RANGOON — If the government follows through with its promise of economic reform, Burma’s business community says, there is hope to be had that the economy will be primed for growth.
At a meeting in Naypyidaw on Oct. 22 between State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and 158 of the country’s top-listed tax payers, the de facto leader addressed concerns over what would happen to “cronies.” In a move that will surely find favor among Burma’s tycoons, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that, looking ahead, past behavior can be forgiven.
“I welcome what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, that they won’t look back, only forward. However, in the future, there should be no more cronies in this country,” U Thein Tun, chairman of the Tun Foundation Bank and MGS Distribution, told The Irrawaddy.
He added that the government should also favor Burma’s local business community and give it a chance to succeed in an ever-globalizing world.
“There shouldn’t be any opportunists under the new government. If the government doesn’t follow the reforms it said it would, the gap between rich and poor will only grow,” he said.
In the meeting, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that she is not against some citizens being rich, as long as they become so “fairly.” When it came to tycoons who struck it rich by exploiting links with Burma’s repressive military rulers—helping to line their pockets in turn—she said, “We can’t mend the past. But I would like to request that they act fairly at present.”
U Myat Thin Aung, chairman of the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone, told The Irrawaddy that he can see a new, rejuvenated business atmosphere for the country if the government can persuade skittish cronies to trust in and follow the new government’s economic policies.
“There are two types of cronies. The first just takes risks with no forethought. The other also takes a chance but has the wherewithal to create more. If the second type of crony can do business the right way, Burma’s economy will only get stronger,” U Myat Thin Aung said.
“If not, some cronies will ruin this opportunity for growth by engaging in money laundering and playing the market. The government must know how to handle this situation,” he added.
Indeed, Burma has a history of cronies manipulating the market—in sectors including banking, government infrastructure, and real estate—for their own gain. An anonymous businessman told The Irrawaddy that the ex-military junta allocated special projects to some 10 to 20 cronies while the new capital of Naypyidaw was being built, pointing out that many of those same cronies are approaching the new government as they did the old one.
U Ye Htut, former minister of information, echoed these sentiments, adding that while some former cronies have withdrawn from business, they have merely been replaced by family members.
“I see it as a rebranding of cronies,” U Ye Htut said.
Many of Burma’s top tycoons have been succeeded by their sons and daughters. Tay Za’s son Pyae Phyo Tay Za, KBZ’s U Aung Ko Win’s daughter Nang Lai Kham, U Aik Htun’s son and daughters, as well as former junta supremo Than Shwe’s grandson Nay Shwe Thway Aung, were among who attended the meeting in Naypyidaw.
“I’m curious whether they [cronies] really want to use their money for Burma’s development, especially if their money was acquired through money laundering,” U Ye Htut said.
“I think that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi welcomes them because she wants to use them for economic development. They’ve already made large investments. But Burma has a history of money laundering, so the government ought to check this money carefully.”