Jul 22nd, 2012
Reuters – 2 hrs 1 min ago WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to keep pressure on Myanmar to continue economic and political reforms by extending a U.S. ban on imports from the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation for three more years.
The bill updates legislation first passed in 2003 and which expires near the end of this month. It also preserves the White House’s authority to waive or terminate the sanctions to reward Myanmar, also known as Burma, for positive steps.
“By reauthorizing the import sanctions for three years, we maintain pressure on the Burmese government to undertake reforms,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said.
Supporters hope the full Senate and House of Representatives will pass the bill before the month-long August recess. The measure was included in broader legislation to renew an expiring trade benefit for sub-Saharan African countries.
The United States imported $356.4 million of clothing and other goods from Burma in 2002, the last full year before the U.S. import ban was imposed. Imports fell to $275.7 million in 2003 and have been zero in most years since.
The Obama administration eased some sanctions last week to allow U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar and provide services in the country.
Two days later, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Myanmar’s President Thein Sein at a Southeast Asian nations meeting in Cambodia to continue the country’s emergence from nearly a half-century of reclusive military rule.
The United States banned imports from Myanmar in 2003 and expanded the legislation in 2008 to include jewelry from other countries made with jade or rubies from Myanmar.
The law required lawmakers to vote annually to renew the sanctions, subject to a maximum of nine times. The new bill reauthorizes annual renewals through July 2015.
Published: July 18, 2012 at 7:07 AM
BANGKOK, July 18 (UPI) — An oil and natural gas company in Thailand said it was interested in setting up an oil refinery and associated business in Myanmar.
Thai energy company PTT said it was looking into setting up a subsidiary in Myanmar that would oversee as much as $3 billion worth of investments through 2016.
PTT Chief Operating Officer Nattachat Charuchinda said the time was “ripe” to invest in Myanmar.
“PTT sees Myanmar is rich in natural resources and the group itself has long been familiar with Myanmar’s authorities,” he was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying. “We’re keen on investing in setting up a 150,000-bpd refinery as well as a petrochemical business in Myanmar.”
The announcement comes roughly one week after Washington authorized U.S. investments in Myanmar, which in 2010 began a series of political reforms.
French company Total officials were in Myanmar last month to discuss prospects in the energy sector, prompting concern from U.S. lawmakers that U.S. companies were slow to move into the country.
Total said that, as of 2007, Myanmar was producing around 180,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, with 90 percent of that represented by natural gas.
Press Release: Research and Markets – 5 hours ago DUBLIN–(BUSINESS WIRE)– Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/8z2257/residential_constr) has announced the addition of the “Residential Construction in Myanmar to 2016: Market Databook” report to their offering.
This report is the result of Timetric’s extensive market research covering the residential construction industry in Myanmar. It contains detailed historic and forecast market value data for the residential construction industry, including a breakdown of the data by construction activity (new construction, repair and maintenance, refurbishment and demolition). ‘Residential Construction in Myanmar to 2016: Market Databook’ provides a top-level overview and detailed insight into the operating environment of the residential construction industry in Myanmar.
- Overview of the residential construction industry in Myanmar
- Historic and forecast market value for the residential construction industry by construction output and value-add methods for the period 2007 through to 2016
- Historic and forecast market value by construction activity (new construction, repair and maintenance, refurbishment and demolition) across the residential construction industry for the period 2007 through to 2016
Reasons to Buy:
This report is an essential tool for companies active across the Myanmar construction value chain and for new players considering to enter the market.
- Provides you with valuable data for the residential construction industry in Myanmar
- Provides you with a breakdown of market value by type of construction activity (new construction, repair and maintenance, refurbishment and demolition)
- Enhances your knowledge of the market with key figures detailing market values using the construction output and value add methods
- Allows you to plan future business decisions using the forecast figures given for the market
For more information, including full table of contents, please visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/8z2257/residential_constr
by Dow Jones Newswires
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Myanmar has invited foreign energy firms to explore 23 offshore oil and gas blocks, as the Southeast Asian country seeks billions of dollars in investments to tap its vast reserves.
The offer is likely to attract interest from international oil majors after the U.S. government last week cleared companies to invest in Myanmar, including in oil and gas, in its greatest loosening of tough sanctions so far.
The resource-rich nation has opened up to foreign investments at a fast pace since a civilian government took over in March last year after five decades of military rule.
According to previously undisclosed information, Myanmar is inviting foreign companies to explore and develop 17 deep-water blocks and six shallow-water blocks located in the Rakhine, Mottama and Tanintharyi offshore areas in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
The offshore blocks, none of which have been explored by multinational oil companies before, will be awarded through “direct negotiations.” Myanmar’s state energy company Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, or MOGE, will hold a stake of between 15% and 25% in each project.
The details were disclosed in a presentation that was distributed at a Myanmar investment conference held in Singapore this week. The presentation–by U Aung Kyaw Htoo, a senior energy ministry official–was dated May 15.
The awarded firms will be granted an exploration period of up to six years, followed by a three-year tax holiday upon the start of production. The contractor will pay 30% income tax, while a 12.5% royalty will apply, the presentation said.
French energy giant Total SA is one of a few foreign energy firms already active in the country, operating the Yadana gas project–one of just two producing offshore projects in Myanmar–with U.S. oil major Chevron Corp. as a minority partner.
Following a tender held last year, state-owned MOGE said in June that it had signed nine agreements to allow firms including Malaysia’s Petronas, Thailand’s PTT and India’s Jubilant to explore for oil and natural gas onshore. Myanmar is planning a new tender for onshore oil and gas fields next month.
The country has 17 oil fields and five gas fields in production on land. Two offshore gas fields–Daewoo International’s Shwe project and PTT Exploration & Production’s Zawtika project–are currently under development and are due to begin production next year, the presentation said.
