Jul 22nd, 2012
10 missing, 1 dead in Myanmar ferry accident
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Five university football players and their coach are among at least 10 people missing after a passenger ferry accident in northern Myanmar that left at one person dead.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Saturday that 73 people were rescued in the accident in the Irrawaddy River in Kachin state.
It said the ferry developed engine trouble, drifted through rapid waters under heavy rain and hit some docked vessels before sinking Friday.
The football team members had been travelling to the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina for an inter-university tournament.
People living along Myanmar’s major rivers and in the vast southern delta region often travel and transport goods by boat because of the lower cost and the inaccessibility of many areas by road.
By Qiuyi Tan | Posted: 21 July 2012 1521 hrs
YANGON: Authorities in Myanmar are looking to the Singapore model as the country ramps up efforts to develop a skilled workforce.
They are working with educational institution Singapore Polytechnic to set standards for skills training.
At a training centre in Yangon, young men are learning the basics of welding and electrical work.
But when they complete the course, their training certificate won’t exactly meet national standards.
Not because they’re not qualified – but because national standards are still in the making for Myanmar.
Yin Yin Aye, who heads the Swiss training centre, said a multitude of organisations offer vocational training in the country, and all offer different qualifications.
“Sometimes there’s good in diversity, but if we have nationalised certification, and we all know the same standards, the (training) quality and their (workers’) skill level will be more… enhanced.”
Deputy Labour Minister U Myint Thein said the country is gearing up for an influx of foreign investment, and also for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ target of having a free flow of skilled labour by 2015.
“Myanmar workers will go overseas, and many workers will also come to Myanmar. For this free flow of labour, it is important to have a set of national skills standards, which is a form of quality assurance for employers,” he said.
Setting national standards is part of the government’s extensive reform of its dated labour laws from the 1950s.
It is an effort to increase the mobility of skilled workers, and in turn, raise the wages of the Myanmar workforce.
With a grant from Temasek Foundation, Singapore Polytechnic is lending its technical expertise to this process.
Polytechnic principal Tan Hang Cheong said: “SP has been helping many countries in the region to upgrade their technical and vocational training. I think we should have the experience now.”
Temasek Foundation CEO Benedict Cheong said: “All across Asia, there’s this group of middle and technical managers that you need to build up within your communities. You can’t just have leaders from universities and higher education institutions, you need a group of equally trained, equally skilled people at different levels.”
A skilled workforce won’t just benefit the country. The Deputy Labour Minister said Myanmar’s neighbours also stand to gain from the golden land’s skilled manpower exports.
The Nation on Sunday July 22, 2012 1:00 am
Authorities in Myanmar expect that 92 Thais, arrested on July 4 for encroaching on forestland opposite Ranong’s Kraburi district, may face six months in jail without suspension – the punishment given to three Ranong residents arrested for encroaching on Myanmar forest in 2009, an informed source said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Army officers in Ranong speedily contacted their Myanmar counterparts to check a rumour that five more Thais were detained on Friday trying to retrieve cars, backhoes and motorcycles left across the border.
Interrogation of the 92 Thais, now detained in Koh Song, is nearly done, and they are due to hear a verdict on their case next Friday. The source said it was likely that the 92, initially charged with illegal entry and encroaching on forestland, would face six months in jail. Certain individuals may also face punishment for other charges being investigated by Myanmar officials, if more evidence is found against them.
Myanmar officials considered charging the Thais with illegal entry, encroaching on forestland without permission, growing narcotic plants (marijuana and kratom), possessing war weapons, and obstructing officials from performing their duty.
Ranong disaster prevention chief Manas Pisutthikritaya affirmed it was likely the Thais would get a six-month jail term based on the 2009 case.
As for the rumour the Myanmar army had nabbed five more Thais on Friday allegedly trying to take back relatives’ vehicles, Colonel Pornsak Pulsawat, commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment Task Force, confirmed that 100 Thai cars, backhoes and motorcycles had been left in Myanmar. But he had no information about more arrests, so they would keep asking.
