Myanmar Govt Denies Its Move to Allow Officials to Import Cars Tax-Free Is Vote Grab

By Moe Moe 10 January 2020

NAYPYITAW—The National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s decision to grant tax-exempt vehicle import licenses to directors-general and other higher-ups has nothing to do with this year’s general election, said Union Commerce Minister Dr. Than Myint. His denial followed public criticism that the government’s move was purely political and does not provide equal rights to all senior civil servants.

According to the Commerce Ministry, tax will be exempted for car imports. Currently, the customs duty and tax imposed by the Road Transport Administration Department totals 100 percent or 150 percent of the prices of cars, depending on their engine power.

“Our government did this not because the election is near. We just do what is necessary. We only do [what is necessary] for the economic development of the country, and not for the election or the party,” Dr. Than Myint said in response to questions from reporters at the ministry’s press conference in Naypyitaw on Thursday on its plan to sell cars to civil servants via a hire-purchase system.

Many view the NLD’s decision as an attempt to solicit votes ahead of this year’s general election, while other criticized the move as it will allow NLD-appointed ministers to import cars.

The first batch of permits will be issued to directors-general and higher ranks. The second batch will go to deputy directors-general and those who have worked in the civil service for at least 25 years and won awards for outstanding service.

The Commerce Ministry said on Jan. 2 that it will allow automobile imports according to the model and year specifications it issues annually, adding that those cars will be sold through a hire-purchase system. The ministry’s permanent secretary held a press conference on the planned issuance of vehicle import permits in Naypyitaw on Thursday.

U Min Min, the director-general of the Commerce Ministry, told reporters on Thursday that the permit provisions for civil servants will not have much impact on the automobile market as a whole, as there are not many people who can actually purchase the automobiles.

Therefore, he said, there is little chance that the move will affect the country’s automobile market as a whole, compared to the government’s introduction in 2012 of a policy allowing all citizens to apply for vehicle import licenses, which saw a drop in vehicle prices.

U Min Min added that those civil servants who are granted vehicle import permits cannot sell their permits. If they do so, action will be taken against them, he said.

According to the ministry’s announcement, the President and the State Counselor are allowed to import vehicles whose CIF price is 150 million kyats (US$102,000); vice-presidents and equivalent ranks can import vehicles worth 120 million kyats; chief ministers and equivalent can import vehicles worth 100 million kyats; deputy ministers and commission chairmen and members can import vehicles worth 70 million kyats; permanent secretaries and directors-general can import vehicles worth 50 million kyats; and deputy directors-general and civil servants who have served at least 25 years can import vehicles worth 30 million kyats.

Dr. Soe Tun, chairman of the Myanmar Automobile Manufacturer and Distributor Association, wrote on his Facebook account, “We are compiling a list of civil servants who have served 25 years and won outstanding civil servant awards in order to grant import licenses to them.”

According to him, the car-import policy will apply to all ministries, including the military-controlled Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs ministries.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko. The story was updated in English.

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