YANGON – Aung Soe, deputy director general of the commerce ministry’s trade promotion department, told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we are still mainly exporting primary products, but we hope this is the beginning of an increase in productivity and competitiveness.” But billions of dollars worth of logs, gems and opium have been smuggled out of Myanmar in recent decades, distorting one of the world’s poorest economies but guaranteeing huge wealth for connected elites. Meanwhile, owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, the majority of the country’s businesses, have typically found it difficult to get bank loans due to stringent borrowing requirements, denying them vital funds to grow their businesses or to finance exports.
YANGON – In Myanmar, about 1.1 million kids start school each year in Myanmar, but of these only about 10 per cent finish high school, mostly those from cities and better-off families. Only one third of children from rural poor households manage to finish middle school. Such attrition makes it hard for companies who need educated, trained staff. “Businesses say that the second-biggest constraint to working in Myanmar is human resources,” said Christopher Spohr, an Asian Development Bank researcher.
YANGON – In a rare discussion of the party’s economic thinking, Han Tha Myint said the NLD wants to press on with the liberalization of the banking sector. In October 2014, nine foreign banks were awarded restricted licenses to operate in Myanmar as part of a gradual opening up to foreign investment. Foreign banks are limited to a single branch each, cannot serve individuals or locally owned companies, and are prohibited from making loans in kyat, the local currency. Han Tha Myint maintained the NLD would loosen these restrictions, saying, “It will be much better for the economy.”
YANGON – The emergence of malarial parasites resistant to the front-line treatment artemisinin could put hundreds of millions of people are at risk, according to new research in The Lancet. Drug-resistant malaria was found just 25km from the Indian border in northwestern Myanmar, a country that is now considered “the frontline in the battle against artemisinin resistance as it forms a gateway for resistance to spread to the rest of the world,” according to Dr. Charles Woodrow of the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, senior author of the new study.
YANGON – After 3 months of protest, a Feb. 10 deal on education reform allows activists help revise a divisive education law passed last year. Zaw Htay, a senior officer in President Thein Sein’s administration, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the deal between the government and the protestors was historic. “There has never been a compromise like this between the government and students in our history,” said Zaw Htay. But whether or not the education stand-off is over will depend on how parliamentarians react to the revised law. “So far, this is just a paper agreement, so we will wait and see what the parliament does,” lawyer Robert San Aung told the Nikkei Asia Review.
YANGON – Standing next to Suu Kyi on Nov. 14, Obama said that barring the NLD leader “doesn’t make much sense.” But he did not raise the issue when speaking later at Yangon University. Nor did Suu Kyi’s eligibility come up during an hour-long question and answer session with students after the speech. Opinions differ about the importance of the clause. Lamin Oo, a Myanmar filmmaker whose name was mentioned by Obama during his speech, said afterwards that “if that issue was an important one for [young people] it would have come up in questions.” However, Kyaw Thu, a former actor turned philanthropist, said the constitution should be changed to allow Suu Kyi stand. “Obama should push for this with Thein Sein,” Kyaw Thu said.
YANGON – Myanmar has jailed several journalists this year, while one reporter, Ko Par Gyi, was murdered by the army in the country’s east. Some new laws have been heavily criticised, while calls to amend the country’s constitution, which gives the army a veto-wielding 25 percent of parliament seats, have not prompted any change yet.”I think we certainly did see a lot of reforms in 2012 and 2013, but 2014 has perhaps added an element of realism, with the concerns over the constitutional amendment process,” Melissa Crouch, Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore, told The Edge Review.
YANGON – “Our education system is really bad and we need to reform it,” Phyoe Phyoe Aung, a student union leader, told The Edge Review. “Before our education system was wholly controlled by the government, and that effect is still being felt,” added the 26 year old former political prisoner.
YANGON – Rip-Off Rangoon, where a plate of Lok Lak about half as good as you’d get in Phnom Penh costs US$10. Where a handful of veneered restaurants and bars slap on an extra couple thousand kyat, every few months, for diminishing portions of an exponentially-depreciating quality of fare. Refusing to join the race to the bottom is The Phayre’s Gastrobar a new restaurant with nighthawk aspirations next door to the famous Pansodan Gallery.
YANGON – After partnering with KDDI and Sumitomo, Myanmar’s state-backed MPT in early September launched the first batch of 5 million $1.50 3G mobile SIM cards that it plans to sell this year. The release of the cards created minor havoc in Yangon’s downtown shopping district and elsewhere, drawing long queues.