In related news, Ranong Chamber of Commerce president Nareumol Khoraphum said Myanmar has given the green light for foreigners to lease large areas of farmland in southern Myanmar, around Tanintharyi Division, via joint ventures with local businesspeople at 60:40 or 50:50. Citing information from a recent visit about farm leases for oil palm and rubber plantations, she said the attractions were cheap labour and a long-term lease of 10 to 30 years.
However, there were several conditions to be studied further – such as the requirement for knowledge transfer to local people about farming, rubber tapping and rubber sheet making, as well as detailed regulations for bringing produce out of Myanmar.
Her office would talk soon with Koh Song Chamber of Commerce about details before informing the Thai businesspeople about the opportunity, as there was about 100,000 rai of Myanmar farmland near Ranong that might be good for an oil palm plantation. She said Malaysians had reportedly got concessions to at least 200,000 rai in Tanintharyi Division to grow oil palm.
92 Thai Detainees To Be Sent To Myanmar Court
BANGKOK, July 21 (Bernama) – Thai officials said Saturday the 92 Thai nationals detained in Myanmar since early this month for alleged land encroachment are expected to be sent to court next week, Thai News Agency reported.
The officials said according to Myanmar authorities, investigations into the case have been completed and the detainees would likely be charged for entering Myanmar illegally and encroaching a Myanmar forest.
Each detainee is expected to receive a six-month imprisonment, similar to a previous verdict imposed on three Thai intruders in 2009, Xinhua news agency quoted the officials as saying.
The 92 Thais were arrested by Myanmar authorities on July 4 after entering an area opposite Kra Buri district in Thailand’s southern Ranong province in order to plant rubber trees.
New HIV Cases Decline By Half In India: UN Report
NEW DELHI, July 20 (Bernama) — New HIV cases among adults have declined by half in India since 2000, according to a new United Nations report which praised India’s contribution to AIDS response through manufacture of generic antiretroviral drugs.
Though rate of HIV transmission in Asia is slowing down, at least 1,000 new infections among adults continue to be reported in the continent every day in 2011.
An estimated 3.6 million adults were newly infected with HIV in Asia in 2011, considerably fewer than 4.4 million estimated for 2001, Press Trust of India (PTI) said citing the new UNAIDS report.
“This reflects slowing HIV incidence in the larger epidemics, with seven countries accounting for more than 90 per cent of people (in Asia) living with HIV – China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam,” the report ‘Together We Will End AIDS’ said.
The UNAIDS lauded India for doing “particularly well” in halving the number of adults newly infected between 2000 and 2009 and said some smaller countries in Asia like Afghanistan and Philippines are experiencing increases in the number of people acquiring HIV infection.
The report says India has contributed enormously to the AIDS response.
“With 80 per cent of these drugs being generics purchased in India, several billion dollars have been saved over the past five years. The country is also committed to new forms of partnership with low-income countries through innovative support mechanisms and South-South cooperation,” the UNAIDS report says.
It also points out that India already provides substantial support to neighbouring countries and other Asian countries – in 2011, it allocated US$430 million to 68 projects in Bhutan across key socio-economic sectors, including health, education and capacity-building.
In 2011 at Addis Ababa, the Government of India further committed to accelerating technology transfer between its pharmaceutical sector and African manufacturers.
By Tim Daiss
Posted on Jul. 20, 2012
China’s oil and gas pipeline in Myanmar is making progress and projected for completion by mid 2013. Yet all is not well for the Middle Kingdom with its long-time ally Myanmar. Despite spending billions on the pipeline and trying to appease local villagers and farmers that had to be relocated to make way for the pipeline, the massive project has created a backlash in Myanmar and even globally. International NGOs, human rights organizations and environmental groups have stepped up media attacks against the pipeline with one goal in mind: To stop it before it can be completed. Many think that their efforts are futile but recent history dictates otherwise. Once public support in Myanmar is solidified it can be a powerful force.
Critics claim that nearly all the gas involved will be exported to generate power in China despite the fact that roughly 75 percent of the Myanmar population doesn’t have access to electricity from the national grid. They make a good point. In May protests broke out in the streets of Rangoon over persistent power outages. Some protesters clashed with police, drawing international media coverage at a time when Myanmar’s new government is trying to bring in fresh foreign direct investment (FDI) and make good on promises of greater political reform. The government, scrambling for solutions, could only resort to stop-gap measures by ordering three 120-megawatt gas turbines from Japan. Likely those measures will not appease a frustrated populace for long.
