Myanmar Update: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Passes Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act

Myanmar Update | February 9, 2018
Authors: Matt Solomon and Jack Myint
 
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Passes Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act

On February 8, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act, authored by U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), to impose targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on senior Myanmar military officials. The Council’s analysis of the Bill can be accessed here. Key provisions in the legislation call for targeted sanctions against senior Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) leaders affiliated with the military’s past and ongoing operations in Rakhine State, including the addition of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and two other generals to the Specifically Designated Nationals (SDN) list, and supporting economic and security sector reform, while encouraging Myanmar’s full transition of power to a civilian government. Senator Cardin insisted that the legislation is “not meant to hurt the people of Myanmar and its economy, but instead hold specific senior military officials accountable.” Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Marco Rubio, (R-FL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Bob Casey (D-PA) also cosponsored the legislation.

The Bill would require a majority of the full Senate vote for it to become legislation, and it will be up to Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to entertain this vote. It is unclear when and if the vote will take place. A companion Bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. On the executive side, President Trump issued an executive order on December 20, imposing visa and economic sanctions on Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe per the Global Magnitsky Act for “credible evidence of [his] activities, including allegations against Burmese security forces of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrest as well as the widespread burning of villages.”

Meanwhile, the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments have been moving slowly towards the repatriation of Rakhine’s refugees. Myanmar Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Dr. Win Myat Aye, who has been tasked with leading this initiative, claims that full repatriation will be achieved within two years. Concerns have been raised, however, about the Myanmar government’s ability to ensure the safety of all those returning. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has also been actively involved in the process, taking the lead on two key initiatives: (1) forming the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine, which has raised over US$70 million from leading local businesses to fund living assistance and promote economic opportunities for repatriates; and (2) forming a panel of international statesmen and scholars, chaired by former Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, to advise and oversee the Government’s implementation of the recommendations put forth by the Kofi Annan Commission on Rakhine.

Recent news reports uncovering mass graves in Rakhine have shaken up the international community and are seen to bolster claims of ethnic cleansing. On January 10, Commander-in-Chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged the killing of “10 Bengali terrorists” by security forces and local villagers in response to the “several threats and provocations by Bengali terrorists to ethnic Buddhist villagers.” He assured that an investigation is underway and that those responsible for breaking any rules of engagement will bear the consequences. On February 1, the U.S. State Department called on Myanmar authorities to launch an “independent, credible investigation [with the help of forensic experts] into allegations of atrocities in the Northern Rakhine State” to get a comprehensive picture of exactly what transpired.

Myanmar Drafts Digital Economy Master Plan

In an effort to develop and regulate the country’s booming digital economy, Myanmar’s Digital Economy Development Committee (DEDC) is drafting a Digital Economy Development Master Plan. According to committee member U Mya Moe Aung, the master plan will be implemented upon completion of a short-term (2-3 years) and a medium-term (3-5 years) working programs. First inaugurated last July, the DEDC’s mission was to upgrade the country’s economic environment and digital technology to spearhead Myanmar’s participation in the ASEAN digital hub. Sectors including agriculture, livestock, tourism, and SMEs are especially encouraged to make use of technology to compete with neighboring countries, commented U Mya Moe Aung. Myanmar currently reaches 89% in internet penetration with an estimated 46.39 million internet users, and boasts a high percentage of smartphone users nationally. Technology businesses and professionals however remain concerned about the lack of government support in terms of developing a digital infrastructure within the country and encouraging entrepreneurship opportunities. Given various capability challenges, it is critical that Myanmar collaborates closely with the private sector both domestically and internationally to support the emerging digital economy and move the industry forward.

 
 
 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Regional Affairs
Japan to boost help on the environment

National Affairs
Hatred and despair in an ancient kingdom
After Targeted Sanctions, It’s Time to Engage With Myanmar’s Moderates
How the Suu Kyi-Richardson Clash Unfolded 
Molotov Cocktail Thrown at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Residence
Myanmar’s military chief’s popularity on the rise
National survey finds ‘dramatic’ drop in trust under NLD
Myanmar’s President’s call for constitutional change is economics disguised as politics
Myanmar Businesses Support Rebuilding Rakhine State
U.S. Advisor Resigns From Myanmar's 'Whitewash' Crisis Panel
Myanmar arrests MP after Rakhine riot

Customs
New self-assessment system for car imports to apply from 2018 onwards

Defense & Security
What’s Behind Myanmar’s Big New Military Exercise?
Congress calls for Myanmar officers to be booted from U.S. humanitarian drills
Indonesia to help Myanmar deal with terrorism

Economics
In Myanmar, private sector under pressure to stand with Rohingya
Myanmar investors betting on the crypto-bubble
American chamber gets ready for business
Pristine Ayeyarwady coastline flagged for new $10bn industrial zone
Foreign trade volume reaches over US$26 billion until end of January
China and Myanmar launch poverty reduction project
Prominent US law firm quits on Myanmar
Singapore makes largest investments in real estate sector
200,000 jobs created under NLD: government
Interest rates to remain unchanged: Central Bank
Myanmar's industrial park project attracts 500 mln USD investment - Xinhua | English.news.cn
Total Yangon investments hit $11 billion in five months | Eleven Myanmar
Reviewing the economy in 2017
Kyat hits strongest level against dollar in over a year
Real estate sector to pick up on back of foreign demand

Energy
Does Myanmar’s LNG power plan stack up?
Government considering use of LNG to meet electricity target
Energy firms head for the exit as offshore blocks hit hurdles
Myanmar to double electricity capacity by 2021 to fill power shortages
MOEE to provide 3,600 MW of additional power in four years
The weekend read: Myanmar’s solar lifeline

Food & Agriculture
Irrawaddy Region Approves New Agriculture Minister
Rice trade plummets at Yangon's commodity exchange due to fraud fears
Farmers block road to halt rock mining operation in Kayin

Health & Life Sciences
Japan's elder care providers head to Myanmar
Speculation Mounts over President U Htin Kyaw’s Health
3MDG to give $5.13 million for nutrition, sexual health
Medical group to raise alarm about malaria

ICT
Myanmar drafts digital economy master plan
Myanmar backslides on freedom of expression: digital rights stakeholders
Private equity investors eye Myanmar’s digital economy as interest rises

Infrastructure
KNU demands negotiations over planned highway linking Thai border, Dawei SEZ
New int'l airport project in central Myanmar in progress
Construction sector under threat from high tax, interest rates

Legislation
MCCAIN, CARDIN BILL ON BURMA ACCOUNTABILITY PASSES SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE - Press Releases - United States Senator John McCain
Draft YCDC Law to drive Yangon growth submitted in Parliament
Ministry issues first ECC but online database urged
Government Orders Cut in Teak Production, Bans Private Timber Operations
Labour law reform is key to sustainable development for Myanmar - Forum
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Japan to boost help on the environment The Myanmar Times 18th Jan 2018
Myanmar and Japan will soon sign a memorandum to promote cooperation on environmental issues, said U Hla Maung Thein, director general of the Department of Environment, on the sidelines of a wastewater management workshop held in Nay Pyi Taw. “We have sent the memorandum to the government and once it gives the green light, the signing will follow immediately,” he told The Myanmar Times on Tuesday.  According to the director general, if the approval comes in January the memorandum of cooperation can be signed as early as next month. The prime targets are improvement of air quality, taking steps to reduce global warming and climate change, conservation of biodiversity, and water quality control, said U Hla Maung Thein.

National Affairs

Hatred and despair in an ancient kingdom BBC News 8th Feb 2018
Climbing a small, scrubby hill behind the little riverside town of Mrauk U, a dreamy landscape reveals itself, of centuries-old stupas wreathed in mist, dotted with farming communities. Anywhere else this spectacular monument would surely be overrun by tourists. But in Mrauk U just a handful of foreigners have dozens of Buddhist temples to themselves. The site lies in Rakhine state, an isolated region at the western corner of Myanmar, with poor infrastructure and, in recent years, terrible headlines.

After Targeted Sanctions, It’s Time to Engage With Myanmar’s Moderates The Diplomat 8th Feb 2018
The sudden and dramatic resignation of high-profile U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson from Aung San Suu Kyi’s international advisory panel on Rakhine state is a stark reminder of the fraught circumstances surrounding the civilian government’s mismanagement of Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis. It should also serve as a clarion call for U.S. policymakers struggling to maintain leverage as the country teeters on the verge of a return to military dictatorship. In late January, Bangladesh and Myanmar announced that they would postpone a repatriation process they had agreed to in November. Bangladesh insisted that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) be involved in verifying that resettlement conforms with international law and protects the rights and safety of over 600,000 displaced Rohingya.

How the Suu Kyi-Richardson Clash Unfolded  The Irrawaddy 1st Feb 2018
When State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson met again late last month, a public row was probably the last thing these two old friends expected. Their friendship dates back to 1994, when she was under house arrest and he was one of the first visitors outside of her immediate family that she received. Since 2012, Richardson’s Center for Global Engagement has conducted multi-party political and governance training in Myanmar. When Richardson was among five prominent international figures appointed to the Advisory Board for the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State last year, the 71-year-old was a natural choice. Given his long involvement with and apparent knowledge of Myanmar, his credentials seemed sound.

Molotov Cocktail Thrown at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Residence The Irrawaddy 1st Feb 2018
The Yangon residence of Myanmar’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Bahan Township came under attack on Thursday morning while she was in Naypyitaw. According to initial reports, a man threw a bottle of petrol into the compound of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence No. 54 on University Avenue Road between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. on Thursday. “It took place around 6:30 at dawn. As far as I know, he threw a Molotov cocktail over the wall into her compound and ran away,” U Thaung Htut, a Bahan Township lawmaker, told The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar’s military chief’s popularity on the rise Southasian Monitor 30th Jan 2018
Myanmar’s military chief has become the crucial man in the country’s increasing political crisis. While he and the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, may not trust each other, he has become increasingly her indispensible ally amid the increasing international turmoil surrounding the government’s handling of the Rakhine crisis. As an indicator of the renewed partnership between the two, Aung San Suu Kyi has extended his term in office as commander-in-chief for another two years, till election year 2020, according to government insiders.