Myanmar’s proven oil and gas reserves as of April last year stood at 2.1 billion barrels and 25 trillion cubic feet, respectively, according to the energy ministry’s presentation. The ministry estimates the country’s oil shale reserves to be as large as 3.3 million barrels.
While last week’s move by the U.S. government to ease sanctions against Myanmar were broadly welcomed, some warned that doing business with state energy firm MOGE could put democratic reforms at risk.
Former opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 20 years under house arrest under the former regime, said earlier this month that MOGE “lacks both transparency and accountability” and warned foreign governments against allowing their companies to partner with the enterprise until it improves its business practices.
Myanmar’s new government is expected to approve a new foreign investment law by the end of July, which will give foreign companies tax breaks and allow them greater freedom to lease land from private owners.
July 18, 2012 00:34 IST
A report published by the Indian government reveals that about 400,000 people of Indian origin have no official recognition in Myanmar, they have limited or no access to education, employment and healthcare, reports Venessa Parekh.
Even as the world smiles benignly at the democratic opening up of Myanmar and the extended foreign tour of its leader of the Opposition, Aung San SuuKyi, the country’s complex domestic dynamic, hidden for years, has surfaced. The spill over of the sectarian violence that began in early June has simultaneously exposed the difficulties of democratisation and the plight of Myanmar’s many underprivileged ethnic minorities.
The clashes between Myanmar’s majority Buddhist population — backed by the border security force, the Nasaka — and the 8,00,000-strong Rohingya Muslim community, locally referred to as Bengalis, highlights the issue. The violence is the culmination of nearly half a century of government-sanctioned discrimination against the Rohingyas who are not accepted or recognised as Myanmarese citizens. They aren’t the only ones. Almost never discussed is the plight of third and fourth generation Indian and Chinese immigrants who have lived in Myanmar for decades but like the Rohingyas, are considered illegal settlers.
There are two separate groups of minorities vying for recognition in Myanmar. One is composed of numerous ethnic minorities, such as the Karen, whose allegiance to the state, not their nationality, is in question. Frequent military reprisals have caused large sections of this group to flee to Thailand over the years, where they have settled in camps along the border. The second group comprises those who have lived in Myanmar for generations but are simply not recognised as citizens — like the Rohingya Muslims, and those of Indian and Chinese origin.
Both the India [ Images ]ns and Chinese have been in Myanmar for at least a century. Indians, in particular came after the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1824-26, encouraged by the British Empire to relocate from Bengal, Bihar and South India to Myanmar in an attempt to develop the country. Persons of Indian descent came to dominate the Myanmarese economy as traders, civil servants, merchants, river pilots, soldiers, indentured labourers and moneylenders.
Financial prosperity combined with high positions in the British bureaucracy and their role as money-lenders made the community a target of Burmese nationalist sentiment.
Once independence was achieved, however, the British left Myanmar without making provisions for the grant of official citizenship to these migrants. Latent tensions intensified by the racial and religious differences between the communities — the Indians were dark-skinned and continued to practice Hinduism or Islam in Buddhist Myanmar — making intermarriage and communal mingling rare.
The military coup in 1962, led by General Ne Win, and his ‘Burmanisation’ policy, completely destroyed the already precarious balance between the different communities. The economy was overhauled, Indian and Chinese businesses and trade contracts were rescinded, and the Indian-majority Cabinet was dissolved. Although they had lived in Myanmar for many generations and had no connections with their original societies, approximately 100,000 Chinese and 300,000 Indians were forced out of Myanmar. Those left behind were the poorer immigrant groups, without the wherewithal to flee or start over again.
In 1982, a new Citizenship Act was passed, dividing Myanmarese into three categories. Naturalised citizenship would only be granted to those who could furnish “conclusive evidence” of entry and residence in Myanmar prior to the British annexation, those who were proficient in one of the national languages, and whose children were born in the country. Although many minorities fulfil these requirements, hardly any can supply documentary proof, partly as a result of decades of exclusionary policies and practices.
Consequently, there are over two million stateless persons scattered in villages and rural areas across Myanmar. A 2000 report published by the Indian government reveals that about 400,000 are of Indian origin. Without official recognition, they have limited or no access to education, employment and healthcare, and their right to travel, marriage, reproduction and communication is severely restricted.
Opposition leader Aung San SuuKyi recently promised Myanmarese citizenship to refugee groups in Thailand. But when asked about the Rohingya, she replied that she “didn’t know” whether or not they belong to the country an ambiguous position representative of the Myanmarese majority’s indifference to its stateless. Last week, Naypyidaw issued a statement categorically refusing to recognise the Rohingyas as citizens. This official disregard cements the animosity between Myanmarese minorities and the majority.
Breaking the stalemate is vital to the democratic process in Myanmar, and to give the government credibility. The country is planning social and political reform, and has just opened its markets to foreign investors and companies. This is the moment for Myanmar to begin rehabilitating its minorities, and for its neighbouring countries to help advance such an endeavour.
The initial impetus for the acknowledgement of its citizens must of course come from within Myanmar itself. Naypyidaw, supported by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, should reformulate immigration laws, make provisions for the settlement of these groups, and grant them all the rights that come with citizenship. Given the history of the stateless in Myanmar, as well as the significance of this new phase of co-operation and dialogue among the neighbour nations, the process of rehabilitation can become a joint initiative between the South and Southeast Asian countries.
India has already launched infrastructure projects to facilitate greater connectivity between its North East and Myanmar; bilateral trade is estimated to double by 2015 to $3 billion. As these agreements are negotiated, and cross-border activity picks up, the potential for conflict will grow. In the past, New Delhi [ Images ] has discreetly discussed the minority issue with Myanmar and successfully gained citizenship for approximately 20,000 stateless persons of Indian descent. India must use its increased business investment in Myanmar to press for equality for the rest.