The Chinese aim in building the pipeline, in addition to feeding its insatiable appetite for hydrocarbons, is also geopolitical. By bringing in oil from the Middle East to the Myanmar coast, a portion of China’s crude imports will bypass the Strait of Malacca.
The oil and gas pipelines will run parallel from Myanmar’s west coast, through the country’s mid-section before entering China at the border city of Ruili in Yunnan province. A crude oil terminal will also be built on the west coast of Myanmar’s Kyaukryu. The gas pipeline will receive gas from the offshore Shwe gas fields.
The oil pipeline will be 771 kilometers (479 miles) long while the natural gas pipeline will extend further to Kunming and Guizhou and Guangxi in China, running a total of 2,806 kilometers (1,700 miles).
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) places Myanmar’s proven natural gas reserves as of 2010 at ten trillion cubic feet (Tcf). However, Myanmar’s Minister of Energy Than Htay told Reuters in January that his country’s natural gas reserves are at 22.5 Tcf, almost double the 11.8 Tcf estimated by oil major BP in its 2011 statistical review. Most analysts doubt these inflated figures, pointing to inadequate research data and a lack of modern surveying over the last 20 years.
According to Oilwatch Southeast Asia, a regional grouping of NGOs, Myanmar is exporting roughly one billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas per day and this will grow to over 1.6 bcf per day with new sales commitments to China and Thailand. Currently, natural gas from Myanmar accounts for around 30 percent of Thailand’s consumption, mostly used in power generation.
Myanmar’s natural gas exports pulled in $3.563 billion in the fiscal year 2011-12, up about $640 million from $2.92 billion in 2009-10, Xinhua News Agency reported. The IMF forecasts that Myanmar’s gas revenue will rise to $4 billion in 2013.
PR war intensifies
The PR war over the pipeline has gained momentum in recent weeks pitting the Shwe Gas Project, a watchdog group based in Thailand that opposes what they call the “exploitation of Myanmar’s natural gas reserves,” against CNPC interests.
On June 21 Irrawaddy News Magazine, which reports on Myanmar and Southeast Asia, ran a feature article titled “With Pipelines at Stake, Companies Try PR Approach.”
“ [The pipeline] is a great boon to Burma’s [Myanmar’s] powerful neighbor, but of more dubious benefit to its people,” Irrawaddy wrote. “With this in mind the two companies behind the project, SEAGP and SEACOP, have mounted a concerted effort to counter perceptions that the pipelines are little more than largesse to the main foreign backers of Burma’s [Myanmar’s] former junta.”
Allegations against abuses abound, including forced displacement, militarization and conflict in northern Shan State, loss of livelihoods, environmental degradation, lack of public information and local participation, and inadequate benefits for local communities.
One pressing allegation is that displaced farmers have not been adequately compensated.
“Widespread land confiscation to make way for the pipeline corridor has already left countless people landless and jobless, while others along the pipeline are facing human rights violations and exploitation,” the Shwe Gas Movement claimed in a statement.
In response, China fired back. Chengun Dong, the deputy manager of SEACOP’s jetty project on Maday Island, near Kyaukyu, where construction on the pipeline began, disputed the claims of the Shwe Gas Movement, stating that the group’s website publishes the wrong information.
“We also donated $8 million for the first year and pledged to spend $2 million for each subsequent year for the next 30 years to support the education and health care of local residents along the pipelines,” Dong said.
“Despite fears that the project could be derailed by popular opposition, work on the pipelines is moving forward at a steady pace, and is on track to meet its projected completion date. Currently the gas pipeline project is 70 percent complete, while the crude oil jetty is about 50 percent finished,” added Dong.
CNPC states on its website that the pipeline project team handled land acquisition issues based on the principle of “voluntary decision” and “minimal impact on farmland,” and paid compensation for the converted land in a fair, transparent and legal manner.
