Myanmar Banker: We Can Learn a Lot From Indonesia

Business leaders from across Asia will be at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Manila later this week to discuss investment opportunities in the region.

Myanmar, a nation of almost 60 million people, is welcoming foreign investment as it is trying to transform itself into an economy that can compete with the rest of Southeast Asia after decades of military rule.

Aung Ko Win, chairman of Kanbawza Bank Limited in Myanmar, responded via e-mail to questions from the Jakarta Globe about the future of Myanmar and investment opportunities in the country. He said that Myanmar can learn from Indonesia’s experience and there are many issues that need to be addressed even as Myanmar has undergone a rapid economic transformation in the past few years. Its potential lies with its young population and low labor expenses.

Indonesia has made great strides in nurturing its own democracy, the third-biggest in the world. President Suharto stepped down after 32 years of authoritarian rule in 1998, and greater freedom since then has led to a freer press and boosted an economy that the World Bank has recently said is the 10th-largest in the world.

Myanmar switched to a new government in 2011, and since then, under President Thein Sein, many political prisoners have been released, the nation has set out plans for economic reforms, and it opened itself to foreign direct investment. Yet, the country remains among the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, and infrastructure such as roads needs to be constructed in order to help facilitate economic growth.

“Myanmar can learn much from Indonesia’s national rebuilding,” Win said. “Indonesia has more experience than Myanmar in its political transition and economic transformation. Indonesia is much more ahead in its decentralization of authority to a local government level. It seems like Indonesia has significant experience in dealing with various regional demands for autonomy that Myanmar is also facing.”

Win says that more employment opportunities are necessary in his country, because that could help alleviate some of the most acute problems associated with poverty. At the same time, he added, more jobs could create higher disposable income and boost consumer spending.

“The country has undergone half a century of isolation and so the country’s institutions and people [need] to undergo extensive training and development in order to be on par with international standards,” Win said. “The Myanmar economy mainly relies on agriculture and resources for its exports. Although Myanmar is a resource-rich country, it should not only rely on resources but also develop its manufacturing sector.” Here, Win said, the country had competitive advantages such as a large young population and low labor costs.

He also said that Myanmar needed to support growth of its small and medium enterprises, which make up almost 90 percent of all businesses in the country. “By supporting the development of the SME sector we can create further linkages for economic growth,” Win said.

Indonesia can help support Myanmar’s SMEs through joint ventures and collaboration through partnerships, he added.

“Myanmar and Indonesian people have similar mentalities and can surely work closely together in business ventures,” he said.

In terms of investment, Indonesian companies can help Myanmar in areas such as resource-based industries, export-based activities, infrastructure development and other supporting industries, Win said, adding that “this can be a win-win situation for both.”

Indonesia’s institutions of higher learning can also pass some of their knowledge to students or institutions in Myanmar, Win said.

Source Jakarta Globe

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