National survey finds ‘dramatic’ drop in trust under NLD Frontier Myanmar 30th Jan 2018
A major opinion survey has found a collapse of interpersonal trust over the past year, with the proportion saying that most people could be trusted falling from 37 percent to just 17 percent. The survey also found strong support for the government’s handling of the peace process, and the majority of respondents believed the government was addressing the most important national issues. But the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections, which interviewed 2,808 people nationally for the poll in November, said there had been a “dramatic drop” in interpersonal trust from when the survey was conducted in 2016.

Myanmar’s President’s call for constitutional change is economics disguised as politics ASEAN Today 29th Jan 2018
Myanmar’s President U Htin Kyaw used his Independence Day speech to call for constitutional reform. He said, “we all need to work collectively for creating a suitable constitution”. However, the civilian head of state did not specify what he meant by “suitable”. It has been more than a year since the NLD raised the issue. If it wanted to launch a campaign for constitutional change, it would have used Aung San Suu Kyi to lead the call. She commands far more support among the Burmese population. Htin Kyaw’s post is largely ceremonial. She carries the political clout. The Myanmar economy is faltering. The budget deficit for the 2017-2018 financial year will be around K4 trillion (US$3 billion). It will represent 4.38 of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).  The government has a deficit limit of 5% of GDP.

Myanmar Businesses Support Rebuilding Rakhine State VOA 27th Jan 2018
Myanmar’s business leaders are supporting Aung San Suu Kyi’s plan to resettle Rohingya refugees and to rebuild Rakhine State. Last August, Rohingya militant attacks on the police caused a military response that sent more than 650,000 Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh. Myanmar and Bangladesh have since agreed on a plan to send refugees from Myanmar back to the country within the next two years. And the leader of Myanmar is looking for private investment to rebuild Rakhine State.

U.S. Advisor Resigns From Myanmar's 'Whitewash' Crisis Panel Time 25th Jan 2018
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has resigned from an international advisory board on Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where recent army operations have been described as ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, calling the effort a “whitewash.” Richardson, also a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., concluded a three-day visit to the country with a frank statement of “great disappointment,” saying that he cannot in good faith remain on a board that is “likely to become a cheerleading squad for government policy.” Richardson criticized Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her lack of “moral leadership” amid the crisis; the Nobel laureate and democracy icon has come under increasing censure for her failure to stop or denounce military atrocities committed against the Rohingya.

Myanmar arrests MP after Rakhine riot The Straits Times 18th Jan 2018
Myanmar police on Thursday (Jan 18) arrested a prominent Rakhine Buddhist MP for allegedly provoking ethnic violence, state media and his party said, after a deadly riot highlighted simmering tensions in the troubled state. The arrest came after seven people were killed and a dozen injured when police opened fire on a crowd of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists trying to seize a government office late Tuesday. The violence erupted as anger boiled over after the cancellation of a local ceremony in Mrauk U, a town just a few dozen kilometres from the epicentre of a military crackdown against the country's Rohingya Muslim community.

Customs

New self-assessment system for car imports to apply from 2018 onwards The Myanmar Times 31st Jan 2018
Up until 2017, imported car prices were based on the Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF) price set by the Ministry of Commerce before the cars were purchased. As such, importers were able to calculate the amount of taxes due before importing the vehicle. That system will change this year in accordance with regulation set by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  From this year onwards, the Customs Department will be imposing taxes based on the original price of the vehicles only after the vehicles have arrived in Myanmar, U Soe Tun said at a meeting held by the MAMDA and the Customs Department with car import businesses to explain the new system.

Defense & Security

What’s Behind Myanmar’s Big New Military Exercise? The Diplomat 8th Feb 2018
The holding of the first tri-service exercise in over two decades needs to be viewed from a broader perspective. From February 2 to 4, Myanmar’s military carried out their first tri-service exercise in over two decades. The drills reinforce the military’s determination to advance its modernization even amid continued international scrutiny over its behavior. In recognition of this reality, Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing has sought to further develop and modernize the institution into what he has recently been terming a “standard army,” with a variety of steps including acquiring new weapons, building relationships with foreign militaries, and trying to improve areas like recruitment and training.

Congress calls for Myanmar officers to be booted from U.S. humanitarian drills Think Progress 8th Feb 2018
U.S. lawmakers are calling for the exclusion of Myanmar’s military from U.S.-led defense drills in Thailand, bordering the country on the east. Officers from Myanmar were invited to observe humanitarian assistance exercises at the Cobra Gold drills on February 13, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Myanmar has been engaged in a bloody campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the country since August. While the Rohingya, who have no citizenship rights, have been subject to decades of abuse in the Buddhist majority country, the most recent crackdowns — now being investigated as genocide — have resulted in thousands of deaths, mass rapes, and starvation. The majority of the 1.1 million Rohingya who once lived in Myanmar have fled, with nearly 700,000 now living in camps in Bangladesh, which neighbors Myanmar on its western border. The United States has imposed sanctions on a few Myanmar officials, but stayed away from the kind of wide-reaching sanctions it has imposed on Iran, North Korea, and Cuba.

