Burmese Economist Khin Maung Kyi Dies

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 6 September 2013

RANGOON — Prominent Burmese economist Dr. Khin Maung Kyi died in Singapore on Friday. He was 87 years old.

A well-regarded economics professor, he was known to have suffered from pancreatic cancer, though a cause of death could not be immediately confirmed by The Irrawaddy on Friday.

In addition to teaching, Khin Maung Kyi was an adviser to several ministries under the former military regime, but he was not afraid to speak honestly—and at times negatively—about the government’s policies and practices.

In 2001 he co-authored “Economic Development of Burma: A Vision and a Strategy,” published by the National University of Singapore. Two years later, to the ire of the then-military rulers, he said Burma’s industry sector was underdeveloped because the country needed to depend on imports, even of the most elementary goods that could easily be produced at home.

Regarding joint ventures between foreign firms and Burma’s government, he frankly told The Irrawaddy in 2003 that “the generals want to attach their name as shared partners to an enterprise that has potential for profit.”

“But they just offer their name, not their capital,” he said. “Rather than being able to save and reinvest their profits, enterprises have to give shares to the most unproductive force of the country—the generals.”

Khin Maung Kyi worked as a lecturer and professor at the University of Rangoon’s Institute of Economics from 1954 until 1978, before leaving for the Universiti Pertanian Malaysia to work as a professor of agribusiness.

His students remember him as a kind teacher but a tough academic. He was never reluctant to share his knowledge, but when he received classwork below his standards he made it known—at times yelling, “What kind of paper is this?”

On career choice, he told his students, “What you choose doesn’t matter, but you have to try hard to be outstanding.”

“He always put learning in first place for his students,” said Hla Myint, a former student who went on to become a professor of commerce.

Originally from Pyinmana, a busy logging town near Naypyidaw, Khin Maung Kyi participated in the country’s independence struggle and was a youth movement leader as a young man.

He won a scholarship to Harvard University in the United States to earn a master’s degree in business administration, after earning his bachelor’s degree in commerce at the University of Rangoon. He also earned a PhD in management at Cornell University.

In 1978, he resigned from his professor post and left for Malaysia, spending the rest of his life outside his native country. He founded the Asia-Pacific Journal of Management in 1983, and he became a senior fellow at the National University of Singapore’s department of business policy in 1991.

His research work on Burma included surveys of local industries and studies of business, planning and pricing, the reorganization of state-owned industries, and economic development.

He served as a consultant to various ministries, including the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Planning and Finance. He was also a member of the Advisory Committee on National Ideology to the chairman of the Burma Socialist Program Party, the sole political party during the dictatorship of Gen Ne Win.

He held honorary positions in various academic bodies, including as a member, secretary and later president of the Burma Research Society, which focuses on national history.

He is survived by his wife and four children.