Myanmar’s ongoing reform efforts include private sector development, helping the country create an attractive business environment for domestic and international investors. The country’s private sector is working with policymakers to develop its investment strategy, raise awareness about employee rights and ethical business, as well as to provide jobs and vocational training to vulnerable groups such as human-trafficking victims and many others.
Myanmar’s case encouraged experts at the Busan Global Partnership Workshop in November 2014 in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss how the private sector can partner for a country’s development.
Ms. Khine Khine Nwe, Joint Secretary General of Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and member of Myanmar Investment Commission, discussed some ways for business to be a partner for Myanmar’s shared prosperity:
What is the private sector’s role in Myanmar’s development?
If the private sector grows, the country grows. I am glad that governments are now recognising that. We create income, jobs and wealth and help develop domestic resources. We all have the same goal as we want to move forward to see the nation grow and develop.
Myanmar has had positive developments during its transition period. More than 456,000 jobs have been created there since 2011, and new investment to the private sector is helping to develop the country, bringing new jobs for more of its 51.4 million people.
We now need to transform from a focus on profit to seeking ways to benefit the many. It is important that all business comes with responsibility – it should do good for society and no harm to the environment. The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (the Federation) is trying to raise awareness among all businesses, though we still have a lot of challenges.
In Myanmar, one way of encouraging the private sector to think about its role for the country’s development is through participation in the UN Global Compact. Some may see this as basically for promoting corporate social responsibility, but it is in fact about setting business principles for the private sector to be responsible for its contribution to development. In this sense, we are introducing the Global Compact’s 10 principles, which uphold the four pillars of human rights, labor rights, environmental protection and anti-corruption for Myanmar businesses.
We toured the country from early 2014 and now more than 150 enterprises have already committed to the Compact. We hosted the UN Global Compact summit in December in Yangon, to celebrate and mobilise the Myanmar Local Network – with the aim of making our way to a thousand plus members.
The Federation has also worked to sensitise the private sector on human rights, labor standards, environmental protection, anti-corruption and other issues. Myanmar Garment Human Resources Development Center has conducted awareness-raising sessions with the Center’s over 2,000 trainees and supported other enterprises in Myanmar to organise talks on the issues of human trafficking and HIV/AIDS, together with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Department of Revenue also conducted national level workshops on taxation systems, as better tax collection will also boost funds for the country’s development.
I am not saying that what all of the private sector is doing is noble. We are all human beings and we are trying to contribute to the wellbeing of our country.
How can governments promote the private sector for development?
During the transitional period, the Myanmar Government tried to democratise political and economic reforms.
Last year, our country was ranked one of the most difficult places to do business. We came 182nd out of 189 countries in the World Bank Doing Business Report. That was quite alarming. The government established 27 delivery units in various Ministries and the Chamber of Commerce established 29 working groups, which are now talking on every issue to make things easier for businesses. For example, procedural constraints are not a major issue in the country any more and Myanmar moved up to 177th place in this year’s World Bank report.
We are preparing to host the Myanmar Business Forum in early 2015 to discuss all the issues that we cannot solve on the ground at this high-level forum to benefit all investors.
The new Myanmar Government is also trying to support the private sector with the new investment law. This will merge the two currently separate Myanmar domestic investment and foreign investment laws to become one in order to level the playing field between local and foreign businesses. Import and export trade barriers are also coming down as the government is trying to support the private sector.
How does the private sector work with other actors such as communities, government, local organisations to enhance the effectiveness of development in Myanmar?
For example, Myanmar is now planning three Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to help boost development. One is in Thilawa near Yangon, one in Dawei in the south of Myanmar, and the third in Rakhine State on the western coast.
In the sensitive area of Rakhine State, the Kyauk Phyu SEZ can help develop the area. If we teach people to focus on prosperity then eventually it can reduce the focus on tension there.
The SEZ should be environmentally sensitive and economically sustainable. The masterplan has already been released after multi-stakeholder engagement from a management team consisting of government, local authorities, community leaders, civil society, resource persons and the private sector.
There was initial resistance from local people in the Kyauk Phyu area due to lack of knowledge. They worried that SEZs did no good for the community and that they would occupy the region. But we showed the people the real SEZ area would be smaller than they imagined, asked them for more information about the area and told them more about its development.
Now, some of them already bought sewing machines with funding from the local government to be ready to start social businesses before launching the SEZ. These workers will get a certain salary from what they produce and invest back in the business to buy more machines and bring in more workers. This will eventually help transform job seekers into job providers.
How can the Global Partnership help Myanmar toward development effectiveness?
Global agreements on effective development must also meet local requirements. Myanmar is a least developed country, which means that development partners cannot come with a ready-made package for aid effectiveness. Least developed countries need time to adapt before adopting something like this. We need development partners to help us grow together within the local context, while speaking the same language.
Khine Khine Nwe is Joint Secretary General of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and member of Myanmar Investment Commission. She is also Deputy Managing Director of Best Industrial Company Ltd. She was part of Myanmar delegation to the 2014 Busan Global Partnership Workshop in Seoul, Korea, with her participation supported by the UNDP Myanmar Country Office.