Industry Observers Call for Investment Body Shake-Up

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 5 February 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s next government needs to create new policies under reshuffled leadership within the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), industry observers say.

Steered by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the former hermit state will, on the whole, see new leadership this year. But investment experts are calling for a similar shake-up within the MIC, which plays a key role in Burma’s economic development.

“It [the MIC] should be formed with new policymakers, ones who know about economic trends and how to balance local and foreign investment interests,” said Maung Maung Lay, vice chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).

Since the outgoing quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011, the MIC, which also manages the 1988 Foreign Investment Law, was changed to a 16-member committee to examine economic proposals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been run largely by former military personnel.

“These leaders should have experience in investment and policymaking. Not being too extreme is essential. They must understand the current situation,” Maung Maung Lay said.

Run under the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, the commission has also been beleaguered by disagreements within the industry over whether it should stand alone as an independent body or work together with other important ministries.

“The chairman should at least be at the vice president level, because if someone at the ministry level were to have the position, it wouldn’t work, as they don’t respect each other,” Myat Thin Aung, chairman of Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone, told The Irrawaddy.

“The commission must run quickly and smoothly for investors, which it wouldn’t be able to do independently. As an independent body, it’d be hard to work with other ministries.”

In some instances, the MIC has had long decision-making periods for approving foreign investments, and various restrictions still remain for foreign and domestic investors.

“If the new government is able to form a more efficient commission, we’ll have more foreign investors come to Burma,” Myat Thin Aung added.

Khin Shwe, a former Upper House lawmaker and chairman of the Zay Kabar Group of Companies, said Suu Kyi informed him last year that she planned to reform the commission to include experts and businesspersons who would be able to help spur economic growth.

“She said that if these groups work together, we’ll see faster development,” Khin Shwe said.

“The commission hasn’t been able to handle foreign investments like countries such as Vietnam have been able to do. We need a commission that can do better.”

The MIC played a major role in amending the Investment Law that was approved in January. The law combines the 2012 Foreign Investment Law and the 2013 Myanmar Citizens Investment Law, changes the mandate of the MIC and, at least in word, expands human rights protections for future foreign investment projects.

According to MIC data, the top foreign investment sectors in Burma are power (33 percent), manufacturing (22 percent), oil and gas (20 percent), telecommunications (11 percent) and hotels and tourism (5 percent).