Govnment plans to add 10,000 teachers annually

To address the shortage of 30,000 teachers in Basic Education Schools nationwide, the government will train 10,000 teachers a year starting in the next academic year, said U Win Maw Tun, deputy minister of Education.

He was answering Pyithu Hluttaw MPs who asked about the teacher shortage in their constituencies. “Projects and targets are used to appoint staff on a yearly basis,” he said.

Research shows that 33,681 new teachers are needed throughout the country, including 11,350 high school teachers, 12,331 middle school teachers and 10,000 elementary school teachers. This requirement will be fulfilled over three years due to current budget shortages.

The plan is to appoint 11,227 teachers in the 2018-2019 academic year, 11,227 in 2019-2020 and 12,027 in 2020-2021.

Although schools are permitted to upgrade from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school, they can’t appoint enough teachers, said U Stefan, MP for Kyinetone township in Shan State.

“The intention is good to upgrade to a high school, but there are not enough teachers, son Panlin High School students cannot pass the matriculation exam, while students from big cities pass it easily,” he said.

U Ye Win Tun, Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Pauk township, said that people in his constituency had asked for more teachers. “Villagers are raising funds for their children and to hire degree holders and those who pass the matriculation exam to improve education,” he said.

Although educational expenses are a priority in the country’s yearly budget, education still lacks resources.

From April to September, the Ministry of Education will allocate K807.15 billion for education, the fourth-highest budget provided to a sector. However, education still has to compete for funds with other sectors, such as military spending and road building.

“The proposals for road construction and tarring will cost around K2 billion but are being examined again,” said U Tin Tun Naing, MP for Seikkyikanaungto township and secretary of the Pyithu Hluttaw’s Projects and Financial Development Committee, on Monday.

South Korea eyes Myanmar investments in manufacturing, infrastructure

South Korea is eyeing expansion opportunities in manufacturing and infrastructure in Myanmar. At the Myanmar-Korea Investment Promotion Seminar in Yangon on Thursday, a delegation of 13 South Korean countries met with officials from the Ministry of Transport and Communication and Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE), seeking opportunities to invest in the two sectors.

“We selected the most promising South Korean manufacturing and infrastructure companies to explore investment opportunities in Myanmar, where the government is also focused on developing these two sectors,” said Kim Young-sun, Secretary General of the ASEAN-Korea Centre, which promotes economic and socio-cultural cooperation between ASEAN and Korea.

The South Koreans are betting on Myanmar’s need to develop better infrastructure as the country strives to achieve its target of 6 percent-9pc GDP growth under its National Comprehensive Development Plan for 2011-30. “Korean companies have the right experience and technological know-how in developing a wide range of infrastructure and they are willing to help Myanmar develop its roads, railways and ports,” Mr Kim said.

During the seminar, U Kyaw Kaung Cho, Chief Engineer in the Ministry of Construction, welcomed South Korea cooperation in six ongoing highway projects, which includes the $1.9 billion, 460 kilometer Mandalay-Myitkyina Expressway and the $2 billion, 811 km Pathein-Monywa-Shwebo Road. There are also opportunities for the private sector to contribute to highway upgrading and bridge construction.

U Min Min Oo, Assistant Secretary at the MOEE, said investments across the entire Myanmar oil and gas supply chain are needed. Notably, construction of new power generation plants, particularly from liquefied natural gas and renewable energy, is in demand, “We have so many opportunities for South Korea to invest in the energy sector, such as in power generation, transmission and distribution. We would also like to welcome business partners from Korea to develop Myanmar’s clean energy sector,” he said.

Manufacturing push

The Koreans are also interested in the local manufacturing sector. “There are companies which are now operating labour-intensive factories in China and Indonesia, but with wages rising drastically in those countries, they are now looking to produce goods such as wigs, garments, footwear, furniture and processed-food in Myanmar because of the country’s competitive and diligent workforce,” Mr Kim said.

Troublesome setbacks now stand in the way though. “One of the challenges when setting up factories here is the bureaucracy and lack of coordination between the government and municipalities. Having an agency that provides a one-stop service to help in the setting up of factories is very much necessary to incentivise companies to invest here,” he added.

