Job creation falling short: U Serge Pun

Prominent businessperson U Serge Pun said Myanmar has a mixed scorecard on job creation, and is not seeing the employment growth it could achieve.

While the government has clearly place employment on the agenda, the amount of jobs being added over the last two years had fallen short of the desired results, he said at Euromoney’s Myanmar Global Investment Forum in Nay Pyi Taw on September 16.

A focused effort to bring in manufacturers who employ large numbers of people differs from attracting other types of FDI, he said.

“[Manufacturers] are focused, they have a very thin margin. Everything they do on an everyday basis counts because they have to sell what they produce on an international market,” he said during a panel discussion during the conference. He added it is crucial to address areas like infrastructure and electricity to attract manufacturers.

U Serge Pun said it should be possible to attract 1000 factories employing 1000 people each for a total of 1 million jobs, noting Bangladesh has 3600 such factories and southern China has 32,000. Technicians and management employees can be found through job fairs in places like Singapore, but employment for lower-level workers is needed, he said.

While figures for total number of factories in Myanmar are hard to come by, the Myanmar Garments Manufacturer Association’s figures from earlier this year show over 200 garment factories in Myanmar at present, employing over 250,000 workers.

U Zay Yar Aung, chair of the Myanmar Investment Commission, said the government is inviting foreign investment in areas like industry, infrastructure and industrial zones to create job opportunities.

International Finance Corporation vice president for Asia Pacific Karin Finkelston said the Myanmar economy has seen great momentum. The Asian Development Bank has pegged GDP growth for the fiscal year ending in March 2014 at 7.5 percent, which Ms Finkelston said would satisfy most countries.

“What we really have to look at is what are the results for people,” she said.
Jobs are one issue, while the inclusivity of growth – meaning for instance that it is not just centred in the main cities – is another.

Other panelists pointed to other regional economies with the same challenge.
Bangkok Bank executive vice president Kobsak Pootrakool said Thailand for instance has failed to bring along everyone together.

“[Growth] is only limited to Bangkok and some certain areas in the country,” he said, while adding much of the country is still behind.

Smaller businesses often face large challenges when setting up shop.

U Serge Pun said that it can be tough for the “little chaps” of the business world to get attention from senior officials.

American firm General Electric for instance has five employees in Myanmar, but “would get an audience any time they come to the government, because they’re GE,” he said.

“But I tell you the little chap who starts a sewing factory and employs 200 guys will never get an audience because it’s too small.”

Rather than requiring visits to senior government officials, the process should be streamlined, he said.
U Serge Pun also said he would like to see larger budgets for the Myanmar Investment Commission and Central Bank of Myanmar, as the two institutions face large volumes of work with too few staff.

Asked who would pay for the expense, he said: “The business committee would definitely underwrite it if allowed.”


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