June 19, 2012 / 4:27 AM / 7 years ago

Myanmar's president promises second wave of reform

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar will embark on a “second wave of reforms” that will include tentative privatisation and a law on the minimum wage, President Thein Sein said on Tuesday, indicating no let-up in the country’s rapid economic overhaul.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein attends a joint news conference with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (not pictured) following their bilateral meeting at the Japan-Mekong summit in Tokyo April 21, 2012. REUTERS/Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool

“From this year onwards, we are working on a second wave of reforms which will focus especially on the development of the country and the public’s welfare,” said the former general, who has presided over the managed float of Myanmar’s currency and other unprecedented reforms since taking office last year.

An eagerly awaited foreign investment law would be enacted in the next parliamentary session, expected next month, while the government was also drafting laws on industrial zones and a minimum wage.

The government vowed to triple gross domestic product per capita by fiscal 2015/16, Thein Sein said in a televised speech billed by official media as a “state of the union address” on his impoverished country’s reform process.

In the wake of sectarian riots in northwest Myanmar that killed 50 people and displaced 30,000, he also vowed to “continue to work on national reconciliation, national peace and stability and the rule of law, and the safety of the public”.

Thein Sein, whose quasi-civilian government replaced a military junta that he was a member of 15 months ago, spoke of reducing the state role in several important industries, including telecommunications, electricity, energy, forestry, education, health and “financial matters”.

“The privatisation that is in the second wave of government reforms does not mean we are going to break them up and sell them,” he said.

The president said the government’s budget alone would not be enough to achieve its goals and highlighted the need for more foreign help in terms of aid, grants, loans and expertise to reduce poverty and boost the economy.


However, he cautioned that Myanmar would “choose the type of investment that does not hurt the environment and social economy”.

His remarks were strikingly similar to those of the wildly popular Aung San Suu Kyi, who has returned to Europe for the first time since 1988, when she left her family life in Britain and found herself thrust into Myanmar’s fight against dictatorship, mostly from the confines of her Yangon home.

Thein Sein’s businesslike address is unlikely to take attention away from Suu Kyi’s five-nation tour, on which she has met heads of state, attended a star-studded concert and received a standing ovation in Oslo where she delivered her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 while in detention.

Thein Sein cancelled his appearance at a World Economic Forum in Bangkok early this month, prompting speculation that he feared being upstaged by Suu Kyi, whose attendance marked her first visit outside Myanmar in 24 years.

Thein Sein on Tuesday alluded to recent street protests over chronic power outages by acknowledging that the popular demand for electricity outstripped the supply from the country’s mainly hydroelectric sources.

He announced the formation of a national energy committee to investigate alternative energy sources such as natural gas, much of which Myanmar now sells to neighbouring Thailand.

His speech was short on politics, but in a veiled reference to the recent sectarian riots between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya, he warned of “incitement” and urged the public to “work in a united manner for the country’s development”.

Thein Sein did not touch upon the fate of hundreds of political prisoners who remain behind bars, of whom Suu Kyi on Saturday called for the “earliest, unconditional release”.

Reporting by Reuters staff reporter; Writing by Andrew R. C. Marshall; Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel

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