The company added that they rerouted the pipeline whenever the land conversion scheme had been declined by local residents or wherever a stupa [a monumental pile of earth in memory of Buddha or a Buddhist saint], temple, school, graveyard or wildlife reserve stands on the route.
The fear for China cannot be exaggerated. China has already lost once in the court of public opinion in Myanmar. On September 30, 2011 a broad-based public movement prompted the president of Myanmar to suspend, during his tenure, the Chinese backed Myitsone Dam project, angering Beijing. If a similar scenario plays out with the pipeline, particularly since so much Chinese money has already been spent on its construction, the blow to Chinese plans for greater energy security and in particular the damage to Myanmar-China bilateral relations could be disastrous.
The Japan Times – Girl in complex surgery discharged
Kyodo OKAYAMA — A 6-year-old girl from Myanmar who successfully underwent surgery in May for a complex congenital urological disorder left a national hospital Friday in the city of Okayama.
Ni Ni Min Lwin, who was born with her anus, urethra and vagina all connected, has been recovering well since the surgery at the Okayama Medical Center, officials at the center said.
The girl underwent an operation shortly after she was born for treatments such as the attachment of an artificial anus, but suffered from constant urine leakage, the officials said. She came to Japan with help from the medical aid group Japan Heart, as it was difficult to treat her condition with facilities available in Myanmar, they said.
She underwent an operation that lasted about 20 hours from May 25 to the early morning of the following day.
Displacement in Rakhine State, Situation Report No. 5
Report: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
I. HIGHLIGHTS/KEY PRIORITIES
The Government indicates that over 70,000 people are currently displaced.
An inter-agency multi-sectoral rapid needs assessment was conducted in 114 locations in four townships (102 in Sittwe, 4 in Rathedaung, 7 in Maungdaw, 1 in Pauktaw), covering 104,719 IDPs. Major needs are identified in food, shelter, NFI, WASH and health.
By STEVE TICKNER / THE IRRAWADDY| July 21, 2012
If you are familiar with Asian cities, one of the first things that will strike you in Rangoon is the complete absence of motorcycles in the streets.
A strictly enforced ban on motorbikes and mopeds—the first choice of transport in virtually every Asian city—gives the city’s road system a strange appearance of calm and order; though it apparently does little to relieve the serious gridlock during peak-hour traffic.
For a visitor to the city, the most practical option is to flag down one of the city taxis, which range from dilapidated wrecks to an occasional newer compact model. The drivers are usually friendly, chatty and helpful, though they face the significant problem of a saturated market and frequently complain about competitiveness leading to serious price undercutting.
Fares are relatively cheap—normally around one to three US dollars within the city center. However, the low fares do come at a price. Very little revenue is re-invested in maintenance, air conditioning is rare, and windows and even doors often don’t work or simply don’t exist. In a Rangoon taxi, it seems, you pay your dollar and take your chances.
For the local population the most practical alternative is the bicycle, an option to warm the heart of any Western environmentalist, while for the elderly or less energetic there are numerous rickshaws available for local journeys.
For Rangoon residents, longer trips are a different matter altogether. Both the bus and rail systems are antiquated, insufficient and strained to maximum capacity. The local rail system is particularly run-down and consists mostly of one circular route around the city, leaving significant areas without any access to a local rail network. The carriages are positively ancient, with wooden benches for seats, heavily rusted and seemingly held together by numerous coats of colourful paint. For a visitor wanting to take a leisurely look at urban Rangoon, a round-trip will last about three hours and offers a wonderful insight into Rangoon life.
The more common option is a smoke-billowing ancient bus jammed tight with passengers. But good news is nigh—the rickety old buses may be on their way to the scrapyard since a Japanese company announced it was exporting a fleet of 3,000 new buses for public transport use in Rangoon under a joint venture with Burma’s Ministry of Transportation.
There are several river options—look out for the smaller traditional Burmese boats known as ngyet, meaning “bird,” so named for the boats’ distinctive winged stern. These birds work the waters of the Rangoon River. Cross-river ferry services are available for workers going to and from the city and its outlying areas.