China already has a large economic presence in Myanmar and its profile is sure to increase over the coming years. India and China can together use the invitation they have to participate in Myanmar’s rejuvenation, to nudge the process forward with some quiet but effective diplomacy.
(FIFA.com) Wednesday 18 July 2012
Renowned as one of the world’s biggest exporters of precious stones, Myanmar are less well known in football circles even in Asia. However, with a focus on youth development over recent years, the south-east Asians have shown their raw potential in football is as abundant as their natural resources.
The first breakthrough came last year when a rampaging Myanmar U-23 side won bronze in the 2011 South-East Asian Games (SEA), with a memorable 4-1 defeat of regional power Vietnam in the third-place play-off. That was followed by their recent qualification for the inaugural AFC U-22 Championship, where Myanmar impressed by finished the qualifying campaign undefeated level on points with group winners Korea Republic.
“The youth achievements came as a testament to our development plan,” Tin Aung, General Secretary of the Myanmar Football Federation, told FIFA.com. “The qualifying success in the AFC U-22 Championship provides us with inspiration as we prepare for the 2013 SEA Games during which we will be hosts.”
Starting from the bottom
The enigmatic Myanmar were, however, once among Asia’s established powerhouses. They finished runners-up in the 1968 AFC Asian Cup, while twice winning gold in the Asian Games (1966 and 1970). At regional level, they are one of the most accomplished nations, having lifted the SEA Games title on five occasions (1965, 1967, 1969, 1971 and 1973).
But recent years have not been so kind to the nation formerly known as Burma. Indeed, the past three decades have seen Myanmar make little impression on the international stage, with the bronze-medal performance in the last SEA Games marking their best showing in the modern era. The 1968 Asian Cup has thus far proved to be their only appearance in the continental finals. Their first involvement in the FIFA World Cup™ qualifying didn’t come until five years ago, when they crashed out after conceding eleven unanswered goals over two legs against China PR in the opening round for South Africa 2010.
Seeking to relive their past glories, the country’s football authorities are all too aware they must start at the base with realistic plans. “We began our rebuilding plan by focusing on youth development,” Tin Aung continued. “The initial program is to launch a nation-wide U-12 football campaign at primary school level, courtesy of cooperation by the Ministry of Education. Should everything go smoothly, we hope we can build a promising youth team who can qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2021.”
Their recent progress, according to the General Secretary, was only possible with consistent support from FIFA. He said: “The FIFA Goal Project has played a vital role in our rebuilding. With the Goal Project’s help, we had our MFF headquarters built so we have very much improved our administrative and managerial abilities. The Football Academy in Mandalay and the third Goal Project laid ground for our youth success and furthermore, our professional league was successfully launched in 2009 courtesy of the FIFA Professionalisation Program.”
The nation’s progress was evident in their recent U-22 campaign which saw a host of fresh gems unearthed as they held Korea Republic to a goalless draw, while prevailing in their remaining four matches. Spearheading the line-up is captain and midfielder Kyaw Zayar Win, who scored five times, including completing a treble in the 6-2 defeat of Chinese Taipei. Defender Zaw Min Htun was a cornerstone in the back-line throughout, while the attacking duo of Kyaw Ko Ko and Khaung Si Thu regularly troubled opposition defences too.
Their U-22 side’s brilliant display, under former Korea Republic U-23 coach Park Sung-Hwan who took over last year, of course, prompted the ambitious south-east Asians to target new heights. “Thanks to coach Park, our U-22 team has shown big progress in the AFC qualifying,” said Tin Aung. “Next we will prepare our team for next year’s AFC U-19 Championship qualifying. Our expectations are not only to reach the final competition in 2014 but to finish top four to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.”
Published: 18/07/2012 at 01:55 AM
Newspaper section: Business
PTT Plc, Thailand’s biggest oil and gas conglomerate, is about to set up PTT Myanmar, a new subsidiary to oversee investment in the neighbouring country as part of its US$2-3 billion investment plan there until 2016.
“PTT sees Myanmar is rich in natural resources and the group itself has long been familiar with Myanmar’s authorities,” said Nattachat Charuchinda, chief operating officer of the petroleum group.
“And above all, ahead of Asean economic integration, the group sees the time is ripe to step up expansion in Myanmar, and we’re now filing investment proposals with Myanmar’s government covering not only upstream but also downstream activities such as oil refineries, natural gas separation plants and service stations.”
He said oil refineries in particular are a key investment focus, as the existing refining plant in Myanmar is old and was designed only for domestic consumption at capacity of only 50,000 barrels per day.
“We’re keen on investing in setting up a 150,000-bpd refinery as well as a petrochemical business in Myanmar,” said Mr Nattachat.
Its investment in Myanmar has been spearheaded by PTT Exploration and Production Plc, which already has five projects there.
Natural gas from Myanmar accounts for about 30% of Thailand’s consumption, mostly for power generation.
PTT currently has investment presence in the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. It plans to boost the number of its petrol stations in Southeast Asia excluding Thailand from to 220 in five years from 95 now.
PTT, valued at $30 billion, runs Thailand’s gas pipeline monopoly and controls more than 30 petroleum, gas exploration, petrochemical and refinery businesses.
Mr Nattachat said as part of its drive to expand in Southeast Asia, PTT, which plans to invest more than $11 billion from 2012-16, is also interested in investing in a petrochemical complex in Vietnam similar to the one now operated by PTT Global Chemical Plc (PTTGC).
That unit operates not only a refining plant but also a plastic pellet manufacturing facility.
July 18, 2012 4:32 pm
Somkiat Sirichatchai, left, Kasikornbank’s Senior Executive Vice President, was recently in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. On behalf of the bank, he received the license from Myanmar Central Bank Governor Than Nyein, for the opening of a representative office in Y
Kasikornbank becomes the third Thai bank to open a representative office in Myanmar, after Bangkok Bank and Siam Commercial Bank.
