News / Asia

Activists Worry About Investor Interest in Burma

A man uses an automated teller machine (ATM) machine at a shopping center in Yangon, Burma, May 27, 2012.A man uses an automated teller machine (ATM) machine at a shopping center in Yangon, Burma, May 27, 2012.
x
A man uses an automated teller machine (ATM) machine at a shopping center in Yangon, Burma, May 27, 2012.
A man uses an automated teller machine (ATM) machine at a shopping center in Yangon, Burma, May 27, 2012.
Ron Corben
Burma is under pressure to implement broad economic reforms as the country still catches up with recently significant political change. This has brought both excitement and concern over reviving an economy that was once a commercial hub for Southeast Asia.

Reforms under President Thein Sein have largely ended the political and economic isolation that left Burma as one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.
 
But as investors and businesses look for opportunities, there remain significant hurdles for the political, legal and economic reforms necessary for growing businesses.
 
Sean Turnell, a Macquarie University economist in Australia and recent visitor to Burma, says many restrictions in business, some dating back to the British colonial era, remain in place.
 
"A lot of the old restrictions on the economy - a lot of that stuff hasn't been touched yet which I think is remarkable in that it's very much against the trend particularly in Asia - the trend is economics first and politics a begrudging second," Turnell noted.

Government ministers have set out an ambitious reform agenda including a new investment law, greater government transparency, plans for infrastructure development, and the creation of industrial zones.
 
There are also new labor laws, new tax codes as well as currency reforms.
 
But Turnell says the changes may not be coming fast enough for President Thein Sein.
 
"I think the President in particular seems to be a little bit frustrated that the reforms have not been to the extent that might be expected," added Turnell.  "In other words on that score I think we're likely to see many more soon along that front."
 
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has cautioned investors about the significant changes still needed inside Burma. She told entrepreneurs in Bangkok at the World Economic Forum that jobs are the country's biggest need, calling the unemployment rate a "time bomb."
 
The caution is echoed by some activist groups. Debbie Stothard is spokesperson for rights group, Alternative ASEAN Network.

"That there's such a push for business and investment in Burma I think Aung San Suu Kyi's remarks were a reality check and a wakeup call to the business community and the world at large that they have to think through their situation and the impact on the local population," said Stothard.

An upbeat mood for the outlook of Burma, also known as Myanmar, was held by Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, during the recent World Economic Forum.

"We do hope to have helped push the process along and for us now the two issues are extremely important; national reconciliation within the Myanmese body politico led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein. We hope that this national reconciliation is going to go forward, is to bring peace and unity and reconciliation to Myanmar," said Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan.

Some foreign businesses who operate in developing countries have dismissed the caution as overblown. Joseph Stiglitz, an economics professor at Columbia University and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for Economics, believes Suu Kyi is being unduly pessimistic over the outlook for Burma and investors will push ahead.

"When we look at the judicial processes we will feel - we wish they were better, but I think that these will be an awareness of the desire and need to attract investors… so I thought she was excessively pessimistic maybe about this," said Stiglitz.

Enthusiasm from foreign investors has led to concerns among some analysts that rapid economic growth could impede further political reforms. Former Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhavan is a leading Burma rights advocate.

"The survival of the struggle in Burma for democratization and freedom has come to a slow - how would I say - slow death," said Kraisak Choonhavan.  "The entire effort now on all Western Countries and other countries are in the quick grab on the resources of Burma and investment spots, sort of like wagon trains, like a gold rush".

But others in Burma such as well-known comedian, Zarganar, who spent 11 years as a political prisoner, believe the country has entered a new era.
 
"This is very important time of our country - how can I say - this is the dawn of our country - we have to go to the day," said Zarganar.  "We don't want to go back to the dark. The three "D's" era - now we are standing in the dawn we have to go to the day. We don't want to go back to the dark."

The political reforms and investor interest in Burma's natural resources, young labor force and proximity to India and China have already led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to raise its forecast for Burma's economy to six per cent in 2012.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid