Burmese Vice President Draws Ire With Cost of Living Comment

By Kyaw Phyo Tha & May Sitt Paing 22 May 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s leaders are under fire for being out of touch after the country’s vice president reportedly insisted that a little over US$2 was a sufficient daily income.

According to Burmese-language weekly Public Image, Nyan Tun—one of two vice presidents in the administration of President Thein Sein—made the comment during an informal conversation that followed a ceremony in Rangoon on Monday to hand out funds to farming cooperatives.

The journal said that Nyan Tun insisted that just over 2,000 kyat, or $2.07, was “enough to survive” in Burma.

“If you get a bit more [than 2,000 kyat], you will be alright,” the vice president reportedly said.

His comments came as low wages and inflation—particularly electricity, accommodation and food prices—mean the cost of living is rising for most Burmese. On May Day, workers took to the streets asking for minimum daily wage of 5,600 kyat.

“His speech reveals how far he is from the people and their lives,” said Phyu Phyu Thin, a lawmaker from the opposition National League for Democracy. “He shouldn’t talk like this. In the meantime, even President Thein Sein has not been able to improve people’s lives.”

His comments spread quickly on social media, drawing sharp criticism from those familiar with the everyday costs of life in Burma.

“Even the cheapest meal can cost you K800. How dare you say K2000 is enough to survive,” one Facebook user complained.

Contacted about the comment, President’s Office Spokesman Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that Nyan Tun may have been referring to the international poverty line.

“The World Bank said in 2008, if you earn less than $1.25 a day you are poor. It’s likely that the vice president said it based on this,” he said.

This explanation seemed unable to quell the anger the vice president’s comment has stirred, particularly given the high standard of living enjoyed by those in the country’s elite, made up of former military officials and their close associates.

“Why doesn’t he take his salary based on K2000 per day?” another Facebook user said.

Nyan Tun’s official monthly salary is 4,000,000 kyat, or more than $4,000, meaning that each day he earns 130,000 kyat, 65 times the salary he insists is enough to survive.