In preparation for the Asean Economic Community, KBank aims to use the office in Yangon as a one-stop service centre for trade and investment information, as well as advice on beneficial business networks via allied banks in Myanmar.
“The One-stop service will be the focus of the new office, wherein we will be developing products and services tailored to meet customer requirements. Business customers will be supported with advice on marketing, trade and investment, as well as introduction to important networks. One valuable service will be business matching, which can aid greatly in finding appropriate business partners to facilitate successful business operations in Myanmar, through close cooperation with KBank Head Office and allied banks in Myanmar,” said Somkiat Sirichatchai, KBank senior executive vice president.
He noted that there has been enthusiasm among Thai businesses to invest in Myanmar, which is now one of the most noteworthy market in Asia. With this new potential, KBank wants to be ready to support business customers with international trade facilities there, as well as other investment, in advance of AEC integration in 2015.
Alliance has been forged between KBank and 32 banks in Cambodia, Korea, China, Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, and most recently, Myanmar. Further move will be taken to enhance the banking network with other nine ASEAN nations soon, Somkiat added.
News Desk, The Nation
Publication Date : 17-07-2012 The 92 Thais being detained in Myanmar over allegedly encroaching on land will be held for a few more days to be questioned by military officials, a local army commander said yesterday.
The detainees will not be allowed any visits from relatives.
Meanwhile, Thai members of a joint border committee are in the process of getting the detainees’ belongings, but the process of escorting them back to Thailand will not be possible until all legal and court process in relation to them is completed, Colonel Phornsak Phoolsawas said.
He added that no efforts are being made to secure their release at the jointpanel level even though Deputy Prime Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, upon completion of his visit to Myanmar earlier, had said that all 92 detainees would be released soon.
The colonel said initially they had heard that women and children would be released soon, but that tipoff no longer applies.
“But I have learned that they are all fine and in good health,” he said.
No figures have been released about how many of the 92 detainees are women and children.
There have been no figures of women and children among the 92 Thai detainees.
Yuthasak had said earlier that Myanmar would free some Thai women and children who were detained over an alleged land encroachment incident earlier this month.
Thai officials, accompanied by an interpreter, will travel to Koh Song to visit the detainees and assist with in regard to their basic living conditions.
Yutthasak said it is expected that a total of about 10 women and children would be released.
The Myanmar investigation is under way and legal action will be taken against those with weapons or illegal drugs in their possession. Anyone free of wrongdoing will be repatriated, he said.
Myanmar troops arrested the Thais who allegedly cut down trees and cleared the area to plant rubber trees inside Myanmar territory at Koh Song, opposite Ranong’s Kra Buri district on July 4.
Gen Yuthasak said earlier some 200 Thai nationals were lured by brokers to build homes and plant rubber trees in Myanmar.
He said that Thailand will discuss with Myanmar the possibility of allowing Thais to rent the areas for cultivation.
The Financial Times – Thailand’s PTT to invest $3bn in Myanmar
By Gwen Robinson
Thailand’s state-controlled energy company PTT said it will invest up to $3bn in Myanmar as part of its ambitious global expansion, in one of the most substantial foreign investments since the reformist government of Thein Sein took power 16 months ago.
The group will invest in projects including a 150,000-barrels-a-day crude oil refinery, coal mines and a power plant, Nattachat Charuchinda, chief operating officer of PTT’s petroleum business, said on Tuesday.
The investment, which comes after western governments eased sanctions on Myanmar, is sizeable in the context of the country’s gross domestic product, which the Asian Development Bank estimates to be about $43bn.
PTT announced the deal a day after it won a battle against Royal Dutch Shell for control of Cove Energy, the Africa-focused gas explorer. Shell was engaged in a bidding war for the UK-listed company but said on Monday it would not raise its 220p a share bid, which valued Cove at £1.12bn, leaving an offer of 240p a share, or £1.22bn, from a PTT subsidiary in the lead.
The investment in Myanmar and the bid for Cove highlight PTT’s rapid expansion and diversification strategy. In June, the state-controlled group said it would invest over $11bn in a variety of projects between 2012 and 2016.
Pailin Chuchottaworn, PTT’s group chief executive, told the Financial Times last month that the bid for Cove reflected the group’s plan to transform east Africa into one of a series of “growth centres” for the company, which he also identified as Myanmar, Australia and North America.
Posted: 07/18/2012 8:31 am
I write from a patio overlooking the palmed courtyard of the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The colonial vestiges have their appeal. Phnom Penh, which I imagined as a sleepy French influenced capital with rickshaws and tuktuks, is a bustling metropolis, sprawling with new, shiny office skyscrapers, municipal buildings, commercial districts, marked by traffic jams of cars and swarms of scooters, honking and braking in the day’s heat. China has invested over $1.2 billion here. Hillary Clinton just announced that the U.S. will “put its money where its mouth is,” and offered up $50 million for the Mekong Delta Regional Development project. The U.S. is said to be “pivoting” to Asia, but this is like Britain reclaiming the colonies after World War I. We are operating on former glories, military prowess and fumes. China is the force here. And these capitals have the energy of America’s first Gilded Age: corrupt, vibrant, pulsating, oppressive, alive.
But I didn’t write to offer a travel guide, but a thought. Myanmar is opening — after decades of sanctions — to the West, seeking to counter the Chinese influence. There is a mother-lode of jewels, minerals, oil, etc, on the crossroads between India and China.
European and U.S. companies are like horses moving into the gates, snorting, pawing at the earth, eager to join the race.
Someone will win a Pulitzer and more by reporting on the transformation. The rush of capital. The corrupt deals with the military that still demands its piece of everything, even as it opens more quasi democratic space. The exploitation of a workforce that now is the literal bottom of the world labor market. The cowboys and confidence men, the gamblers and adventurers all descending on a country previously oppressed by a vicious dictatorship, but cut off significantly from the rapacity of modern capitalism.