Indonesia to help Myanmar deal with terrorism Channel NewsAsia 8th Feb 2018
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Security, Law and Political Affairs Wiranto said Jakarta will help Myanmar in coping with the possible emergence of terrorism in that country, Antara news agency reported on Wednesday (Feb 7). Myanmar has voiced concern over the threat of Islamic State-linked militants slipping into the country alongside the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, Wiranto said. "We want to help by sharing our knowledge and experience to prevent terrorists from establishing new bases in the region," he said on Wednesday.

Economics

In Myanmar, private sector under pressure to stand with Rohingya Devex 8th Feb 2018
Activists are once again looking to Unilever, a major investor in Myanmar, to take a stand against the country’s persecution of the Rohingya minority. Last week, a global civil society group known as Sisters of Rohingya issued a call for a boycott of Unilever’s Dove products, which the group notes are closely tied to the company’s projected brand of valuing the health and well-being of women. “Unilever tells us women that as a corporation they have respect for our lives and are committed to our equality,” the statement on their website reads.

Myanmar investors betting on the crypto-bubble Frontier Myanmar 8th Feb 2018
Local enthusiasts and speculators are navigating scammers and payment problems to plough their money into cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. MA SU MYAT THANDAR spent nine years training to be a doctor: six years of study at the University of Medicine (Mandalay), a one-year internship at Mandalay General Hospital and two years of tenure in Lashio. And then she gave it all up.

American chamber gets ready for business The Myanmar Times 8th Feb 2018
AmCham Myanmar, established in October 2013, has more than 170 members, which employ over 6,000 Myanmar nationals in total. It seeks to connect American business in Myanmar by encouraging partnerships and promoting high business standards. Until 2017, AmCham Myanmar operated as a Myanmar chapter under AmCham Thailand, with administration managed from Bangkok and only one staff on the ground in Myanmar. In September last year, AmCham Myanmar was officially registered with the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) as a non-profit association. Subsequently, Zara Dang became the executive director, a new 11-member board of governors was elected by the membership and the organisation has moved into its new permanent office in Sule Square.

Pristine Ayeyarwady coastline flagged for new $10bn industrial zone Frontier Myanmar 7th Feb 2018
One needs to travel just a few miles north of Chaung Tha, one of Myanmar’s most popular beach destinations, off the west coast of Ayeyarwady Region, to find a cleaner, quieter and more secluded spot. There are only 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) between Chaung Tha and Shwe Thaung Yan but the road is unpaved, and can only be travelled by motorbike. Shwe Thaung Yan, and the surrounding Wetthay-Metta bay area, is isolated from Chaung Tha by the Magyee Creek, which can only be crossed by a small boat. At the end of the last rainy season, work began on a bridge over the creek, with completion expected by the end of March.

Foreign trade volume reaches over US$26 billion until end of January Eleven Myanmar 6th Feb 2018
Myanmar’s foreign trade volume has reached more than US$26 billion within ten months of the 2017-2018 FY, a source of the Ministry of Commerce said. Foreign trade volume has reached US$26,551.361 million from April 1 to January 26 of the 2017-2018 FY, up US$3,973.539 million compared to the same period of last year. Until February 26, Myanmar realized US$19,971.881 million of foreign trade volume from the maritime route and US$6,579.480 million of foreign trade volume from the border route. The maritime trade volume has reached $ US$19,971.881 million, up US$3,682.869 million compared to the same period of last year. The border trade volume has reached US$6,579.480 million, compared to the same period of last year.

China and Myanmar launch poverty reduction project The Myanmar Times 5th Feb 2018
A model project for rural poverty reduction with financial and technical assistance from China was launched in Lewe and Tatkon townships in Nay Pyi Taw last week, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation said in a statement. The agreement was signed during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in November, Union Minister U Aung Thu said during the launching ceremony on Thursday. The project includes social infrastructure development, vocational training, income generation and capacity-building assistance for residents of Minbyin village in Lewe township and Aye Chanthar village in Tatkon township. China has provided a total of 33.33 million yuan  (US$5.31 million/K7.06 billion) in assistance for the project, he added.

Prominent US law firm quits on Myanmar Asia Times 5th Feb 2018
American lawyer Eric Rose has promoted foreign investment in Myanmar during his five years as director of Herzfeld Rubin Meyer & Rose. The American law firm was the first to open an office in Yangon back in 2013, a time when the country was just beginning to open its doors to the West after decades of isolation. On February 1, in a surprising reversal, the firm announced it was closing its office. Launched with the help of Myanmar lawyers Andrew Lian, an advisor to former President Thein Sein, and Kyaw Hoe, an advisor to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the well-connected firm has helped to draft new legislation and rules, set markers for commercial litigation and trained several Myanmar attorneys over the past five years.