As a solution, Korean companies have opened factories at the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), where such services are provided. “There are currently six Korean factories in Thilawa, including food company CJ Cheiljedang and Yojin Construction & Engineering,” Mr Kim said.

Meanwhile, the Korea Land & Housing Corporation (LH), in partnership with the Ministry of Construction, is now also building a $120 million, 2.4 sq m industrial complex in Hmawbi township, Yangon Region. “We hope the Korea-Myanmar Economic Cooperation Industrial Complex will be allowed to provide the same one-stop service the SEZs now enjoy. This is very important as many Korean manufacturing companies are now interested to expand here,” Mr Kim said.

South Korea has also invested $98 million to construct an international-standard logistics hub at Shwe Lin Ban Industrial Zone in Hlaing Thar Yar township, Yangon region. HUBS MK Co Ltd from South Korea and the Myanmar Trade Promotion Organisation under the Ministry of Commerce signed an initial agreement for the project last month.

Mr Kim Young-sun, Secretary General of the ASEAN-Korea Centre: South Korea and Myanmar have a special relationship that will our investments here to flourish. Photo – Supplied
Mr Kim Young-sun, Secretary General of the ASEAN-Korea Centre: South Korea and Myanmar have a special relationship that will our investments here to flourish. Photo – Supplied

Special relationship

The Koreans are expanding in Myanmar just as other Asian countries such as China, Singapore and Japan are channeling more FDI into the country. “Competition for projects from other countries is heating up but we believe South Korea has a special relationship with Myanmar that has yielded long term opportunities for our firms in the past,” Mr Kim said.

For example, South Korean oil and gas company Posco Daewoo has been producing gas at the Shwe offshore gas field in Myanmar since early 2000 and also obtained rights to use prime land near Inya Lank in Yangon for the five-star Lotte Hotel over the next 70 years. When the rights were obtained in 2012, it marked the first long-time deal for a foreign company in Myanmar.

“Myanmar’s relationship with China and Japan may be impressive but with Korea, the relationship is more equal and comfortable. The other countries may have their own geopolitical agendas when investing big in Myanmar, but we do not impose any conditions when we invest here,” Mr Kim said.

“Our aim is to generate success stories of our companies that have invested in Myanmar, so that more companies will come here and our partnership will continue to flourish.”

Olympics: what on Earth just happened?

Like him or hate him, though, it’s hard to come out of this weekend concluding that Moon didn’t make progress. There he was with the delegation from the North at the opening ceremony, at a luncheon in Seoul, at a hockey game watching a joint Koreas team take the ice. And there he was with US Vice President Mike Pence at short track speedskating, all smiles and handshakes.

AND now: sports.

After a weekend in which a fusillade of can’t-believe-it political surprises got the world talking about Olympic-flavoured international relations rather than just the thrill of victory, the 2018 Winter Games settled Sunday into what everyone came here for. At least for the moment.

In some families, they talk sports to avoid talking politics. But the two have lots in common. Both take place in arenas, actual or metaphorical. Both are, arguably, expressions of human conflict turned into competitive games with specific rules. And both are most exhilarating when they operate at the very edge of precedent.

In that respect, this was an Olympic-grade weekend of politics in Pyeongchang when it came to North Korea and South Korea, and by extension when it comes to North Korea and the world. The two Koreas glad-handed and edged closer as the world watched. The United States appeared to be the odd man out, and perhaps was.

And while it’s too early to suggest that the tectonic plates of Korean Peninsula security have shifted, surely the inaugural weekend of the Pyeongchang Winter Games has already secured its spot in Olympic lore simply for its visuals. There were North and South, side by side in the opening ceremony, on the hockey ice and in the dignitaries’ box, with the US looking on like a kid who didn’t get picked in the sandlot.

What happened here, exactly? Let’s review five things we know now that we didn’t know before this first Olympic weekend began.

Kim Jong Un’s sister is now an international political player

Korea watchers knew of Kim Yo Jong, generally, before this, and she had been rising in the hierarchy in the years since her brother took power upon the death of their father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. She was in favour, unlike her brother, Kim Jong Nam, who was taken out by suspected assassins at a Malaysia airport counter last year.