Since HuffPost is the only growing newsroom that I know of, I thought I’d suggest this beat to them. It doesn’t fit in naturally with the daily pace of the blogosphere. But there will be an unending stream of stories between the contrast of the military, the Chinese and Western investors, the dignity of Aung San Suu Kyi and what will be beleaguered Democrats, the efforts to build a labor movement in the frenzy, etc.
It strikes me that one could get philanthropic support for a project, perhaps jointly with the Asia Society, to place a reporter there with the explicit beat of covering what surely will be the rape and, less certainly, the redemption of a society suddenly opened to the global market. Not a lot of readership is for this kind of thing, I know, but it would be a great service to our understanding.
Investor Mark Mobius says that two things need to happen before investors pour into Myanmar.
Matma Badkar, Business InsiderJuly 17, 2012 16:57
President Obama has finally authorized American companies to invest in Myanmar.
For the first time in 15 years, companies like General Electric and Chevron that have been aching to tap the energy-rich nation’s resources will be able to do just that.
But the process isn’t going to be as easy as all that.
Mark Mobius, investment guru and executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, told Business Insider that the key now is a credible banking system and a currency regime that allows investors to put money in the country:
“Up until now, the currency has been very much controlled. And in that case, the fluctuations in the currency rates make it difficult for investors to invest.
In the case of direct investors, people who are not involved in capital markets, it’s not a problem, because you’ve got a situation where you can pay in money and take up a view that you are going to be able to convert it at some time in the distant future.
In the case of portfolio investing — investing in the stock market — it becomes more problematical, because in that case, you’ve got the problem of – if you’re running open-ended funds like we do, we have to be able to get money in and out of the country on relatively short notice.
So, we don’t want to have currency controls or some problem in getting money out. So, that I think is the big challenge that they face.”
That being said there are the three sectors he thinks are most interesting in Myanmar:
“The obvious one would be tourism. That includes hotels, anything to do with food services, restaurants, anyone supplying those kinds of goods.
The second area would be mining because there is a lot of potential for mining in the country, particularly when it comes to gems. As you know, Myanmar is one of the largest sources of jade in the world.
Already there have been substantial investments by Thai companies in the oil and gas sector. So, that would be another area.”
By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| July 18, 2012
Twelve leaders of ten Democratic and Ethnic Alliance parties met Burmese President Thein Sein for the first time in the capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday.
The representatives, who all contested in the 2010 general election, discussed a wide range of issues including the rule of law and peace building in Burma as well as mooted changes to the electoral system for the next popular ballot in 2015.
Suggestions included issuing bylaws to manage the scope of enacted laws and organizing a peace conference involving all ethnic and civil society groups, participants told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
“Despite being enacted, some laws cannot be practiced due to the lack of bylaws,” said Aung Than, the chairman of the Democracy and Peace Party (DPP).
“We also highlighted judicial matters such as mutual respect among lawyers and judges during court proceedings, as well as to reform the Bar Council for legal representation as was previously the case.”
Minority leaders also discussed the inclusion of ethnic languages and literature in the school curriculum as well as possible solutions to the current communal conflict in Burma’s western Arakan (Rakhine) State.
Nai Hla Aung, a representative of the All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP), proposed that the ethnic Mon language be taught at schools in Mon State.
Aung Min, Railway Minister and Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator with ethnic armed groups, was also at the meeting and apparently said that the government will allow teaching the Mon language and will provide US $1 million to fund it.
“[Aung Min] told us that the teaching time would be out of school hours. I am not satisfied with this as our party proposed allowing teaching in the government’s school time,” said Banyar Aung Moe, an Upper House MP for the AMDP, who participated in the meeting.
Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the National Democratic Front (NDF), told The Irrawaddy that his party made several suggestions related to national development.
These included making electricity accessible in more than 60,000 villages and revising national projects such as building railways as well as the controversial Shwe Gas pipeline from China’s Yunnan Province to Arakan State’s Kyauk Phyu Township.
Participants said they were well received by Thein Sein who welcomed collaboration with the parties and promised to implement their suggestions, but he confessed some could come into effect immediately while others may take a long time.
Industry Minister Soe Thein was also at the meeting and previously met the minority party leaders with Aung Min in Rangoon on July 8. More meetings are due to take place in the future although no specific dates have been set so far.
The Democratic and Ethnic Alliance—comprised of the NDF, DPP, Democratic Party (Myanmar), Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, Chin National Party, Phalon-Sawal Democratic Party, AMDP, Union Democracy Party, and Union and Peace Party—was formed before the 2010 general election. The six ethnic parties in the alliance also separately formed the Parties of Democratic Friends group.
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| July 18, 2012
Vital health services for migrants and refugees by the Thai-Burmese border are being cut as a flood of international humanitarian organizations move inside Burma in the wake of recent reforms.
Mae Tao Clinic, in Mae Sot, Tak Province, will no longer be able to provide some services with HIV/Aids patients and those requiring referral for extensive treatment at Thai hospitals due to miss out.
Yasmin Ahammad, the fundraising and grants manager for Mae Tao, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the clinic might have to reduce blood tests because of limited funding.
“At the moment, we are reviewing the HIV activities. We are not quite sure what we will have to reduce,” she said.
“We also have to review referral costs. Even though only one percent of cases get referred, it can cost up to 15 to 20 percent of our budget as they are very expensive. So we have to look carefully at what cases we are referring and how many we can pay for in hospital.”
Mae Tao Clinic is a crucial resource for thousands of Burmese migrants and refugees who are unable to pay for medical treatment. The clinic receives 500 visitors a day but, due to the funding cut from international donors, is also trying to reduce the number of patients it provides food to on a daily basis.
