Bill Committee Submits Report on FDI Law

By Nyein Nyein 22 October 2012

A joint committee submitted a report on Burma’s proposed new foreign direct investment (FDI) law to the country’s Union Parliament on Monday, setting the stage for approval of the long-awaited bill.

The move comes a day after Burmese President Thein Sein told reporters at a press conference in Naypyidaw that the law would be passed “in a matter of days”—although one MP contacted by The Irrawaddy said it was more likely to happen in the first week of November.

The report, prepared by a bill committee representing both houses of Parliament, focuses on 11 changes recommended by the president, who sent the draft law back to the committee last month.

Lawmakers said the joint bill committee met to discuss the proposed changes for several days in the second week of October.

In its report, the committee expresses agreement with all but one of the president’s recommendations. The sole exception was a proposed change to section 24 (f), which deals with wages and benefits for highly skilled workers.

Thein Sein recommended that skilled foreign workers should receive higher wages and better benefits than Burmese workers with the same qualifications and experience, as an incentive for them to work in the country.

However, the committee rejected this proposal, saying that Burmese should not receive less than their foreign counterparts if they are capable of doing the same work.

“We can’t accept that point. It would be unfair to our fellow citizens,” said Ba Shein, a Lower House member of the bill committee.

He added, however, that despite the disagreement on this issue, only a few minor changes need to be made to the wording of the bill before it is ready for final approval by Parliament.

Among the issues that the president and the bill committee have reached agreement on is the limit on foreign investment in companies in restricted sectors.

Originally it was proposed that they should only be allowed a 49 percent stake in such companies, giving their Burmese partners a controlling interest. This was later changed to 50 percent, putting foreign and domestic investors on an equal footing.

Following the president’s suggestions, however, the bill committee has agreed to remove this cap, allowing foreign companies to become majority shareholders in joint-venture projects.

Other changes relate to local investment in restricted business, the rules and obligations of the Investment Commission, investors’ rights and responsibilities and land use for investment.

The Union Parliament, which combines both houses of the national legislature, is expected to resume discussion on the draft bill later this week.