But the decision to send her to the South as the face of the regime for the first Korean Olympics since 1988 was noteworthy both for her and for the audience that the move was intended to reach. Kim Yong Nam, the expected main envoy and a 90-year-old figurehead with almost no real power beyond his head of state title, was shunted to the side as the 30-year-old Kim Yo Jong glided into the spotlight.

To the proceedings she brought youth and a level of glamour, yes, but something more substantive, too: Not only was she an unimpeachable representative of the Kim dynasty as the big man’s little sister, but her obvious poise and comfort in the public eye interrupts the clichéd “hermit kingdom” narrative that the West often slathers onto North Korea. That’s a potent accomplishment in itself.

South Korea’s president made progress in his main objective

Moon Jae-in’s job is not easy. He replaced a hardliner who was tossed from office after a massive public uprising. He advocates substantive engagement with the North – a stance that not only has significant opposition at home but requires him to dance delicately around US President Donald Trump, who has at times turned his nation’s serious concerns about North Korea’s nuclear intentions into a sport of personally baiting his North Korea counterpart.At the Olympics that have such high stakes for his country, Moon is playing a delicate game of poker. On this hand, he seems to be raking in the chips.

Once again, the Olympics are about more than athletics

Despite the similarity in spelling, Pyeongchang is not Pyongyang. But one might be forgiven for concluding that, given how the North Koreans stole the opening show with a deft hand clad in an unexpectedly velvet glove.

While Olympics have always included politics, or political events have at least popped up, Pyeongchang is unprecedented in the way it became a full-tilt platform for developments in international relations during its opening days.

This shouldn’t be unexpected. Sure, the International Olympic Committee – acting in its own interests – casts the Games as a respite from real-world machinations. But anytime you’re getting a huge bunch of nations together for a festival of patriotism, adrenaline and bravado, you should expect some boundary-jumping into the messiness and delicate nature of humanity’s non-Olympic pursuits.

North Korea is not merely

some bizarre ‘other’

There’s a trope, at least in the United States, that North Koreans are one step shy of being extraterrestrials. This is not the case. They live under very different, sometimes intolerable conditions, but they are, in fact, fellow people. Not robotic. Smiles. Fears. Laughter. Humanity.

Over coming days, the world will spend time watching the joint Korean women’s hockey team. As it does, it might consider a question: Looking at the players, without checking the roster, can you actually tell North from South? Watch the faces, the abilities, the determination. And remember what so many people who have lived under repression say: In any country, there is the government, and there are the people.

The US didn’t win the optics war this weekend

No matter how you slice it, from the Asia perspective the Americans did not come out on top in the race to seize the narrative. This despite Pence’s emphatic pledge to make sure the Olympics didn’t turn into too much of a North Korea-sympathising lovefest.

It wasn’t just the indelible visual of Pence in the opening ceremony box, stone-faced, sitting in front of Kim’s sister and looking awkward. Most of the indelible images from the early moments of the Games, the ones already written in history’s ink, involve North and South getting along, the North engaging in front of the world’s cameras, and Pence – and thus Washington – a supporting player at best.

What does the White House make of the mini (thus far) North-South thaw? Your move, Mr Trump.

So sports, then. Already figure skating and speedskating are in full swing. Alpine and snowboarding are just gearing up. People from the community of nations will extend themselves, surprise themselves, disappoint themselves, outdo themselves, beat themselves up for their failures or find a way to blame others. All the great and messy things about being human.

Sort of like their counterparts in that other arena, the political one, except without the possibility of all-out war at the end of the run.

And those things at the very edge of precedent, that almost never happen? Those are pushed out to the rinks, the mountainsides and the halfpipes for right now. Where they’ll be in two days, a week or at the closing ceremony of Pyeongchang 2018 – in the arenas of competition or outside them – is anybody’s guess.

– Associated Press

Ted Anthony, director of Asia-Pacific news for The Associated Press since 2014, has reported from both North and South Korea.

Italian firm to purify water for Mandalay

Milan-headquartered De Nora Water Technologies will install equip-ments to purify water for around 60,000 households in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, as construction work is under progess in Pyigyitagon township.

The firm is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of water treat-ment technologies. The arrangement in Mandalay is part of an agreement signed in September 2016 between by Japan’s Tobishima Corporation and the government worth ¥1.797 billion.

Construction for the project, involving new pipes, wells, tanks, pumps and water meters, began last October and is scheduled to complete by July this year.

