Minister U Soe Thane urges the long-term view

The economic improvements to the country since the 2011 transition to civilian government are obvious, but reforms must be continued by subsequent governments, according to Coordinating Minister for Economic Development and Minister for the President’s Office U Soe Thane.

Although the current course struck by the government has generated improvements in certain areas, progress has been slow in others, he said during a keynote speech at yesterday’s ASEAN-Myanmar Forum, organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

“If we look from the optimistic point of view, we can definitely witness the positive improvement in the general condition of our people,” he said. “However, there still remains a lot of hot issues drawing our attention.”

U Soe Thane said many of the improvements are easy to spot. He pointed to the large and growing number of tall new buildings that had taken root in Yangon over the past decade as well as the increase in international products on the street as evidence Myanmar’s transition is moving in the right direction.

“Everyone is complaining about the traffic jam in almost all of the city’s streets at all times of the day. Why? One main reason is because the number of private vehicles has skyrocked in the past four or five years,” he said.

“Look at the smartphones in the hands of the public. Every other person has his own mobile. Some have even three or four … [because of] the not so perfect connections throughout the country … It is very common to see workers at the construction site playing with the smartphone during their short rest time.”

In the countryside, roads and electrification is improving, while there are over 50 newspapers and journals for people to choose from, he said.

However, U Soe Thane acknowledged not all the improvements are coming as quickly as many would like. He added that often expectations are too high, while there is often a capacity gap, not only for the government but for all segments of society.

He said it is important that the succeeding government must continue the march toward a democratic society.

“Our government has successfully laid down the necessary foundation … The next, next governments have to take up and march forward,” he said. “From one government to another, the march to democracy has to go on by all means.

“It is very rare that a nation can transform into a democratic one during the tenure of one government. It is indeed a very complicated process and usually takes three or four governments to really capture the democratic goal,” he said.

U Soe Thane also said that for economic reform, there must be more focus on private-sector development.

He pointed to businesses and businesspeople such as U Sein Maung from First Private Bank, Kanbawza, and prominent entrepreneur Serge Pun as leading examples of enterprise that is only now taking off.

Businesspeople are not satisfied yet, but he said that the economic progress is gradually moving forward.

“Inch by inch, foot by foot, we have to move. We have to try our best,” he said. “Every government [transitioning] from the military to democracy has the same problems.”

In a follow-up interview, the minister discussed US investment into the country, which some say has been underwhelming.

U Soe Thane said it is now better than the past three to five years, adding that the amount is not important, but the fact that any at all is coming is a positive sign, as there is a political angle.

He added that there is growth in exports to other markets like China, India and Europe.

U Soe Thane also discussed the garment industry, which has been affected by recent strikes. He claimed employee capacity is currently low, so workers must not reach too high with their demands.

“The workers want to get salary at the level of ASEAN standard, but their skill is low,” he said. U Soe Thane gave an example where Thai workers may produce 10 shirts a day, but in Myanmar workers produce much less.

“We have a lack of skilled workers … We need more awareness from the people,” he said. If the owners are able to generate more income, than workers will receive higher salaries, but if demands are too high, then factories will close and head elsewhere.

“We need time,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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