“We feed 500 people a day. We will try to reduce this to just 350 people a day,” said Yasmin Ahammad.
The clinic also slashed the stipend of staff by 20 percent with health workers now receiving only 1,800 baht per month after the cut.
Mae Tao was founded in 1989 by an ethnic Karen physician, Dr. Cynthia Maung, after thousands of refugees fled into Thailand following a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Rangoon the previous year.
The clinic’s current budget stands at 120 million baht (US $4 million), 85 million baht of which goes toward various healthcare programs. Some 25 million baht is set aside for education and facilities for children, while the rest of the budget is stretched to fund the construction of schools and new facilities.
Mae Tao also provides direct financial support to one school in Mae Sot, but also facilitates funding for 78 other local schools which host around 17,000 students and provide jobs for no less than 700 teachers.
The clinic has asked for donations such as rice, oil, tinned fish and beans, as well as cash to help fund its services. It costs 300 baht ($10) a month to provide one child with minimum dry food rations.
Most of the patients and schoolchildren that use Mae Tao Clinic are Burmese migrant workers or refugees, including residents of Mae La camp, with a population of some 40,000, where Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited on June 2.
By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| July 18, 2012
Hundreds of people have lost their lives, thousands have been maimed or injured, and some 70,000 have been displaced from their homes. But after 1,640 battles, the conflict between Kachin rebels and the Burmese army—now into its 13th month—shows no sign of abating.
A Burmese photographer, who has repeatedly visited the war zone, said he witnessed the bodies of dead Burmese and Kachin soldiers piled on top of the corpses of civilian porters.
Farmers and villagers are now being targeted for attacks and interrogation by the government troops who naturally suspect them of being sympathizers or members of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
One Kachin source in Laiza, the headquarters of the KIO on the Sino-Burmese border, told The Irrawaddy recently that the Burmese army plans to overrun the KIO headquarters very soon.
Government reinforcements, artillery and mortars have been called into the area. Men and munitions have also been increased around Bhamo in southern Kachin State and in Muse, northern Shan State, both close to KIO strongholds.
The Kachin rebels have an estimated strength of just over 15,000 fighters, many of whom had never seen action until last year because the ethnic army had signed a ceasefire with the government in 1994—a truce that stood until June 19, 2011, when something approaching a civil war erupted between government forces and the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Several observers have opined that the 1994 ceasefire agreement never produced a political result—nothing the KIO could hold up to its people with regard to autonomy or fundamental rights.
The KIO is widely seen as a pragmatic and politically savvy group. After the ceasefire in 1994, its leaders were offered business opportunities in logging, jade mining and other enterprises. However, many Kachins viewed these lucrative deals as a rape of the land—their land—and opposed what they saw as an attempt by the Burmese authorities to exploit the Kachins’ rich forests and natural resources.
Burmese military officers, their families, cronies, Chinese businessmen and even some KIO officials were seen as culpable in the rush to cash in.
A handful of well-respected and educated Kachin elders became involved in a corrupted political process that was structured and manipulated by members of the former military junta. Some KIO representatives even went so far as to join the National Convention in the mid-90s and again in 2004—a significant step in the regime’s much-touted “Seven-step Roadmap to Democracy,” which was originally written by former Prime Minister and spy chief Khin Nyunt.
Dr. Tu Ja, a Kachin politician who was formerly the head of the KIO, took part in government-organized meetings and joined hands with the military generals in writing the 2008 Constitution.
Tu Ja and several other KIO colleagues quit the mother organization in 2009 and formed a political party called the Kachin State Progress Party in preparation for the general election in November 2010.
However, Burma’s Union Election Commission rejected the party’s application. Tu Ja tried to register as an independent candidate but was again rejected. Then in the 2012 by-election, the government canceled voting in three constituencies in Kachin State for security reasons, and Dr Tu Ja again missed the chance to get elected.
Tensions had begun to resurface in early 2009 when Naypyidaw began prodding the various armed ethnic groups in eastern Burma to join with government forces in forming joint-battalions as a common “Border Guard Force” under Burmese command.
Asked why the KIO has taken so long to reach a peace agreement with the new government while other ethnic armed groups, including the Shan, Karen and Karenni, have reached ceasefires over the course of the last two years, KIO spokesperson La Nan said, “We will be very careful to sign any agreement this time.”
Following the experience of seeing an 18-year truce shattered, and with a tangible sense of distrust toward Naypyidaw, the KIO would appear to have dug its heels in and is insisting that a satisfactory political solution is negotiated.
According to Gun Maw, the vice-chief-of-staff of the KIA, the Kachins’ main aim is to achieve the equal rights and self-determination that was agreed upon in the Panglong Agreement, which various ethnic leaders signed alongside Gen. Aung San in 1947 as terms were being agreed for Burma’s independence the following year.
The Kachins have sent high-ranking representatives to meet with government delegations on several occasions, but without result. More recently, they rejected the Burmese government’s offer to hold further peace talks in Bhamo in early July.
La Nan said that the fighting is escalating. With reinforcements at hand, the Burmese army is closing in on Bhamo, Muse and Laiza. Shelling on July 6-7 hit KIA bases just 13 km from Laiza.
“The Burmese army is not interested in whatever peace talks are on the table,” said La Nan. “It is nearly one year since President Thein Sein ordered the army to stop attacking us, but his orders are being ignored.”
He said that Naypyidaw does not recognize the ethnic armed resistance as a political issue.
“They only see us as insurgent groups that create instability. They think that if we disarm, the conflict will disappear,” he said. “It won’t. We must find a political solution.”
He said that the civil war was born out of broken promises.
At Panglong in 1947, the ethnic Kachin, Chin and Shan minorities agreed terms with the central government for self-determination, autonomy and even the future possibility of a separate state.