As part of the project, De Nora is supplying its brine electro-chlorination system for the project’s disinfection facility, which will ensure the safety of the drinking water. This system is different from the traditional gas chlorination method, which involves the risk of delivery or storage of hazardous chemicals such as high-pressure chlorine

Construction has started in the Pyigyitagon township, which only has six per cent water supply coverage due to its rapidly increasing population and emergence of commercial facilities over the last few years.

De Nora told The Myanmar Times that the condition of urban water supply, which contributes to improving public hygiene, has been inadequate in both Yangon and Mandalay. In other cities, the infrastructure is still trying to catch up, with some even lacking in a working water supply.

“Additionally, clean water is not only crucial for domestic use – agriculture and industries have also grown in scale in their consumption of water. For emerging economies like Myanmar, economic cooperation activities have increased with the progress in the democratisation of Myanmar, and it is foreseen that the demand for water is expected to increase up to 525 million gallons by 2040 in Yangon alone,” the Italian firm said.

Vincenzo Palma, sales director of De Nora, said that its electro-chlorination system has been “a well-established and trusted product line in Japan for over 40 years. It is a safe and economical solution that is both easy to maintain and highly durable, ensuring a low replacement rate.”

Over the years, disinfection using gas chlorination had been a common water treatment option in developing economies, but with potential health hazards and increasingly stringent legislation around maintaining low levels of residual chlorine, more countries are open to adopt electro-chlorination as part of their municipal water supply process.

De Nora added that the company will focus on supporting the countrywide effort to meet its increasingly urgent water demand and improve the water supply infrastructure beyond major cities.

New technologies needed as prawn, shrimp exports dwindle

Myanmar shrimp and prawn exporters are facing a growing shortage of supplies due to the erosion of their natural habitats and unsuccessful breeding techniques, according to a report analysing exports to Japan supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

A lack of preservation of fishery resources in Myanmar has led to a decline in wild supplies of fish and other marine life, including shrimp and prawns bound for exports, the report said.

Meanwhile, in the farmed fisheries sector, viruses have culled substantial supplies of shrimp and prawns, too.

And that is all taking place at a time when local demand is rising. As incomes rise, demand for seafood as part of the daily Myanmar diet is increasing as more are able to afford the additional protein. Meanwhile, demand for local seafood by tourists to Myanmar has also been robust.

To rebuild supplies, new breeding techniques and aquaculture technologies are needed, said U Tun Win Myint, Director of the Department of Fisheries in Yangon Region.

Union-level plans to develop a sustainable aquaculture strategy are in fact, already underway. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation has kicked of the process of drafting a National Aquaculture Development Plan (NADP) setting out long term, national objectives to foster the future development of the sector, The Myanmar Times reported on February 1.

Currently, around 65 percent of Myanmar’s fishery production is derived from the wild. That is depleting fast as a result of overfishing and pollution. Preliminary data from a 2013 survey conducted with support from Norway suggested that fish abundance in some Myanmar coastal areas could be as low as 10 percent of what it was 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, contributions from fish farms have also stagnated since Cyclone Nargis hit the country’s coast in 2008, destroying up to 75pc of Myanmar livestock, and as a result of virus outbreaks in fish and shrimp farms.

On the other hand, Myanmar also enjoys a 3,000-mile coastline and several large estuarine delta systems, giving rise to 120,000 acres of land area suitable for aquaculture cultivation, according to the Department of Fisheries.

If government support can be extended to small fish and shrimp farms to scale up their businesses, farmers can take care of their own dietary needs and sell or export the excess supplies.

U Kyaw Tun Myint, vice chair of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, told The Myanmar Times on February 1 that the country has the right resources to develop a strong shrimp farming business. For example, the Rakhine and Ayeyarwady coastlines can be used to farm and produce white Vietnamese shrimp for export purposes.

With a little financial support, existing shrimp farms would be able to scale their businesses for export purposes, he said.

Myanmar exported over 13,000 tonnes of shrimp and prawns worth $50 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Between April and January of the current fiscal year, Myanmar exported the same amount of shrimp and prawns as the previous year. Exports are mainly to Japan as well as Singapore, China, Thailand, UAE, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, EU and the US.

There are over 100 refrigerated factories producing fishery products including prawns and shrimp in Myanmar.

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Champion fighter Moe Tee killed in road accident

LIGHT flyweight lethwei champion Moe Tee was killed in a road accident last week after the motorcycle he was driving was hit by a speeding bus travelling in opposite direction. He was 34.

The head-on collision occurred February 9 at about 9pm near the Ma Saw Bridge in Bilin town of Mon State. He died on the spot.

His fans and colleagues in the ring called Moe Tee’s demise untimely and a grave loss to the lethwei establishment in Myanmar.

“He wasn’t just a friend but more like a brother to me. We have had some great designs on the future of lethwei in this country, but now he has departed. I can’t find the right words to express how saddened I am by his premature death,’’ said Moe Tee’s former colleague in the ring and a champion as well, Saw Nga Mann, speaking to The Myanmar Times.

Moe Tee embarked on a career in the ring at Myanmar Pyi Thar lethwei gym while still in his teens. Moe Tee is his ring name: his real name was Yazar Htun aka Thar Sit Naing.

He was crowned champion of the light flyweight division in 2009. His most recent fight was against a Muaythai fighter at the Tuang Ka Lay lethwei tournament last December: it ended in a draw.

Besides lethwei, Moe Tee was accomplished at wushu as well. He occasionally refereed fights at lethwei tournaments and was a mentor to up-and-coming fighters.

“He was small and short but he was quick and oozing with talent, and matchless in the light flyweight category. I say it with a heavy heart the country has lost one of the greatest lethwei fighters of all time,” said Aung Thu, a regular at Moe Tee’s fights.

Moe Tee is survived by his wife and two young sons. The lethwei federation has pledged K10 lakh in support to his family.

YCDC profits from farm production, leasing activities

Yangon Region draws profits every year from its farms and other means of production, Yangon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe said at a Yangon Regional Parliament session last week. Since 2001-02, Yangon residents have enjoyed affordable access to rice, fish, eggs, poultry, meat and vegetables produced by farms operated by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC). There are currently 12 such YCDC farms in Yangon.

Since farming operations started, the YCDC has cultivated over 4,000 acres of paddy and harvested over 1,000 acres of crops every year. It also operates 3,000 fish farms, while prawn and shrimp farms occupy 250 acres of land around Yangon. The YCDC also bred around 90,000 hens, U Maung Maung Soe said. The produce is sold to Yangon residents at affordable prices.

In 2006-2007, five years after the farms were up and running, the YCDC began leasing out its fish and prawns farms to private businesses to generate more income. It then diversified into cement and brick production by opening two new plants.

In 2013, the cement plant, which can produce up to 500 tonnes of cement a day, was leased out to the private sector.

Meanwhile, the brick factory was transferred to the Ministry of Industry. Since its opening in 2009, the brick factory has produced around 15 million bricks and now also supports the YCDC’s construction projects, U Maung Maung Soe said.

According to YCDC documents, total capital expenditure for its farming and construction projects was around K90 billion for the nine months ended December 2017. So far, K68.5 billion, or around 76 percent, of the YCDC’s capex requirements have been met with internal funds and supply from the farms and plants.

The shortfall of K21.5 billion was adequately covered by income generated from the YCDC’s leasing and other investment activities, which totaled K33.3 billion as at December 2017. “So, the YCDC is in a net profit position for production activities,” said U Maung Maung Soe.

Departing lawyer urged NLD govt to get their acts together

“Myanmar is falling further and further behind its ASEAN neighbours in both reputational risk, as well as ability of foreign investors to understand the government’s policies, despite the adoption of a new Investment Law and now, a Companies Law.”

ERIC Rose from Herzfeld Rubin Meyer & Rose Law Firm Limited (HRMR), the Myanmar affiliate of New York-based Herzfeld & Rubin PC (H&R), attributed his exit to the combination of government inaction, the Rakhine crisis, remaining US financial sanctions and the suspension of the EU-Myanmar investment protection agreement (IPA), which he alluded to as a “three-legged stool”.

The lawyer gave some parting advice to the National League for Democracy-led government in terms of economic reforms.

“The NLD government needs to ‘lift all boats’ at the same time. It can have the funds needed to engage in the required reform policies outlined in the US Chamber’s recommendations if it followed the tried-and-true policies adopted by Eastern European countries after 1990, as well as, for example, the opening of an electric power marketplace like the one in the Philippines. In the end, in its remaining three years in office, it should prioritise those changes which it can implement, and get going,” Mr Rose remarked.

He insisted that the remaining US sanctions are unfair “because they are unique to Myanmar, despite having had three free elections [one general election and two by-elections], whose results were respected by the military and the USDP, unlike the surrounding countries, except for India and Bangladesh.”

The NLD government needs to ‘lift all boats’ at the same time. – Eric Rose, HRMR

Rakhine little impact on Asian investors

Furthermore, the lack of a coherent, sustained and transparent government response to the Rakhine crisis “guarantees that this situation will mar the country’s and, by implication, the NLD’s reputation for the remaining three years of its term”. However, the combination of the three legs has a disproportionate effect only on Western and, specifically, American investments with this country. Asian investors are not as much affected – such a view was echoed by both Vicky Bowman, director of Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, and Katsuji Nakagawa, chair of Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Myanmar (JCCM).

What has got worse?

Those who defend the current administration will point to the recent Investment Law as well as to new Companies Act. But the HRMR lead director said that because of the “lack of a coherent, comprehensive and transparent marketing and public relations campaign”, Myanmar is “falling further and further behind its ASEAN neighbours in both reputational risk, as well as ability of foreign investors to understand the government’s policies”, despite the new legislative reforms.

Because of the lack of a coherent, comprehensive and transparent marketing and public relations campaign, Myanmar is falling further and further behind its ASEAN neighbours in both reputational risk, as well as ability of foreign investors to understand the government’s policies, despite the adoption of a new Investment Law and now, a Companies Law. – Eric Rose, HRMR

The lack of reform in banking and insurance, the refusal to secure a sovereign credit rating, and no exploitation of the rich natural resources for the benefit of the country are another three areas where Mr Rose believed Nay Pyi Taw worsened. Specifically, there have been no new exploration blocks opened, while in fact some licenses are being returned unused to MOGE by the winners.

Other examples he mentioned include the fact that no new power plants built in the last two years, not even temporary plants such as APR Energy’s in southern Mandalay. Meanwhile, there has been little to no investment in new transmission lines, except for those already being built like those to the Chin State, which were initiated under the previous administration.

Economic liberalisation and crony capitalism

U Than Myint U, chair of Yangon Heritage Trust, questioned on social media in response to an earlier interview Mr Rose gave to Asia Times that hoping the civilian-led government to embrace economic liberalism is a misplaced expectation.

“What I don’t understand is why anyone expected this government to move decisively in an economically liberal direction, when it was bound to be at least in part a left reaction to the crony capitalism of the past quarter century,” the historian tweeted.

What I don’t understand is why anyone expected this government to move decisively in an economically liberal direction, when it was bound to be at least in part a left reaction to the crony capitalism of the past quarter century, – Dr Than Myint U

In theory, economic liberalism is not incompatible with de-cronisation but “in practice, people will feel that moves away from state control may entrench existing political economy” and that new opportunities will be captured by existing elites. Hence, the instinct will be to try to redirect newly won state powers.

Eric Rose responded that while Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s only experience with capitalism in the country is “crony capitalism”, the success of capitalist economic reforms is well-documented.

“I understand the reluctance … to adopt capitalist economic policies to change the direction of the country and give it a chance to leap-frog its regional competitors. There is, however, an outstanding, multiple-level prior experience in the economic change from dictatorship and control economies to market-based capitalism: Eastern Europe after 1990s. The results speak for themselves, and what originally was an ‘experiment’ became textbook of what to do and not do in that transition. We, and others, have that experience based on advising local governments in transition, and have made our suggestions to the NLD government, together with the US Chamber, back in June 2016.

“To paraphrase an American expression, ‘what has the NLD to lose’ by trying to adopt the tried-and-true successful policies in Eastern Europe, which have resulted in a multiple increase in their respective people’s standard of living, while also developing a true market economy in which the state has an increasingly diminished role?” he argued.

Kyat holds steady as dollar seesaws

The Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) hit a high of K1,329 against the US dollar last week, its strongest versus the dollar in almost two years.

The kyat has appreciated due to weakness in the greenback. Since the start of the year, it has fallen 3 percent against a basket of major currencies as traders bet major central banks, including in Europe and Japan, would tighten monetary policy on the back of better economies.

Confidence in the dollar has also been shaken by President Donald Trump’s political foibles, which last month resulted in the temporary shutdown of the US government.

In addition, the dollar also weakened after a major rout in the US stock market last week sent the Dow Jones Industrial Index tumbling by more than 1,000 points and 10-year Treasury yields rising to a four-year peak.

The week’s dramatic moves were stoked by concerns of rising inflation and speculation over whether the Federal Reserve and other major central banks would act quicker to raise interest rates.

Volatile currency

Still, the dollar stabilised last Friday for its strongest week against a basket of currencies in nearly 15 months as some traders piled into the greenback in a week of tremendous swings felt in stock and bond markets around the world.

Last Friday, the CBM brought down its reference for the Myanmar kyat to K1,330 against the dollar, from K1,329 earlier in the week. The dollar received support after Congress and US President Donald Trump approved a federal budget plan that ended an overnight federal shutdown.

“Overall, it’s just a highly volatile environment where the idiosyncratic things that drive the market – fundamentals, economic data – are taking second stage … Everything is becoming much more correlated in a very volatile environment,” Boris Schlossberg, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management in New York, told Reuters.

Plaint of a migrant in Yangon

PEOPLE from other regions who come to live in Yangon, need letters of recommendation from the wards where they live and from the police when they want to apply for jobs, loans or to buy things in instalments.

The problem is that when they come to the ward administrators for recommendation letters, they are told to register on the guest list before they are given recommendation letters. If not, they do not get the recommendation.

I have lived in Yangon for less than a year. I moved to Yangon after the government removed the overnight guest registration regulations imposed on visitors.

I knew the law was revised and that is why I did not register, but I faced difficulties when I needed ward and police recommendation letters.

My friend, who shares an apartment with me, told me it is easy to get a recommendation letter if you can tell them your NRC (National Registration Certificate) number and an address, so I went to the ward administrator’s office without taking any other documents.

I rent and live in an apartment on 50th street in Pazundaung township. I went to Pazundaung ward administrator’s office on Saturday afternoon, my off day.

Unfortunately, the office is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. So, I took leave on Monday morning to return to the office.

But the office was still closed when I returned. Later I found out that the ward administrator’s office is open from 7 to 9pm on weekdays, and whatever business transactions one needs from the office can only be performed at that time.

I came to the office that night and told the ward administrator in charge about my apartment on 50th street and that I needed a recommendation letter to apply for a loan from my office.

The ward administrator said he could not give me a recommendation because I did not submit an overnight guest registration.

The Pyithu Hluttaw decided to remove the sections that require residents to report overnight guests during amendment of the Village Tract Administration Law in September 2016, the third time the law was amended.

But for security purposes, the Pyithu Hluttaw added the clause “to inform the ward or village administrator if the guests need to stay more than 60 days in a new place.”

The Hluttaw, however, also prescribed not to take action if they fail to do this. The meaning of informing is similar with the registration of guests, said U Myint Thein, Pazundaung township administrator.

He said it takes 20 days from the day of registration to process in accordance with the Village Tract Administration Law.

The recommendation letter cannot be obtained without submitting a registration for overnight guests. So I asked if I could get it by just submitting an identity card.

He said an identity card was not enough and I needed to show my apartment rental contract, and photocopies of other residents’ identity cards who live there.

When I asked my friend who was staying with me about the requirements, she said she did not have to produce any of these papers when she obtained her letter.

Then she told me her lover was the nephew of the ward administrator. Only then did I realise that the way the ward administration law regulations are enforced depends a great deal on whom you know.

When I asked other people, they said they could get a recommendation letter only with an identity card. Apparently the regulations vary from one ward administration office to another.

“We open our office from 9am to 5pm every day. They can get a recommendation letter after they register on the guest list,” said U Aung Tin Tun, administrator of Pabetan 3 ward. “They can get if they can tell the exact address by just using their identity cards.”

A friend of mine who lives in Tarmwe told me in their ward, recommendation letters can be obtained without reporting overnight guests.

Together, we went to the ward administration office in Tarmwe, as she needed to get a recommendation letter for her work. We got it without any problem.

An employee told me that my friend has lived in the ward since birth and is part of the official household list, so they can give her recommendation letters quickly.

I had to pay K5000 for my recommendation letter, but my friend got hers for free.

The requirement to register on guest lists in the ward administration office is meant to ensure better security for the community. But does this requirement really improve security in the community?

Other countries do not impose such requirements and are much more secure than Myanmar. Maybe the Village Tract Administration Law needs changing to make it better able to serve the people.

Anti-smoking groups want government to control sale of electronic cigarettes

ALARMED by the rising use of electronic cigarettes in the local market, anti-smoking groups want authorities to control the sale of the product as it leads to health hazards.

The People’s Health Foundation (PHF) and its partner organisations held a meeting last December and are planning to submit their findings to the relevant ministries to take action on the sale of the product.

“We are trying to inform about the health risk of electronic cigarette like tobacco usage. It sales should be under controlled and consumers must be aware of the risk. But, the electronic cigarette is not under the control of current tobacco law,” said Dr Than Sein, PHF’s president.

Among the suggestions that are likely to be forwarded to the government are electronic cigarettes should not be sold to anyone under the age of 21 and the government should control imports of this product, according to PHF.

“We expect our proposals on electronic cigarettes to be submitted to the ministries in February,” he said.

Dr Than Sein added: “There is no specific data of those using e-cigarette in the county but we find more people are using than the past. Vaping is become popular among young people”.

A spokeperson for the Non-Communicable Disease unit in the Department of Public Health said “electronic cigarettes are harmful to public health as they contain chemical ingredients like nicotine”.

Vape is used to stop smoking but some people are misusing it, said Dr Aung Thaw, a former medical superintendent of drug dependency treatment hospital.

“Although electronic cigarette or vape does not contain tobacco, its liquid contains chemical ingredients and can be harmful to health. It could also become an addiction and should be kept away from young people,” he added.

Thandar Mon, 24, said “I don’t like the smell of smoke or vape and it annoys me when people smoke cigarette or vape at public places”.

E-juice (vaping liquid) offers different flavors such as menthol, chocolate, fruit and jelly.

“I like vaping and its smell. I used it since last year to stop smoking. I think it is not serious as smoking tobacco because it does not contain tobacco,” said U Myint Thu, 29.

According to a 2014 survey of Myanmar, about 43.8 percent of men and 8.4pc of women are smokers, while 62.2pc of men and 16pc of women are tobacco users.

In addition, to control smoking in public, PHF plans to come out with tobacco-free areas in regions and university campuses by working with government and partner organisations.

UK foreign minister raises refugee issue

THE repatriation of Muslim refugees from Bangladesh topped the discussions between State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and visiting UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Johnson met his counterpart on Sunday morning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nay Pyi Taw.

“In this discussion, both sides discussed latest issues and development in Rakhine State, including physical arrangements for the reparation of displaced people,” said a brief statement released by the ministry.

No further details were disclosed.

His visit comes at a critical time when Myanmar is grappling to resolve the fate of about 650,000 Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh from northern Rakhine State in the wake of a wave of violence that started on August 25 last year.

Thousands are still languishing in squalid camps in Bangladesh and have refused to return to their villages despite attempts by both governments to repatriate them.

According to a British statement, the foreign secretary is on a four-day visit to Asia until Monday.

On Saturday, Johnson visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where the Muslim refugees are sheltering and also met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali.

In a separate meeting with Abdul Hassan Mahmud Ali, the foreign secretary raised the ongoing Rohingya crisis, added the statement.

Johnson said that the UK is committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees.

“UK aid is making a real difference, with £59 million helping to provide the food, water and shelter that is still so needed,” Johnson said.

In Bangladesh, Johnson said he would discuss with Myanmar government how to ease the refugees return to their homes safely.

“I want to see and hear for myself the terrible things these people have been through, and I will be talking to State Counsellor (Daw) Aung San Suu Kyi and other regional leaders about how we can work together to resolve this appalling crisis,” Johnson said in a statement released on Friday.

The foreign secretary will travel to Bangkok for talks with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and also meet the chair of the Advisory Board on the Rakhine Advisory Commission, Surakiart Sathirathai.