In some countries, there are many people who have become billionaires within five to 10 years. I am rich to a certain extent in Burma, but I am not competing with anyone in my country. It is very shameful if we compare with other counties. Our wealth is in fact quite small.

I want to compete with people in other countries in our education, social, health and economic sectors. Because these are my desired benchmarks, I have found that we haven’t reached any status and I am always ready to keep trying to achieve a better status for my country.

Q: You have established the Ayeyarwady Foundation, which donates to various philanthropic causes. But would it be fair to view such activities as equally beneficial to you and your businesses as a promotional vehicle? You mentioned CSR earlier.

A: The word CSR arrived in Burma not long ago. If you look at my donations, they began when I was young. When I was 12, I offered coats of whitewash over stupas in my town. I participated in all social occasions of joy or grief there. Likewise, Yegyi Township Association, a social organization for students from the same place, was founded only when I came to study at Rangoon University.

Then, I went to Japan to work. I worked there for about 20 hours a day. When I came back to Burma, I bought a fire truck and donated it. During that time, I didn’t know about CSR or know the word crony, which I and others have been labeled. I just did it because I was told by my teachers and parents that as a Burmese Buddhist, I should do such activities out of pure desire from my heart. If you ask me why I donate, I would say that helping needy people is a good thing and I will continue to assist them.

Q: You have said that your assets will be donated when you die. Where will you donate them?

A: According to Lord Buddha’s teaching, your assets won’t follow you after your death but kamma [the result or consequences of what you have done] will. I make donations and [pursue] merit because I want to take the consequences along with me. I bestow well-wishes and goodwill on others. Mainly bearing in mind Buddha’s teachings, I have decided to donate as much as I can before I die.

Q: You have supported opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and prominent democracy activist Min Ko Naing. Some people think you are trying to court Suu Kyi because you want your name to be removed from international sanctions lists. Any comment on that?

A: Why do we need to contend with each other, which will eventually lead to organizational schisms, in this fragile country? We have many things to do to re-establish it. Our country is still really poor and need is everywhere. Under such circumstances, if we go in opposite directions, we won’t reach a good destination. I want to tell everyone that I want to establish our country together with the state government, the opposition and the people. I only have this desire in mind.

Q: As a successful businessman, do you have any plans to enter the political arena?

A: I currently don’t have any plans for that. I want to create job opportunities for our people. They can survive properly only if they individually have a good income. So, apart from me, many young businessmen should emerge in Burma. Youths should also be given jobs as foreign investment comes into the country.

But at the moment, many Burmese have to go to other countries to find work. That doesn’t matter if they are working in those countries as educated persons or scholars. Unfortunately, since we can’t provide, they have to go there for lowly jobs. Personally, I want to create jobs for them in this country so they can work here. I have enough for my life’s security and can survive well. What I am striving for now is to compete with other countries, since I always have a competitive mind.

Q: Do you believe in the legitimacy of the ongoing political reforms in Burma led by President Thein Sein? Do you think this democratic transition will be successful?

A: I only have positive thinking about it. Compare our country’s situation two years ago and now! People can’t just say their wishes. It takes time for something to happen. Real effort is also needed. All tasks carried out under the current reform process are very good. For me, I only hope for the positive.

17 Responses to A ‘Crony’ with a Conscience

  1. Donation with stolen is not worth.acquiring wealth with crony connection cost majority welfare,enjoy few close only, it is very harmful for nation.

  2. When you are a “crony” of the ruling government that is widely known as one of the most corrupt and oppressive, you no longer have any moral authority over how other people live or conduct their lives.

    Through his association with this odious government, Zaw Zaw has benefited from its protection and been given opportunities others can only dream of. For him to claim that he amassed his fortune entire through hard work is somewhat ingenuous. He may also claim that he has never committed any crime but surely he is guilty of abetting a corrupt and criminal government.

  3. At least he is using his wealth for the poor, he is a different kind of crony compare to other cronies. Where are other cronies? Especially, what do other cronies do for the poor? Still thinking for their own greed?

    • There is no such thing as a “good crony”. He may try to ease his guilt with donations to the poor but no amount of charity or good work is going to wash away the stain on his name or the dirt on his wealth acquired through friendships with corrupt and crooked benefactors.

  4. Assets mean properties (kinds) and money ( cash – in hand or in the banks ). Value of kinds- houses, lands, factories, hotels, etc. may change from time to time, but your money, in your hands and in the banks is the same. You know how much money, in Kyats, in Bhat, in dollars and Euro.do you have; these are your assets.

  5. A crony is a crony, Zaw Zaw is again paying and trying hard to wash away all this…now lets take a look at what he said…his businesses are all given by the Junta, not one is build by him and he says taking care of his staff…but of course his staff is eating him every day corruption exist between his staff he knows very well…Lets give him Zaw Zaw a chance of opportunity…if restart himself without all his business and asset…then we would say he is a hero…why is he not been sincere about it show the people and us that you are serious…Zaw Zaw you are not a gentleman…you say and your actions do not match. We dare you to give up all your asset given by the JUNTA and restart you life…CAN YOU DO IT…SHAME ON YOU…Just a Coward talking bull……All readers DO NOT be fool by ZAW ZAW comments he is NOT real so is his word. A Crony is a CRONY there is no good CRONY just rubbish. He is trying very hard to use his Singapore company Maxiasia Enterprise to go public with his business. ALL HIS PROPERTIES ARE GIVEN BY THE JUNTA…NOTHING! NOTHING IS BUILD BY HIM…….80% of his staff are all from the military.

