Central Bank Chief’s Reappointment a Setback for Reform, Critics Say

By Nan Lwin 31 July 2018

YANGON — Members of the business community and lawmakers expressed disappointment with the Union Parliament’s approval of another term for Central Bank of Myanmar Governor U Kyaw Kyaw Maung on Tuesday, saying the veteran banker has failed to implement financial sector reforms or address foreign-exchange volatility under the National League for Democracy-led government.

President U Win Myint submitted U Kyaw Kyaw Maung’s nomination to the Parliament last Thursday. He was approved to serve another five-year term on Tuesday.

This is his second stint as central bank chief. From 1997, he held the post for a decade during a period of economic decline under the military junta. He retired in 2007 but the previous U Thein Sein government reappointed him in 2013 when the central bank was made independent from the Finance Ministry. The business community and experts were disappointed when State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government decided to keep him in the position in 2016.

“He is experienced in the banking sector but he has not driven through the much-needed reforms,” said U Than Lwin, a senior adviser at Kanbawzaw Bank Ltd. and former deputy governor of the central bank.

“The financial sector is the engine of the country’s economy. If the central bank is well led, the economy will definitely accelerate. But now we [have lost] 10 years,” he said.

U Kyaw Kyaw Maung, 79, is one of the senior-most officials from the military junta’s regime continuing to serve under the NLD-led government. He was held over in part because the government wanted to maintain some stability in leadership roles as it took office.

Economic reform is a key goal for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government as it steers Myanmar’s democratic transition after almost six decades of isolation under military dictatorship.

Echoing a sentiment expressed by a number of experts, U Than Lwin said the reappointment of U Kyaw Kyaw Maung reflects the lack of candidates in the country with sufficient experience to serve as governor of the central bank.

Members of the business community complained that the financial sector was not being reformed properly because all aspects of the reform process were controlled by people at the top. Moreover, the governor continually engaged in “stunts” to demonstrate his strong role, while the country faces exchange rate instability that had led to inflation and trade deficits that hurt the country’s economy.

“This is nothing personal. Everybody longs for a new face. We had hoped that new people would mean new policies. But we are faced with the status quo,” said U Maung Maung Lay, vice chairman of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“The NLD government missed a chance to improve the country’s economy. We want a person who will be more independent and focus more on banking sector reform,” he said.

Lawmakers also told the media they were disappointed by the president’s decision and expressed concern that it would make it difficult for the NLD-led government to improve the country’s economy during the rest of its term.

Lawmaker U Aung Kyaw Oo said he did not agree with the decision, as the NLD government needs a person who can implement genuine reform. He said reform was needed to improve bank facilities, relax rules on foreign banks and enable long-term low-interest loans for local businesses.

He said U Kyaw Kyaw Maung was typical of the officials that comprised what he described as the oldest government in the world. He pointed out that the government had recently appointed a number of senior officials who were more than 75 years old.

According to the Central Bank Law 2013, the central bank governor must be appointed by the president with the consent of the Union Parliament. Any lawmaker opposed to the nomination can submit a letter stating the reasons for their objection before an agreed deadline. However, the nomination was approved by the Union Parliament.

In reality, however, there is no way for lawmakers to object to the decision, which was made at a high level of the NLD-led government.

Lawmaker Daw Khin San Hlaing also disagreed with the nomination, saying she had also hoped to see a new face in the governor’s office, one who could implement reform effectively for the rest of the NLD government’s term.

“When people yearn for change, the government must listen — but they didn’t. This is the fate of our country,” U Than Lwin said.