Sun, Jan 20, 2013 - Page 4 News List

Myanmar aims to improve lives, president tells donors

Reuters, NAYPYIDAW

Burmese President Thein Sein arrives to deliver a speech at the first Myanmar Development Cooperation Forum in Naypyidaw yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Myanmar’s government plans to unveil a slew of new reforms to donor countries and international organizations this weekend, aiming to consolidate achievements since the end of military rule in 2011, but also quickly improve the lives of its citizens.

In opening remarks to donors yesterday, Burmese President Thein Sein said the government wanted “a modern, industrialized country,” but also stressed the need to develop the agricultural sector and narrow development gaps between the regions.

He told the donors the government wanted their help to raise living standards and skills of its people.

“This will also help us undertake political reforms that are aimed at transforming the country into a modern, developed democracy,” he said.

A wide-ranging “Framework for Economic and Social Reforms” seen by Reuters set out broad initiatives to achieve those goals by 2030 plus more immediate priorities for the next three years.

Saying Myanmar was “way behind neighboring countries,” it touches upon the liberalization of trade and investment, health and education, transparency and infrastructure.

Thein Sein, himself a former junta general, has already pushed through far-reaching reforms since taking office in March 2011 at the head of a quasi-civilian government.

He has introduced a market-oriented exchange rate, freed hundreds of political prisoners and agreed ceasefires with most of the ethnic rebel groups that have fought for decades for autonomy.

In his speech he said peace and stability went hand in hand with socio-economic development.

“We will start political dialogue with all 10 major ethnic armed groups that have concluded ceasefire agreements with the government in the near future,” he said.

He invited rebels in Kachin state who have not yet joined the process to take part in peace talks.

Late on Friday he issued a ceasefire order in Kachin state, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced in 20 months of fighting, although rebel leaders would not immediately commit to the truce, suspicious of the government’s motives. The army’s continued attacks in the state have raised doubts about his control over the military and even led some to question his sincerity about the reform process in general.

Western governments have dropped or eased sanctions imposed on the former junta in recognition of Thein Sein’s reforms, and international firms are keen to move into a country with vast resources, located between China and India and part of a vibrant Southeast Asia heading for closer economic union in 2015.

Improving the environment for foreign investment is a central aim of the latest proposals.

The unification of exchange rates, already undertaken by the government, will be bolstered by further liberalization efforts, such as removing all exchange and non-tariff restrictions on imports “as a matter of urgency.”

The government says it will give priority to a new central bank law that will grant it operational autonomy.

A new foreign investment law was passed at the end of last year, but left many questions open about how it would work.

“Feedback from the business community suggests that it is particularly important that the law and procedures are specific as to which sectors are restricted with respect to foreign investment and does not allow for discretion with respect to implementation,” the reform document said.

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