    • ေမာင္ခ်စ္စရာ

      what’s a kind of foolish man you are! Zaw Zaw is not the son, daughter and relatives of any junta and he had not taken all for granted but he has to build it with his own means and might. He started his life as a manual worker in Japan and tried so hard that he got his place today.As a Myanmar people I appreciate his efforts and respect him, all our Myanmar people also should take him as example. You said he should give up his properties given by junta. Just a foolish and crazy word! We, Myanmar people, never dream of communist society just like you but we want his properties to be fairly distributed into the hands of people in needs through donation and welfare programs. And I am really satisfied to see he is always ready to donate and help. In my view, he is absolutely good crony even if he is called crony.

      • I wonder who is been foolish the person replying to this or should we say that perhaps you know nothing about him or better still you are one of his staff writing for him?….Be like him… you must be insane. Yes we think that you must be one of him. It will be a waste of time and effort if we response to you again, so this will be the only response you’ll receive. May I kindly say that you are not listening to the people who write in and also not in the interest of we the Burmese people. A Hello!!! who is talking about communist please keep on the right track Don’t act like you are a professor or something.You are entitle to your views…good luck to you

        • Hey Sky moe thu,i am staff of Max Myanmar , What you wrote is pretty shameful and I am really shame on you. I’ve read all of your comments in Irrawaddy and what you mentioned are just a blame and envy of U Zaw Zaw and his company. haha Do you aware of yourself that by the words you”ve written, You are expressing yourself that you are a useless person in the world. We do our best for our country and our people. We don’t care what you think and what you mentioned about our company. All of our staffs are well educated,professional who work the best for the company. some staffs are even graduated with experienced from abroad, and they came back to work for our company. No matter where they’ve worked, they all show their professionalism and put their values, efforts for company.
          If you are brave enough to compete , you can compete with anyone of our staffs and I can guarantee there will be a fair competition! Instead of criticizing , and blaming others, i want to tell you to read what you’ve written and feel ashamed of yourself. Feel free to contact
          Max Myanmar at anytime.Thanks.

  6. He said he worked hard full time but he also said he works 20 hours a week in Japan. ummm, I wonder….

  7. Zaw Zaw is not been label but an actual fact that he is a crony…our bro and sis knows his background very well and his business, his organization wants to go clean but he does not come clean with us,he says he practice buddhism because he was taught, what is he blading about and getting buddhism involve if so he is again trying to deceive the people to think that he is very holy.Zaw Zaw all these years have been taking from the people from the JUNTA, now he deserve to be strip of all his properties and given back to the people.Take a good hard look, his Bank, Petrol Stations, Tollway, Hotels, and many more…not one single property is earned by him is all given to him by the JUNTA…his new office building is also given by the JUNTA. So Zaw Zaw don’t try to fool the people and the media we ask of the media to NOT celebrity him if so the media is only giving him more opportunity to fool the people…We don’t see why The Irrawaddy should interview him and smooth his image…is The Irrawaddy of the people or for him or did Zaw Zaw bought you guys?

    • Mr USMThu- its seem you are tired of living poor yourself. whatever Zaw Zaw is/was- now he or his companies are one of the biggest private sector employer in our country. It might turn out that one of your relative works for MMC. Mr U S M Thu try to be a entrepreneur like him and see yourself in the mirror-what do you see–emptiness!

  8. So ZawZaw lost his takeover bid of Aussino in Singapore. SGX wouldn’t allow that. Is he not a friend of Steven LO, son of the infamous drug warlord LO Hsinghan? Oh we’ll I know nothing about these blood sucking money laundering business deals of these Burmese crony tycoons!

  9. Do Irrawaddy understand the meaning of “Crony”? People give the title “Crony” because the person who receive the title has no conscience but greed. If that man Zaw Zaw want to clear his controversial wealth, he had chance and he still has chance that how did he gain his wealth. People around the world know, how did Bill Gates became the wealthiest man of the world and people also know that how did Mark Zackerberk becoming a billioner. There are countless rich people who gain their wealth by morally and by their hard work. I do not assume that Zaw Zaw wealth is gain by unethical way. Why don’t you tell the public that how did you get rich in a short time at the military regime hands? Lets see how credible your story is?

  10. And yet another clown thinks he can fool the world…

  11. …I used to study in Yangon International School and I finished 12 grade there…Zaw Zaw’s son, who used to be in 4th grade came to school with an Italian sports car when most of us went to school with Toyota… Clearly, this man is a crony. He once came to our school and he became friends with the owner….. He is very good at making new friends and he clearly has very good friends in very high positions….

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