Unlike Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River which is a vital and well-used part of that city’s transport system, this water-borne potential seems largely under-exploited in Rangoon, remaining utilized mainly as a port of trade and commerce. However, it does play a role as a cool and relaxing place for tourists to spend a few hours.
Then of course, there is walking, though the city’s high humidity can make this a less appealing option for most, not to mention the city’s drivers apparent total disregard for pedestrian safety, and the awful pot-holed sidewalks.
Many Burmese enjoy a quiet stroll around pastoral places such as Inya Lake, also a popular spot for jogging and exercise. In the cooler evenings, young romantically inclined couples stroll the shores and watch the sunset.
By MAY LAY / THE IRRAWADDY| July 21, 2012
Burmese high street banks are preparing to offer credit card transactions to facilitate smooth money transfers in time for the 2013 Southeast Asian Games, claim financial experts.
“Foreigners will not need to bring money in a bag. They just need to bring their cards—Visa or MasterCard,” said Zaw Linn Htut, managing director of Kanbawza Bank.
Currently, national banks must register for the right to have an “acquiring” cards system, which allows transactions with foreign credit cards, and an “issuing” cards system, in order to provide domestic customers with their own cards.
“We have to do many steps to reach the level of introducing issuing cards,” said Phey Myint, managing director of the Cooperative Bank. “We have to try to produce debit and credit card systems first. After that we will try for an acquiring card system.
“We want to have not only an acquiring card system for foreigners but also issuing cards for local people.”
The vast majority of countries around the world permit the use of Visa and MasterCard but Burma is lagging behind due to its antiquated financial system and decades of Western economic sanctions. Burma’s Central Bank will be in charge of organizing the arrival of Visa and MasterCard with implementation by local banks through the Myanmar Payment Union.
Observers say the move will provide a huge boost to Burma’s fledgling yet potentially massive tourism industry. Currently foreigners must bring all funds for their visit with them in flawless notes of US or Singapore dollars or euros which are then changed for local kyat at banks or exchange counters.
The slightest crease, smudge or blemish makes foreign currencies unacceptable to official Burmese banks and only possible to exchange at black market lenders at a lower rate. ATMs can be found in big commercial centers but do not accept foreign cards at the present time.
“Kanbawza run ATMs in Yangon, Pyin Oo Lwin, Naypyidaw and Mandalay. In fact, we have to do many steps to develop a financial system. We have to extend ATMs to run at all branches of Kanbawza,” said Zaw Linn Htut.
Burma is currently undergoing economic reform including the establishment of a stock exchange, passing updated investment legislation and the introduction of foreign currency bank accounts.
“Without using credit cards, it will be difficult to do business in Burma. How will we move money quickly?” asked Anthony Nelson, associate director of the US-Asean business council at a press conference on Monday. “It is one of the essential things for a developed business environment.”
By MAY LAY / THE IRRAWADDY| July 20, 2012
Burma’s businesspeople say they are preparing for the realization of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 by setting up public limited companies in the belief that the country’s stock exchange will drive economic development.
Economics experts in the former pariah state say that 96 percent of businesses in Burma are SMEs (Small and Medium Entrepreneurs), which will not be able to survive once the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) law is put in place.
“The stock market is main engine that will drive economic development without having to borrow from banks. It follows therefore that public companies are essential,” said economist Hla Maung.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy, a major shareholder in the Myanmar Agribusiness Public Corporation (MAPCO), said, “Assuming the FDI is followed by mass investment, local businesspeople have only three options: to sell off their businesses; to change industries; or to cooperate. I am guessing that setting up new public companies is the right way to complete the move to real economic development.”
According to a Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) spokesperson, there were no more than 21 public limited companies in the country before the 2011-12 fiscal year. In the last year, seven new firms have gone public, a 33 percent increase. They are: MAPCO; Myanmar Citizens Bank; Myanmar Agricultural & General Development; Myanmar Edible Oil Industrial and General Development Public Ltd; FMI Company; and Gold Industrial.
“The authorized capital cost to set up a public limited company is 500 million kyat (US $560,000),” he said.
Publicly traded companies first appeared in Burma in 1990. However, according to official data from the MIC, only one percent of them are privately owned companies.