Political divide within USDP? - Disagreement between President Thein Sein and Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann has resulted in a division in Parliament between army representatives and MPs from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). During a session of the Lower House, the divide was clear in a heated debate of a bill that is opposed by Shwe Mann. The bill, which was proposed by the Union Election Commission (UEC), would allow the removal of lawmakers from Parliament if the election commission receives complaints about their performance from just 1 percent of their constituents. Shwe Mann and other USDP lawmakers oppose the bill, saying 1 percent is not sufficient criticism to warrant removal from office. If enacted into law, they said the bill could stir up political unrest. Army MPs have a reputation for staying quiet during discussions of bills, but they took part in the heated debate. Several USDP lawmakers called to suspend talks on the bill until after the Constitution is amended but army representatives—who are not elected—demanded that the bill be discussed and approved. Both sides launched verbal tirades against each other until Shwe Mann decided to suspend discussion of the controversial bill. Recently lawmakers have been reporting that a political rivalry has developed between Thein Sein, who also belongs to the USDP, and Shwe Mann, who was the third-ranking general in the former regime and has expressed ambitions to run for president in the 2015 election.
A New Head for The Central Bank - Myanmar's Parliament has approved the appointment of governor and three vice governors for the Central Bank. The approval came after President Thein Sein sent a list of nominations to the top posts of the bank on July 25. He nominated Kyaw Kyaw Maung as governor and Set Aung, Than Nyein and Khin Saw Oo as vice governors. Kyaw Kyaw Maung is a former governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar. Than Nyein, appointed as vice governor, had also served as governor before this appointment. Set Aung is the deputy minister for national planning and economic development and Khin Saw Oo is a professor at the University of Economics. The Central Bank of Myanmar which is currently the purview of the Ministry of Finance and Revenue will soon become an independent body.
New e-commerce law - The Lower House has approved a proposal to amend the Electronic Transactions Law. The Law has a long list of offenses and imposes heavy penalties. U Thein Nyut, MP of Thingankyun constituency submitted a proposal to make the law more humane and suitable to contemporary Myanmar by reducing punishments and amending some of the sections. While submitting the proposal U Thien Nyut said “We live in an era of IT advancements, as such the Electronic Transactions Law cannot be determined as a criminal procedure code. It is outdated and not appropriate anymore.” A proposal was submitted on January 29, 2013 to abolish the Electronic Transactions Law and draft a new e-commerce law. The Parliament approved the amendment of the Electronic transaction law and recommended that it be implemented whilst working on a new e-commerce law. A Committee has been formed comprising experts from Ministries concerned, local entrepreneurs, IT experts together with international legal and IT experts to draft the new e-commerce law.
New Position for Shwe Mann - Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann has been appointed Union Parliament speaker. Shwe Mann took over as Union Parliament Speaker from Khin Aung Myint, the Upper House Speaker. The Union Parliament speaker represents the two chambers of Myanmar’s legislature, the upper and the lower houses. The position, which holds great political power, is rotated between the speakers of the two chambers every two and a half years, midway through the government’s five-year mandate. Lawmakers said the position will give him a greater role in resolving challenges during Myanmar’s democratic transition, such as reaching a national peace agreement and amending the country’s Constitution. In a first speech in his new role, Shwe Mann called for a sustainable nationwide peace agreement with ethnic rebel groups and for an end to inter-communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities. Talking about Myanmar’s development, he said, “We need to understand and practice multiparty democracy and market-oriented economic systems with a growing trend towards development.” Shwe Mann will stay on as Union Parliament speaker until 2015 when he is likely to run in the elections as leader of the USDP, the ruling party which comprises members of Myanmar’s former military regime. Shwe Man was the third most powerful general in Myanmar’s former military junta, after Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye. The USDP leader has been seeking a greater political role and his new position would give him more influence on key challenges during Myanmar’s democratic transition, such as the peace process and amending the 2008 Constitution. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, meanwhile, appears to be moving closer to Shwe Mann, as both parliamentary leaders want to gain more influence on decision-making by Thein Sein’s government. Their cooperation is also crucial to establishing parliamentary support for the peace process or constitutional amendments.