However, these hopes have never been realized, he said.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 11:55 Mizzima News
Aung San Suu Kyi asked influential US Sen. Mitch McConnell in a telephone call on Monday night to remove more US sanctions, saying it would serve to benefit the Burmese people.
Her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said on Tuesday that Suu Kyi emphasized three points: that full diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level has been re-established; democratic change is achieving momentum; and more investment is needed to improve the people’s livelihood.
Sen. McConnell and Suu Kyi have a long relationship going back to her first detention under house arrest. When McConnell visited Burma in Janaury, he was visibly moved in meeting her for the first time. He said that Suu Kyi views would be critical to determine whether US sanctions were lifted.
The US lifted investment sanctions in July, but it left trade sanctions in place. US lawmakers are now preparing to submit a proposal to the U.S. Congress to extend the expiring “Burma Freedom and Democracy Act-2003” until 2015, which some lawmakers said would serve to keep pressure on Burma to continue reforms.
In January, when McConnell visited Suu Kyi in Rangoon, he said: “Well first, obviously, Aung San Suu Kyi’s view about the appropriateness of lifting sanctions is something that will carry a lot of weight with members of the U.S. government, including myself. So how she feels about the direction of reform will have a lot of influence on us in the United States related to the decision to lift sanctions.”
Last week, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann also requested Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs of the United States Robert Hormats to convince the U.S. Congress not to renew the sanctions.
Shwe Mann told Hormats that the suspension of US investment sanctions was one-sided and mainly benefitted U.S. firms, and he asked the U.S. side to review the case and take the interest of Burmese citizens and ethnic people into consideration.
Meanwhile, US government officials, responding to the news that Suu Kyi would visit the US on Sept. 21 to receive the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award, said Suu Kyi would be invited for meetings with the U.S. government during her visit, but it had no other details.
“We look forward to an appropriate date welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi here to the State Department and her having bilateral meetings here in the U.S.,” department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. last week suspended business investment sanctions that had been in force against Burma for 15 years.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 12:30 Mizzima News
The Thai Labour Ministry has announced a consolidation of agencies designed to combat human trafficking and improve migrant workers’ conditions.
Deputy Permanent Secretary Songsri Bunba said that coordination in the past was poor because five departments had worked without integration, according to an article in The Nation on Tuesday.
For migrant workers, the process should begin with quotas granted by authorities from neighbouring countries, followed by job placement and the issuance of work permits, registration of workplace and employment, and explanations of workers’ social security welfare conditions. Workers should be well informed of their working conditions and pay rates, said the official.
Key ministry officials will meet on Tuesday to discuss a master plan to implement the program.
Also, a government commission on anti-trafficking has been set up to tackle the problem, with all relevant agencies pooled together to integrate their operations under Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung.
Chalerm, speaking on Monday at the inauguration of the commission, said the operation would encourage illegal migrant workers now in hiding to come out, to register and to work legally in Thailand.
A Coordination Centre for the Farming Sector has been established with offices in the coastal provinces of Samut Sakhon, Rayong, Trat, Chumphon, Songkhla, Ranong and Satun.
Thai industries rely heavily on Burmese migrant workers, both legal and illegal.
The idea of Burmese migrant workers eventually returning to their homeland as its economy improves has set off alarms in Thailand, which depends on Burmese migrant labour in many industrial sectors.
In Trang Province in far south Thailand, leaders are predicting a looming labour shortage in the next few years, according to Trang’s Industry Council chairman Withee Supitak.
The industrial sector in the south formerly employed workers from northeastern Thailand, he said, but with more jobs there at the same income rate, fewer Thais are looking for jobs in the south.
The economy in Trang includes labour intensive farm products such as para rubber and palm oil, and orders from foreign countries have fallen, placing more pressure employers, he said.
Concerns about an exodus of Burmese migrant workers were heightened in May when Aung San Suu Kyi visited Thailand and focused on the rights and status of Burmese workers. She told Burmese migrants she would work to improve their lot in Thailand, but one day they would also be able to return home to find work.
There are up to 1 million undocumented Burmese migrants working in Thailand, according to some estimates.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 12:40 Mizzima News
South Korea is sending 700 tents to Arakan State to aid people displaced by the sectarian violence over the past seven weeks, after a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The tents will provide temporary shelter for about 3,000 refugees, according to Korean officials.
Sectarian clashes between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in western Burma have displaced at least 52,000 people, according to Burmese government figures.
By KO THET
Published: 18 July 2012
Undercover Thai police officers and anti-narcotic officials in Mae Sot recovered 8 million baht worth of Yaba pills from Kokko village during a sting operation on the Burmese side of the border.
The men involved in the illicit sale of narcotics were identified as 42-year-old Thai national Nai Suradat Sila and 33-year-old Naing Win of from Karen state.
Naing Win confessed that he is a member of a Karen Border Guard Force unit in Kokko village, which is run by former Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s battalion commander Major Saw Chit Thu.
The police also seized the gray coloured pickup truck that were used to carry the drugs, two mobile phones, 19,850 Yaba pills and 8 million baht that was handed over during the undercover operation.
There is a huge flow of Yaba coming in across the border and we usually bust them, but this time it’s quite huge, said a Mae Sot police official.
The two suspects said they purchased the Yaba from a wealthy resident in Kokko village, but both refused to answer additional questions.
In April, Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board published a most wanted list targeting 25 individuals involved in the narcotics trade in an attempt to slow the deluge of methamphetamines that are trafficked across the country’s northern border.
The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s Commander Na Kham Mwe was listed among the 25 listed suspects, while the rebel leader denied the allegations that he had participated in manufacturing or trading narcotics.
By KO HTWE
Published: 18 July 2012
National League for Democracy member in Shan state’s Lashio request to publicy commemorate Martyrs’ Day tomorrow has been officially rejected by the authorities.
