Thein Sein Meets Burma’s Top Tycoons

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 24 February 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s President Thein Sein met with hundreds of business tycoons in Rangoon over the weekend to hear their input about economic reforms.

More than 300 businesspeople and leaders of related associations attended the meeting at a Rangoon divisional government office on Saturday. Among them were some of the country’s richest tycoons, including Tay Za of Htoo Trading, Serge Pun of SPA Group, Steven Law of Asia World, and Zaw Zaw of Max Myanmar.

Thein Sein, who was accompanied by union ministers, reportedly told the gathering that the private sector accounted for 90 percent of the country’s economy, and that economic reforms would be crucial to achieve an estimated 9 percent economic growth in the coming fiscal year. He noted a few main reforms, including changes to the old currency exchange system to boost the market economy, and new financial policies to make the central bank more independent.

Chit Khaing, chairman of the Myanmar Rice Entrepreneurs Association and Myanma Apex Bank, said the meeting was called after some businesspeople expressed negative views of the government’s economic policies. He said Thein Sein listened to five-minute presentations by 10 businesspeople about difficulties they had encountered in their respective industries.

“We had five minutes to present our difficulties to the president,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday, before adding, “That’s not enough time to talk with the president.”

Tay Za called for a better gems policy during his presentation, according to local media reports. The tycoon, who chairs the Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs Association, urged the government to investigate the mining situation in northern Burma’s Kachin State, where he has extensive business interests.

He told the president that Burmese citizens of Chinese ancestry were heavily involved in the mining industry and were exporting gems over the border to China. As a result, he said, value-added industries had developed in China but not in Burma.

Burma’s jade exports reached US$800 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year, compared to $325 million in 2012-13, according to government statistics.

During another presentation, Myat Thin Aung, chairman of Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone, called for better electricity infrastructure. “We need regular electricity for factories. That’s why FDI [foreign direct investment] is only ‘wait and see’ now, due to the lack of power supply,” he told The Irrawaddy.

“A Korean electricity company wants to open a factory in Rangoon, and that could mean many job opportunities for local people, but they hesitate to settle here because of irregular electricity,” he said.

He also recommended stricter enforcement of tax obligations in industrial zones, and said the meeting was short but hopefully fruitful. “It’s better than no meeting,” he said. “The president knows now what problems we face in each industry, but I’m not sure which areas will see the quickest results. It depends on the union ministers and how they manage these problems.”

Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party (Burma), was critical of the direction of economic reforms. “The economy is not moving forward, and the government still needs to build trust for foreign direct investment to come in,” he told The Irrawaddy. He said further meetings between the president and businesspeople would boost economic growth.

Thein Sein said FDI in Burma stood at $8.2 billion from 2011 through 2013, while local investment reached $22 billion. Trade from April 2013 through February 2014 reached US$21.571 billion, compared with $15 billion in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Other businesspeople at the meeting included Aik Htun, chairman of Shwe Taung Group; Aung Ko Win, chairman of KBZ bank; Maung Weik, a prominent businessman in the construction and development sectors; and Htay Myint of Yuzana Company, which is involved the construction, agriculture, hospitality, real estate and fishery industries.

Also present were Khin Maung Aye, chairman of CB Bank; Thein Tun, president of Myanmar Golden Star Company, which first brought Pepsi soft drinks to Burma; and Chit Khaing, chairman and chief executive of the major conglomerate Eden Group.