Singapore makes largest investments in real estate sector Mizzima 2nd Feb 2018
Singapore made an investment of US$1.72 billion in 31 projects, as of the end of December, in the current fiscal year (FY), followed by China, with estimated investments worth more than $1.29 billion in 50 enterprises State media reported. Singapore made the largest investments in the real estate sector. some European countries also invested in Myanmar through singapore. The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) has granted approvals to 176 projects with foreign capital of $4.78 billion this FY. Foreign direct investments were pumped into manufacturing, agriculture, livestock and fisheries, and power, as well as transport and communication, hotel and tourism, real estate, industrial estate and other service sectors, the report said.

200,000 jobs created under NLD: government The Myanmar Times 1st Feb 2018
During the first 21 months of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s tenure, 200,000 jobs were created in the foreign and local investment sectors, said U Maung Maung Win, deputy Planning and Finance minister. “The government authorised 447 businesses and created 191,409 job opportunities,” he said on Tuesday.  The Myanmar Investment Commission allowed 138 foreign direct investments in the last fiscal year,  which helped create 88,038 jobs, and 80 local investments led to 18,639 jobs created in the country, he added.

Interest rates to remain unchanged: Central Bank The Myanmar Times 31st Jan 2018
The Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) will not revise the interest rates on bank deposits, borrowings and government treasury bonds, CBM Vice-Governor U Soe Thein told the media on Tuesday. As it must keep inflation stable and maintain the rate at which the government borrows money to fund the fiscal deficit, the CBM has no plans to change existing interest rates for now, U Soe Thein said. “The CBM has a mandate to keep inflation stable and support the government in narrowing the fiscal deficit. So, we will not change or reduce interest rates for now. We will review the interest rates every 6-8 months,” he said.

Myanmar's industrial park project attracts 500 mln USD investment - Xinhua | English.news.cn Xinhua 30th Jan 2018
The Mandalay Myotha Industrial Park project in Myanmar's central Mandalay region has attracted 500 million U.S. dollars of local and foreign investment as of mid this month, the official Global New Light of Myanmar reported Tuesday. The project is jointly implemented by the Mandalay government and Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development (MMID) Public Company, aiming to construct more than 100 plants on a 1000-plus-acre compound within three years. At present, five factories including animal feed plants, a saw mill, a concrete plant and a snow cookie plant with investments from Indonesia, Denmark, Thailand, China and China's Hong Kong are operational.

Total Yangon investments hit $11 billion in five months | Eleven Myanmar Eleven Myanmar 28th Jan 2018
Yangon region has received over US$11 billion (14.65 trillion kyat) in total investments from August 2017 to January 24 of this year, including more than US$40 million in industry and services sectors, according to the Yangon region investment committee. Yangon region investment committee also gave the nod for three foreign investments and one from Myanmar in accordance with the Myanmar Investment Law, at their second meeting of 2018 at Yangon Region Government Office on January 24. The approved investments amounted to $4.86 million and 3 billion kyat, and is expected to create 2,035 jobs for locals.

Reviewing the economy in 2017 The Myanmar Times 18th Jan 2018
The economy of Myanmar is set to continue gaining momentum in the near and medium term while the slow pace of economic reforms has led to a drop of investor confidence, according to the Oxford Business Group. This growth is anticipated to take place despite concerns over the slow pace of economic reforms and the Rakhine crisis. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a forecast in November that the country’s economy is expected to grow by 6.7 percent in this current fiscal year, which lasts until March. The figure is considerably above the 5.9pc growth secured in the preceding fiscal year, and well above the IMF’s prediction of 5.1pc expansion across Southeast Asia in 2017.   

Kyat hits strongest level against dollar in over a year The Myanmar Times 18th Jan 2018
The Myanmar kyat appreciated to its strongest level against the US dollar in a year after the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) set its daily reference rate at K1,345 per dollar on Tuesday. The kyat had weakened to K1,360 against the dollar last year. It opened this year at K1,361. The kyat hit a record low of K1,366 per dollar on July 21, 2016.  The higher value of the kyat is positive for local consumers as it comes at a time when domestic production is still lagging, forcing most to rely on imported goods such as petrol, building materials, cosmetics and electronics. 

Real estate sector to pick up on back of foreign demand The Myanmar Times 18th Jan 2018
Demand in the Myanmar real estate market is expected to pick up in 2018 now that the rules to the new Condominium Law have been released. Under the new rules, property investments by foreigners are expected to spike, said U Aung Naing Oo, secretary of the Myanmar Investment Commission. The rules, which were released in December last year, will allow foreigners to purchase and own up to 40 percent of the units in a condominium block. This is expected to generate interest and spur more buying activity, agents said. 

Energy

Does Myanmar’s LNG power plan stack up? Frontier Myanmar 8th Feb 2018
JANUARY 30 was the biggest day for Myanmar’s power sector in many years. At a ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw, the government green-lighted four private sector projects that, if implemented, would double the country’s generation capacity over the next four years. Since taking office in March 2016, the National League for Democracy government has been accused of dragging its feet on the country’s power problem. But U Win Khaing’s ascension as minister for electricity and energy and the realisation that the next election is less than three years away appears to have focused minds in the government and NLD.

