Myanmar Government Promises Cash to Families Hit by COVID-19

By Thiha Lwin 18 May 2020

Naypyitaw — Myanmar’s government says it will soon provide cash assistance for those struggling across the country because of COVID-19.

The government distributed rice, cooking oil, salt, beans and onions to nearly 4 million households who lacked a regular income during the 10-day New Year holiday last month at a reported cost of around 50 billion kyats (US$36 million).

The food packages were worth 15,000 to 18,000 kyats ($11-13) depending on prices across the country. Government spokesman U Zaw Htay said the cash assistance being planned will provide around double that amount although exact amounts are not known yet.

“We plan to provide cash assistance double of that amount. We will announce it after it is confirmed,” U Zaw Htay told the media on Saturday.

The government will directly transfer mobile money to households in the next two weeks, he added.

“We have planned to make mobile payments through Wave Money and KBZ Pay, for example, which can transfer directly to households through mobile phones,” he said.

The authorities are currently negotiating with township administration departments and the Central Bank of Myanmar, and are identifying the most commonly used mobile payment systems, especially in rural areas.

Cash will be more effective than food deliveries, which are affected by transport costs, price gaps and waste, said Bago Region parliamentarian U Kyaw Zeya, who is volunteering to fight COVID-19.

“Cash can reach people directly without waste. It is more effective,” said U Kyaw Zeya.

However, it is important that lower-level administrators accurately register those in need so cash reaches the needy, he added.

U Ye Sein, a motorbike taxi rider from Sel Su village in Naypyitaw, said: “It is good, whether it is cash or food. We are really in need. Cash will be more convenient. Wave Money is fine. The service is available in rural villages.”

There was criticism on social media that food  provided by the government during Thingyan did not reach those in need.

As of Monday morning, Myanmar reported 187 COVID-19 cases with six deaths and 97 recoveries.

The government has extended COVID-19 orders, including a ban on gatherings and events until the end of May.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko