YANGON — The Myanmar government and the Thailand-based Institute of Business Economics Research and Development (IBERD) Foundation are discussing a pilot plan to recruit investors for a number of large-scale projects in Rakhine State over the next eight months. In addition to boosting local development, the plan also aims to spur border trade with Bangladesh.
Union Social Welfare Minister Dr. Win Myat Aye, who is also the chairman of the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State, explained the plan to The Irrawaddy over the phone after a series of meetings on July 17 between Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai, chairman of the Advisory Board for the committee, and Myanmar President U Win Myint; State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) chairman U Thaung Tun; and Dr. Win Myat Aye himself. His committee is tasked with putting into practice the recommendations of Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine.
One of Thailand’s leading research institutes, IBERD, provides consultations on development, creating connections and economic opportunities for governments, and the public and private sectors. Its chairman Sathit Linpongpan met with the social welfare minister and the MIC chairman on the same day.
According to Dr. Win Myat Aye, the meetings discussed ways of speeding up implementation of solutions for strife-torn northern Rakhine. IBERD delegates expressed support for investment in renewable energy, fisheries and warehouse businesses, as well as establishing e-wallet and other money transfer services in Rakhine.
Government officials and representatives of two United Nations agencies are set to travel to Maungdaw in Rakhine State in order to oversee the repatriation of nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees driven out by military clearance operations in late 2017. The officials aim to repatriate the refugees, who have been sheltering for months in Bangladesh, as soon as possible.
Thailand will collaborate with Myanmar to empower economic development in the region and requested the designation of a point person to facilitate between government and interested developers, said Dr. Win Myat Aye. The minister himself will serve as focal person on the ground, as he has been acting as a liaison with the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State, which was established in May 2016. According to him, IBERD will cooperate with small-business owners from Rakhine and take suggestions from the relevant ministries and Parliament (or Hluttaw).
Asked by The Irrawaddy whether investors are seeking to penetrate the tourism sector in northern Rakhine, Dr. Win Myat Aye said, “Developers are interested in investing in the tourism sector in northern Rakhine as well. It will surely be included, and we have already negotiated some projects.”
Despite the government’s announcement of its intention to promote investment in the strife-torn region, local business associations have been told little about the plan. U Aung Myint Thein, chairman of the Maungdaw Border Trade Chamber of Commerce, told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Friday that a few foreign investors from China and a Yangon-based conglomerate had requested talks with him, but there had been little activity beyond that.
“It’s easy to talk about investing in northern Rakhine, but barely anyone comes here,” the chamber chief said.
A number of challenges await investors, including security concerns, lack of infrastructure, poor land management and a lack of human resources. The government supplies just four hours of electricity to Maungdaw per day, using generators. A project estimated to cost about 2 billion kyats, which has been in the works since the administration of former President U Thein Sein, is ongoing with an estimated completion date of 2020.
Rakhine State Municipal Affairs Minister U Win Myint explained that some developers have expressed in interest in projects, but mostly in areas of southern Rakhine like Thandwe and Gwa Township. Rakhine Chief Minister U Nyi Pu has urged investors to express interest through Union government channels, but not a single project has gotten off the ground so far.