Myanmar Crony Promoting Electric Vehicles Despite Ongoing Power Blackouts
By The Irrawaddy 16 May 2023
Myanmar has been suffering from ongoing power outages since the 2021 coup, but now a new crony has come to the attention of the people for her promotion of electric vehicles (EVs) and the charging stations they use.
Enter Daw Khine Zaw, chief executive officer of the Earth Group Companies. She is a sister-in-law of arch-crony and major arms dealer U Tay Za, the chairman of the Htoo Group of Companies.
Daw Khine Zaw has been involved in military-linked businesses since the days of former military dictator Than Shwe. She also has ties with current junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and his relatives.
According to The Irrawaddy’s business sources, it was Daw Khine Zaw who sold Min Aung Hlaing on the idea of promoting the use of EVs, including electric buses, in Myanmar. She has already been engaged in the renewable energy business, including solar power, for several years.
One Yangon car dealer told The Irrawaddy: “Daw Khine Zaw’s Prime Company alone is handling EVs. She has connections and she has won most of the licenses related to EVs.”
Prime Automotive Myanmar, a subsidiary of Daw Khine Zaw’s Earth Renewable Energy, is licensed to import EVs, while Earth Renewable Energy is licensed to build charging stations for them.
Under the now ousted National League for Democracy government, Daw Khine Zaw rarely appeared at the meetings of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI). But since 2022, she has appeared at UMFCCI and is mainly engaged in solar power and EVs, added the car dealer.
While there is still no necessary infrastructure and facilities for EVs, the military regime formed a national-level committee on EVs and related businesses in June 2022, and took immediate steps to import electric cars and build charging stations.
The junta has also waived the tax on the import of EVs and parts for charging stations for the 2022-23 fiscal year. There are also reports that the tax will be exempted until the end of the 2024-25 fiscal year. Daw Khine Zaw’s companies are enjoying tax exemptions, too, according to automobile dealers.
This March, Earth Renewable Energy opened Myanmar’s first charging station for electric buses on the Yangon-Naypyitaw-Mandalay Highway in Naypyitaw’s Dekkhinathiri Township. So far it has built three charging stations along the highway, according to the company.
Traditionally, foreign automakers distribute their cars through authorized dealers in Myanmar. Prime Automotive Myanmar Co has, however, attempted to import vehicles directly from foreign companies, resulting in disputes with local dealers.
The Yangon car dealer said: “They reached out to foreign car companies and asked them to sell branded vehicles, saying they have the permits [to import].”
Who is Daw Khine Zaw?
Daw Khine Zaw is the sister of Daw Thida Zaw, the wife of arch-crony U Tay Za. The 70-year-old businesswoman engages in around five industries including manufacturing, transportation, and renewable energy.
She won the Association of Southeast Asian Nations 2019 Women Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is also a vice chair of the Myanmar Industries Association, which is a sister association of the UMFCCI.
Over the past decade Daw Khine Zaw has portrayed herself as a female entrepreneur to boost her image among international business owners, despite her ties to the former and current military regime. She is also close to people who move in political circles in Thailand.
Daw Khine Zaw has previously won licenses for construction projects in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw that were backed by former generals. The most notable tender was to construct solar-powered lighting along the Yangon-Naypyitaw-Mandalay highway. The tender was worth billions of kyats, but the lighting failed within a few years because it was of poor quality.
She is also a laywoman of Sitagu Sayadaw, a military-linked Buddhist monk who is close to Min Aung Hlaing. The monk served as the vice-chair of ultranationalist Buddhist group The Association for Protection of Race and Religion, better known by the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha.
The group has become known for racial and religious hate speeches since it was established in 2013, some two years after Min Aung Hlaing succeeded Than Shwe as Myanmar military chief.