YANGON — Deputy Planning and Finance Minister U Set Aung has been appointed chairman of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Management Committee amid the government’s ongoing efforts to renegotiate its agreement with the project’s Chinese developer to give Myanmar a larger stake.
The appointment took effect on May 8 and was approved by Vice President and Chairman of the Central Body of Myanmar Special Economic Zones U Henry Van Thio, according to an announcement in the government gazette on Sunday. It said the management committee’s previous chairman, U Soe Win, was now a joint chairman but did not make clear whether the two chairmen would be working as equals.
The announcement could not be found on the websites of the President’s Office or the Ministry of Information, however, where government announcements are usually posted first. But Planning and Finance Minister’s Secretary U Tun Tun Naing confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the announcement in the government gazette was correct.
U Set Aung also currently chairs the management committee of the Thilawa SEZ, Myanmar’s first, located in the southeast of Yangon Region. His latest appointment makes him chairman of the country’s two largest SEZs.
“His performance in Thilawa has been a success. As a result, he has to take responsibility for Kyaukphyu. He has already been involved in the Kyaukphyu SEZ since the government started renegotiating [the project agreement] with China,” said U Tun Tun Naing.
Located in Rakhine State, the Kyaukphyu SEZ project includes an industrial park and deep water port. China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) won the bid to develop the SEZ in 2015. The shareholders agreement struck under then-President Thein Sein gave China an 85 percent of stake in the project and Myanmar the rest.
Critics of the project have raised concerns that the deal could land Myanmar in a debt trap with China, however. The government that came to power in 2016, led by the National League for Democracy, has been in talks with CITIC to raise Myanmar’s stake to 30 percent.
Planning and Finance Minister U Soe Win recently told Nikkei Asian Review in an exclusive interview that Myanmar would try to reduce the scale of the Kyaukphyu SEZ and cut all unnecessary expenses to avoid a debt trap.
Government media reported that officials from Myanmar’s Commerce Ministry met with CITIC representatives in Naypyitaw last week and that a new agreement would be announced soon.
As chairman of the SEZ’s management committee, U Set Aung is expected to have a say in what that agreement looks like.
“He’s experienced in managing special economic zones. With his experiences, I hope we can expect a win-win solution for the Kyaukphyu project,” said U Than Lwin, a senior adviser at Kanbawza Bank and a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar.
U Set Aung was a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar himself until July 2017. He was also a deputy minister of national planning and economic development and an economic adviser to former President Thein Sein.
He was the founder and director of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute and the secretary of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council of Myanmar.
He earned a bachelor’s degree and masters in business administration in Myanmar, a second master’s degree specializing in economics, banking and finance in Scotland, and a third master’s degree specializing in investment management in London.