Government considering use of LNG to meet electricity target The Myanmar Times 8th Feb 2018
The Myanmar government will consider using liquefied natural gas (LNG) to generate power and meet the current shortage of electricity in Myanmar, U Win Khine, minister at the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE), said during a meeting to raise electricity distribution on Saturday.As it will be the first time Myanmar is using LNG to generate power, new power plants will need to be constructed, U Win Khine said.  Two LNG-powered plants are now being built in Tanintharyi Region and Ayeyarwaddy Region. When complete, the plants will generate an additional 1,230 megawatts and 1,390MW of power, respectively.  The move will help the government meet its goal of generating around 3,000MW of additional power within the next three years, or by 2020-21.

Energy firms head for the exit as offshore blocks hit hurdles Frontier Myanmar 5th Feb 2018
LOW OIL and gas prices are prompting many foreign energy firms that flocked to Myanmar in the wake of economic reforms to downsize their holdings and even exit the country completely. Frontier has confirmed through interviews with industry sources and company officials that almost half of the offshore blocks awarded in a 2014 tender have been relinquished. Companies including Shell, Reliance Industries and Norway’s Statoil have all decided to hand back blocks, although some have retained acreage with more promising development prospects.

Myanmar to double electricity capacity by 2021 to fill power shortages The Straits Times 31st Jan 2018
Myanmar is planning to double its electric power capacity by 2021 by building natural gas-fired power plants, two senior officials told Reuters on Wednesday (Jan 31), in an ambitious move to tackle chronic power shortages in the energy-starved country. With only one-third of the country's 60 million people connected to the electrical grid and cities experiencing blackouts, Myanmar needs to boost its power supply to attract much-needed foreign investment. The plan is the most impressive attempt yet to tackle the energy problem since the government led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi swept to power in March 2016.

MOEE to provide 3,600 MW of additional power in four years The Myanmar Times 24th Jan 2018
The announcement comes after an MOEE study revealed that electricity consumption in Myanmar is expected to reach 5,774MW by 2021-22 from 3,189MW in 2017-18. Between 2010 and 2017, demand for electricity rose by 16 percent on average per year, the study also showed. Over the longer term, Myanmar is aiming to have power available nationwide by 2030 under its National Electrification Plan.  The country must consider buying power from its neighbours as local objections to electricity generated by coal and large-scale hydro power plants has been rife. Meanwhile, power generated by small-scale hydro and solar projects is insufficient to meet the needs of the country. And while Myanmar produces natural gas, power generated by gas is a long term process and also required heavy investments in processing infrastructure. 

The weekend read: Myanmar’s solar lifeline pv magazine International 20th Jan 2018
It is easy to forget how small changes can sometimes reap the most dramatic benefits. Take the humble fridge. What was once a marvel of technological prowess, has become standard fare. To many in the western world, that is. To those living off the beaten track, off the grid, up in the dusty red Burmese mountains, a fridge can be revolutionary. “Food supply and security in these remote regions is hard and fridges can be a lifesaver,” Nathalie Risteau, CEO of greentech solutions company, Mandalay Yoma, tells pv magazine. Indeed, not only can individuals access fresh produce, but fridges can also be run as small businesses. Mandalay Yoma is working with Myanmar’s Department of Rural Development (DRD), the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH (GIZ), and the World Bank to electrify remote communities via personalized PV mini-grids. Last year, it successfully completed the country’s largest: a 120 kWp system in Myaing. The grids are transforming villages – allowing inhabitants to work and study after the sun has set, run small businesses, establish healthcare facilities, and power agricultural efforts via solar water pumps. To date, the company has installed mini-grids in three villages, which generate electricity for 2,000 inhabitants. Overall, the aim is to equip 1,000 villages.

Food & Agriculture

Irrawaddy Region Approves New Agriculture Minister The Irrawaddy 24th Jan 2018
The Irrawaddy Region Parliament has approved the appointment of U Tin Win Aung, a retired department director with the national Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, as the regional minister for agriculture, livestock, natural resources and environmental conservation. U Tin Win Aung was nominated by the Irrawaddy Region’s new chief minister, U Hla Moe Aung, during the second day of the regional Parliament’s emergency session on Tuesday. His appointment to the busiest ministry in the region was confirmed on Wednesday, after no lawmakers raised objections.

Rice trade plummets at Yangon's commodity exchange due to fraud fears Eleven Myanmar 26th Jan 2018
Ever since numerous cases of fraud and malpractices involving Bayinnnaung Rice Commodity Exchange got revealed, rice makers have been directly dealing their products to the markets. Rice exporters used to always go through agents associated with the wholesale market so sell rice both internationally and domestically but ever since money related issues occurred, both customers and rice coming into the wholesale center had been cut by half.

Farmers block road to halt rock mining operation in Kayin The Myanmar Times 25th Jan 2018
Farmers claimed the road built by village ward officers together with 20 businessmen in 2015 had been destroyed by the trucks that transport rocks and pollute the area. The locals have been unhappy with rock production in the nearby area.  The administrative officer of Hpa-an township, U Myo Min Tun told the residents not to interfere with the rock production in Lon Nya on January 7, but the residents did not respond to his warning. “I don’t want to comment on their opinion on rock production, and they can protest, but shutting down the public road is not proper. I had already told them to move their barriers and if they fail to respond by February, we will take legal action,” said U Myo Min Htun.

Health & Life Sciences

Japan's elder care providers head to Myanmar Nikkei Asian Review 5th Feb 2018
As Southeast Asia begins to confront its creeping population aging problem, Japanese companies that provide nursing care see an opportunity to reach new markets -- and to bring much-needed caregivers to Japan. Since December, a consortium including Japanese nursing care providers Sakura Community Service and Egao Ichiban has been experimenting with home health care operations in Myanmar's commercial capital of Yangon with the support of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Japanese certified caregivers and others are there until February to evaluate the feasibility of a home nursing care business while training local staff.

Speculation Mounts over President U Htin Kyaw’s Health The Irrawaddy 19th Jan 2018
Speculation over President U Htin Kyaw’s health is growing among politicians, army officers and diplomats. U Htin Kyaw has been receiving medical treatment in Bangkok since late last year, and plans to visit Singapore for further treatment soon. Top army officers and diplomats have noted U Htin Kyaw’s frail appearance, and the president has been advised not to attend state functions. The 71-year-old recently traveled to Japan at the invitation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to attend the Universal Health Coverage Forum in Tokyo. However, he also received treatment there, according to unconfirmed reports.

3MDG to give $5.13 million for nutrition, sexual health The Myanmar Times 2nd Feb 2018
The 3MDG will extend its agenda to support nutrition, sexual and reproductive health and rights in 2018, contributing US$5.13 million (K6.82 billion) for these two substantial new investments, the statement said.  The new investment by 3MDG will focus on community-based nutrition such as social behavior change communication, establishing mother-to-mother support groups, and referrals. These will be especially implemented in Rakhine and Chin states, where there are nutrition challenges. The country’s Demographic Health Survey-DHS for 2015-16, showed 29 percent of children under five are stunted, 8pc are severely stunted, 7pc are wasted, and 19pc are underweight. Stunting is a big challenge due to rampant malnutrition among children.

Medical group to raise alarm about malaria The Myanmar Times 22nd Jan 2018
Myanmar Medical Association (MMA), aims to expand its activities in the fight against malaria, by recruiting more volunteers and setting up an early detection and warning mechanism in communities prone to the deadly disease. The MMA will educate and train village-level health volunteers in Pathein, Tharbaung and Ngaputaw townships of Ayeyarwady Region, under the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) operated by the Ministry of Health and Sports. Also joining the program are the private sector and non-governmental agencies.

ICT

Myanmar drafts digital economy master plan The Myanmar Times 26th Jan 2018
The Digital Economy Development Committee (DEDC) is drafting the Myanmar Digital Economy Development Master Plan to develop and regulate the country’s booming digital economy, committee member U Mya Moe Aung said. In addition, the DEDC will prepare a short-term (2-3 years) and a medium-term (3-5 years) working programme. It will start implementation when the master plan and these accompanying working programmes are completed.  Myanmar’s digital economy is booming and on the ascendant. The country has an estimated 46.39 million internet users and internet penetration reaches 89pc of the population. Over 80pc mobile users have adopted smart phone, according to data from the Ministry of Transportation and Communication and the DEDC. It is also anticipated that the relatively young population is very adaptive when it comes to technological innovation.

Myanmar backslides on freedom of expression: digital rights stakeholders The Myanmar Times 26th Jan 2018
Over 150 participants took part in the second digital rights forum in Yangon on January 18 hosted and jointly organised by Phandeeyar together with MIDO, Engage-Media, Free Expression Myanmar and the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), with support from the Swedish government. Over half of the participants came from civil society organisations working on a variety of issues including peace, gender, freedom of expression, consumer rights, with the remainder evenly split between the private sector, government and parliament, the media and academia. More than three quarters of participants were attending for the first time. The inaugural digital rights forum was held in December 2016. Participants were polled on the three digital rights themes of the forum: freedom of online expression, online privacy and security and equality of online access, the current state of play, and priorities for action. 

Private equity investors eye Myanmar’s digital economy as interest rises The Myanmar Times 22nd Jan 2018
Investor interest in Southeast Asia’s digital and technology start-ups has been on the rise of late, with private equity firm Belt Road Capital Management (BRCM) injecting A$2.25 million in Digital Classifieds Group (DCG), an online classifieds business, on Thursday. Although based in Australia, DCG has launched online portals in countries such as Cambodia, where it owns the real estate portal www.realestate.com.kh as well as leading general classifieds websites in Laos, www.yula.la. In a statement, DCG CEO Mathew Care said the company’s major investments in its technology and core human resources had seen increased investor interest in recent funding rounds. “We are presently reviewing a range of expansion opportunities, particularly in Southeast Asia, where we have seen a tremendous surge in internet penetration and rapid urbanisation,” Mr Care said, adding that the initial approach from BRCM was unsolicited. 

