Govt Releases Economic Policy Outlines, Deferring Detail

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 29 July 2016

NAYPYIDAW — The launch of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s five-year, 12-part economic policy in Naypyidaw on Friday contained only broad outlines, leaving some industry leaders frustrated at the lack of detail.

Speaking at the launch event, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said that, although the information released was “general,” “detailed policy” would be unveiled later, including for local and international investors.

Several of Burma’s well-known tycoons were present alongside foreign diplomats, government officials, and members of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Suu Kyi acknowledged that “many foreign investors and diplomats” had asked the NLD government about their economic policy, which has yet to be spelled out in any detail in the four months since they assumed office.

Minister of National Planning and Finance Kyaw Win said that the 12-part policy would be “people-centered” and would involve a “fair” distribution of natural resources between the states and divisions of Burma, in support of “national reconciliation” and the building of a “federal democratic country.”

The latter points suggest a tentative link to the peace process with ethnic armed groups. A Union Peace Conference scheduled for late August is hoped to achieve a deal on a federal restructuring of the state, in order to resolve half a century of civil conflict.

Other outlines delivered at the launch included better opportunities for youth, support for small and medium businesses, jobs for Burmese returning from residence abroad, support for both agricultural and industrial exports, environmental protection, a stronger tax system, and expanding economic relations with countries both within and beyond Asean.

Suu Kyi also stressed infrastructural investment as a means of increasing investment in Burma and speeding up development.

Zaw Zaw, a prominent tycoon and chairman of the Max Group of Companies, spoke at the event about the need for better statistics in Burma, including for job, unemployment, birth and morality rates, as an aid to engineering economic growth.

Chit Khine, chairman of Eden Group, one of Burma’s largest conglomerates, told The Irrawaddy after attending the ceremony of the importance of devising a “detailed investment policy.”

He said that policy so far had been “very general” but expressed faith that greater detail would be forthcoming, and that “better economic policies” would be implemented under the new government—although this would “take time,” given the need for reform in so many sectors.

“There should be no rush,” he said, “but they should tell us what sorts of businesses would be prioritized.”

Other industry leaders present stressed a more urgent need for policy detail, given the high expectations held by many towards the NLD government.

Tun Foundation Bank Chairman Thein Tun—best known for bringing Pepsi to Burma in 1991 through his Myanmar Golden Star company—told the Irrawaddy that the government should develop a “detailed master plan” for economic development, one that included “annual implementation plans.”

Taking a more overtly critical line, he said, “This is not like the time before the election. We [business leaders] should know exactly what needs to done.”

“These economic policies are too general,” he said. “If ministers cannot help the country’s economic development, they should resign.”

Fifty journalists from both Burmese and international news agencies had turned up to cover the event at the Myanmar International Convention Center 2 in Naypyidaw, but were held up at the security gate.

Security guards said they had been told that members of the media were not to be allowed in without “access cards” provided by the Ministry of Information. Only two journalists, bearing these cards, were allowed in, and later shared their coverage with others.

The Irrawaddy reporter was not among those permitted inside.

Several of the barred journalists expressed their frustration at what they felt was poor event management on behalf of the Ministry of National Planning and Finance.

BBC correspondent Nay Myo Lin said he had “woken up early” to report on the economic policy launch but had “wasted his time.”