NLD members in Lashio applied for a permit with the township police in accordance with the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, but the party’s township chairman Htun Shwe said the request was denied.
The group had asked to lay wreaths in front of the Martyrs’ monument on Thursday.
“[The police] rejected our request citing three points: that it wouldn’t be necessary to lay wreaths in the town as the national-level commemoration is only suitable to be held at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum [in Rangoon], the spot we proposed is right by the side of the Pyidaungsu Road so it could annoy people passing by and that the spot we chose was in a crowded area close to the market where a trade expo is usually held,” said Htun Shwe.
“We were rejected from doing what is allowed under the law so we assume this hints that there is no rule of law in the country yet.”
He said the permission should have be granted because the group was not seeking to disturb the peace and had followed legal protocol.
Similar requests to commemorate the holiday have been denied in Prome, Pegu and Naypyidaw.
By KATE KELLY
Published: 18 July 2012
Burma took another step forward in committing to improve resource revenue transparency generated from its rich oil, gas and mining sectors on Tuesday by announcing plans to sign up to a set of global standards.
The former pariah nation plans to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a sign of its commitment to the reform process, said Jonas Moberg, head of the EITI International Secretariat.
“Many countries haven’t seen huge benefits from their natural resources,” Moberg told reporters at the press conference at the British Council headquarters in Rangoon on Tuesday.
“We’ve seen a paradox of plenty or a resource curse,” he said, adding that without the right checks and balances in place, rich resource reserves have sometimes led to corruption, imbalanced economies while fuelling and contributing to conflicts.
Moberg said the Burmese government’s commitment to EITI was a “reflection to what appears to be a genuine reform effort” and he was “very encouraged” by the government’s response that was “well above expectations.”
The initiative serves as a tool for the public to be able to better hold the government to account for how it is managing revenue from these sectors, Moberg told reporters in Rangoon at the close of a two-day visit to Burma where he met with senior government officials, including Minister of Industry Soe Thein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and several civil society organisations.
EITI sets the global standard for transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors and has been adopted by 36 countries, including several countries in the region.
As a voluntary initiative implemented by governments, EITI requires companies to publish all payments made and governments to disclose sums received, while an independent administrator oversees the final figures to ensure they match up.
Moberg stressed that while the Burmese government’s commitment to EITI would help rebuild public trust and confidence, it was just one small step on the road towards reforms and genuine democracy.
“Transparency is not an end in itself,” said Moberg.
“It is a means to other ends, it is a means to improved accountability, to fight corruption and hopefully to build trust and confidence amongst citizens in how this so often so critically important sector is managed and governed,” he said.
Burma’s President Thein Sein and Minister of Industry Soe Thein, who also runs the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) that oversees all new foreign investment, have been vocal in their support of the EITI.
“We are preparing to be a signatory to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to ensure that there is maximum transparency in these sectors and try to make sure the benefits go to the vast majority of the people and not to a small group,” Thein Sein told the Financial Times last week.
“EITI is one part of the puzzle of effectively managing natural resources,” said Jared Bissinger, a PhD student at Australia’s Macquarie University who is studying Burma’s economy.
“But it’s not everything. You also need a well-informed populous, a strong civil society that can help hold government accountable, and mechanisms through which these groups can hold the government accountable,” he said.
“It’s also helpful if the government can spend resources efficiently and produce tangible benefits for the people.”
However, standard EITI reports don’t extend to cover social spending and countries aren’t required to report on how they spend the money earned from extractive industries, said EITI country manager Dyveke Rogan.
Resource revenue allocation is a government responsibility in accordance with the initiative, although in some cases countries had voluntarily extended their reporting to include information on how resource revenue was spent on local communities.
“There are countries where the reporting covers some sub-national transfers such as revenue-sharing agreements between central and regional governments,” said Rogan.
“But that’s really up to the multi-stakeholder group and the commission to decide whether they want to implement those things,” she said.
Maw Htun, an independent researcher on foreign investment said the Burmese government’s move will be welcomed by the many international companies eyeing the Southeast Asian nation’s vast natural gas reserves and mining sector.
“Previously, such companies would face heavy reputational risks for engaging with Myanmar [Burma] due to concerns over rights abuses, lack of transparency and corruption, but the announcement to sign up to the EITI will be seen as a positive step for both the government and for foreign investors,” said Maw Htun said.
“Transparency is becoming a precondition for such investments,” said the researcher.
Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi previously requested foreign investors not to engage with a state-owned enterprise with close links to the military government Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), due to concerns over lack of transparency.
Last week the US government signalled the green light for American firms to invest in Burma, including the notoriously murky MOGE, on the conditions firms adhered to strict reporting requirements.
However, Moberg said he’d raised the issue of MOGE complying with international best practice guidelines – through engagement with the EITI – with Suu Kyi during his two-day visit to the country.
“We discussed this topic and I think she too would say it’s a good start – but it’s not the place to stop,” he told reporters.
Open and transparent reports on resource revenue will also be powerful tools of reference for communities, parliamentarians and civil society organizations, said Maw Htun, adding there were yet-untested opportunities for independent and active civil society participation as part of the multi-stakeholder group.
However some foreign analysts have expressed doubt over the ability of the Burmese government to effectively create a functional, independent multi-stakeholder group to oversee the EITI process, stating lack of capacity and pervasive corruption as two key issues.
“It’s extremely problematic that civil society requires a significant amount of capacity building in order for EITI to function properly. In addition, the government certainly lacks the technical capacity to properly negotiate the parameters of EITI and to comply,” said one International expert in conflict analysis who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Given the high level of corruption and pervasive crony-ism, it’s hard for EITI to exist to its fullest potential,” the analyst said. “These concerns are not necessarily the ‘fault’ of EITI but rather the fact that Burma was/is not ready for a large amount of rapid investment.”
-Kate Kelly is a pseudonym for a journalist working inside Burma.