Infrastructure

KNU demands negotiations over planned highway linking Thai border, Dawei SEZ Frontier Myanmar 2nd Feb 2018
The Karen National Union has demanded negotiations with the Union government over plans to resume building a two-lane highway between the Thai border and the Dawei Special Economic Zone in Tanintharyi Region. The KNU said in a statement on February 1 that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement it signed in October 2015 stipulated that the government “must negotiate” with signatories over the implementation of socio-economic development projects. The KNU, one of eight armed groups that signed the NCA in 2015, said that if work resumed on the highway, it would cut through pristine forests and rural communities under its control.

New int'l airport project in central Myanmar in progress Xinhua 1st Feb 2018
Myanmar's new Hanthawaddy International Airport project, being implemented as a national project in the country's central Bago region, some 76.8 km north-east of Yangon, is in progress. Upon completion, the airport will represent the fourth and largest of its kind in Myanmar after Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw's and is expected to become a major gateway for international airlines to use and operate their businesses. Fencing along the airport project has now been 65 percent completed after negotiating with land owners to pave way for the construction, a project engineer of the Department of Civil Aviation of Myanmar said, expecting it will be finalized by March, the end of current financial year 2017-18.

Construction sector under threat from high tax, interest rates The Myanmar Times 29th Jan 2018
Unreasonably high tax and interest rates could lead to the collapse of Mandalay’s already ailing construction sector, U Shein Win, vice chair of the Myanmar Construction Entrepreneur Association (MCEA) told The Myanmar Times last Friday. Capital gains tax on the sale of a property in Myanmar is currently 30 percent, which is deterring activity in the real estate and construction sectors as it is much higher compared to other countries.  “The high rates have caused construction entrepreneurs to suffer a lot. Sales and purchases of property have become very slow. Operating cash flows have turned negative. If the present situation continues, the construction sector may collapse and come to a standstill,” he said.

Legislation

MCCAIN, CARDIN BILL ON BURMA ACCOUNTABILITY PASSES SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE - Press Releases - United States Senator John McCain McCain.Senate.Gov 8th Feb 2018
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee today passed legislation authored by U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ben Cardin (D-MD), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to impose targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on senior Burmese military officials responsible for human rights atrocities against the Rohingya people. The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act would prohibit certain military cooperation with the Burmese military until the Departments of State and Defense can certify that officials have halted the violence. The bill would also support economic and security sector reform, and encourage Burma’s successful transition of power to a civilian government. 

Draft YCDC Law to drive Yangon growth submitted in Parliament The Myanmar Times 8th Feb 2018
Yangon’s leaders want to upgrade and promote the city as a business hub for the country. Last week, its mayor, U Maung Maung Soe, submitted draft legislation for the governing and development of the city to the Yangon Regional Parliament. “The draft YCDC Law covers 32 sectors and has 398 sections concerning the development of Yangon into a strong business city. We are now seeking advice and confirmation from the MPs before proceeding with the legislation,” U Maung Maung Soe said.  The draft YCDC Law, which was drawn up by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) with the help of 31 government-appointed experts and 9 members of parliament (MPs), is intended to replace the existing 1922 City of Rangoon Municipal Act and supplement the 2013 YCDC Law. It was drafted following a 2016 request by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in late 2016.  

Ministry issues first ECC but online database urged The Myanmar Times 5th Feb 2018
The environment ministry has released the first round of environmental permits, while public online access to those documentations is urged. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) has just issued the ministry’s first Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), according to law firm VDB Loi. The ECC is a document having legal effect, through which the Ministry approves an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) Report, an Environmental and Impact Assessment Report, or an Environmental Management Plan (EMP). Issued by the MONREC’s minister’s office, it is in a letter format and confirms that an EIA is in compliance with the requirements of the Law on Environmental Conservation (LEC).

Government Orders Cut in Teak Production, Bans Private Timber Operations The Irrawaddy 29th Jan 2018
The government has ordered timber production be reduced by 40 percent in the 2017-18 fiscal year, while banning private timber operations altogether, according to the Naypyitaw Forestry Department. The department will oversee the production of only 15,000 tons of teak and 350,000 tons of hardwood from forests across the country. According to the department, the state-owned Myanma Timber Enterprise has a quota to cut down 19,200 teak trees and 592,330 timber trees annually, but this fiscal year it will harvest only 10,620 teak trees and 193,412 other timber trees.

Labour law reform is key to sustainable development for Myanmar - Forum Mizzima 18th Jan 2018
Representatives of the Myanmar government, employers, workers, civil society and international partners gathered for the third time since 2015, in a forum to discuss progress and challenges in labour market reforms as part of the ‘Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labour Rights and Practices’ in Myanmar. The forum kicked off in Nay Pyi Taw on 17 January, hosted by the Government of Myanmar and funded by the European Union. Myanmar Union Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population, U Thein Swe, opened the two-day Forum reaffirming the commitment of the Union Government to reforming Myanmar’s labour laws and strengthening social dialogue with employers’ and workers’ organizations.