Authorities Investigate Small Retail Businesses for Visa Violations

By Moe Myint 21 December 2016

RANGOON — Authorities in Rangoon and Mandalay divisions are continuing checks into the operations of small retail businesses selling low-priced household items.

Numerous shops titled ‘5000 kyats store’ have opened in Burma’s two largest cities and other locations over the last year selling a range of goods at consumer-friendly prices.

National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker U Than Naing Oo raised a question about the ownership and operation of the shops in Rangoon at the Rangoon regional parliament in October.

The lawmaker suggested that the businesses were largely being operated by non-nationals from China and questioned whether this was in breach of the law.

A committee was subsequently set up under the Rangoon parliament to probe whether the shops are in compliance with laws and regulations regarding the eligibility of foreign nationals to own and run businesses.

In mid-December, authorities from immigration, police and other branches of government began conducting similar checks on shops in Mandalay Division.

The probes are not intended to result in legal action at this stage, U Than Naing Oo told The Irrawaddy. “This is just an awareness-raising period,” he said.

The draft 2016 Myanmar Investment Law (MIL) published in October and current regulations under the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) are broad in scope and list few explicit restrictions on foreign investments.

Detailed by-laws and regulations on the type of business operations that are open for wholly-owned foreign investment or joint ventures are due to be announced early next year, and are expected to provide some restrictions or other provisions designed to protect certain local small and medium enterprises.

Currently all retail businesses must obtain a license to operate from different authorities and licenses are given only to locals, according to DICA deputy director general U San Myint.

In Rangoon, retail businesses obtain a license from the Yangon City Development Committee.

The current checks into the 5000 kyats stores are seeking to ascertain whether the shops are genuinely owned by nationals named on their business licenses, and whether non-national staff working in the outlets have fulfilled visa requirements.

Initial visits to a small number of shops in Pabedan Township in Rangoon suggested that visitor visa regulations were not always being adhered to, U Than Naing Oo said. Similar findings were reported by NLD lawmaker Daw Kyi Pyar of Kyauktada constituency (2).

The Irrawaddy sought comments from staff and managers of shops in Rangoon’s Sanchaung and Latha townships but ran into language barriers as a number of the employees were not speakers of Burmese or English. A female employee in one shop explained through an interpreter that she had worked in the shop for four months and had entered Burma from China on a social visa.

U Than Naing Oo said the committee would submit its findings on the stores in a report to parliament early next year.