The Speaker of the UK Parliament visits - John Bercow, Speaker of the British House of Commons, gave a feisty speech at the University of Yangon on Thursday, welcoming nascent change in Myanmar but underlining the need for continued reform to further the country’s democratic transition. Bercow’s speech and actions were a marked departure from the typical role of the speaker of Britain’s lower house, as it is unusual for the speaker to involve himself in anything that could be deemed “political.” Urging the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners, Bercow called on the government to repeal repressive laws, conduct a full legislative review, revise the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law and enshrine international human rights standards into law. Bercow also called for amendments to the 2008 Constitution urging that “Any constitutional change that would not allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to be a candidate for president would be regarded in my country, and surely across the international community, as a joke in very poor taste,” referring to a constitutional provision that prevents Suu Kyi from running for the office because her late husband and children are foreign nationals. “But I am not here just to tell the government what we expect of them,” Bercow added. “I am also here, along with my colleagues, to offer assistance.” In addition to the British delegation’s trip to Myanmar, he noted that two groups of Myanmar parliamentarians had already been to London to consult on issues of lawmaking, and that both sides were considering ways to further that relationship. Bercow called on the government to engage in genuine political dialogue with Myanmar’s ethnic rebel groups, some of which have been at war with the government for more than 50 years. Bercow also called on the government to bring to an end the prevailing culture of impunity. “If the president’s reforms are to be believed, the culture of the Tatmadaw” must change, Bercow said, calling the military by its Myanmar name. When asked about the durability of the current reforms, Bercow, looking out over a crowd that included students from all over Myanmar responded that the people’s appetite for change had become irreversible and that ultimately, he was an optimist.
Action against Tax Evasion - Myanmar’s Lower House speaker Thura Shwe Mann has ordered two parliamentary committees to produce a report on how to tackle tax evasions in the country. The topic was first raised in the parliamentary session by MP Tin Nwe Oo pointing out the lack of proper tax reports from various tax offices. She said tax officials in border areas failed to make reports on the 1.5 percent pre-trading tax collected at their offices. This has drained millions of kyats from the country’s revenue, and should be investigated. The Deputy Minister for Revenue tried to counter, but his explanation focused on the other topic of tax evasions by business organizations. Thura Shwe Mann said the deputy minister’s explanation was insufficient, and that the Public Accounts Committee and Finance and Revenue Development Committee needed to investigate. Myanmar has yielded better revenue from taxes in the recent year. During the first year the civilian government regulated tax, total revenue achieved was over 1500 billion kyats. In the following year, it reached over 2500 billion kyats, a pleasing increase but due mainly to the increased tax pay of the general public rather than on top businessmen.
Debt cancellation for Farmers? - An adviser to Myanmar's President has suggested that the government cancel farmers’ debts to help encourage agricultural development and empower poorer sectors of society. Dr U Myint, leader of the economic advisory group of President Thein Sein, made the suggestion during a gathering at the 25th anniversary of the 1988 pro-democracy protests held in Yangon on Tuesday. "Last week, France talked about cancelling a debt of US$550 million while also announcing that the remaining US$550 will have to be paid in 15 years. First, part of debt is cancelled and then the remaining is to be paid gradually. In this way, debt burdens on farmers and the poor could be reduced. The government should consider that way," he said.
WTO offers help – The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is discussing an Enhanced Integrated Framework program to assist Myanmar's economic development. The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) is a multi-donor programme, which helps least-developed countries (LDCs) play a more active role in the global trading system. The programme has an overall goal of promoting economic growth and sustainable development and helping to lift more people out of poverty. The WTO has been carrying out EIF programmes in less developed countries like Myanmar for a number of years. The WTO accepted Myanmar as an EIF member in April of this year and it will participate in Myanmar’s trade activities and trade development programs. The WTO, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and UN agencies such as UNCTAD and UNDP are now cooperating with the EIF program to provide trade assistance to 49 least developed countries.
Gas pipeline opens – The Myanmar section of the Myanmar-China natural gas pipeline with investors from four countries; China, Myanmar, South Korea and India, has started to deliver gas to China. The pipeline is part of the so-called Myanmar-China Oil and Gas Pipeline project, which also includes building a crude oil pipeline. Starting from Kuaykphyu, it passes through Rakhine state, Magway and Mandalay regions and Shan state and enters Chinese territory at Ruili, Yunnan province through Namhkan. The gas pipeline stretches for 793 km onshore within Myanmar's territory with six processing stations, while the crude oil pipeline, which is also nearing completion, starts from Made Island and extends onshore for 771 km. The gas pipeline has an annual throughput of 12 billion cubic meters. After the completion and commissioning of the whole project, 2 million tons of crude oil and 20 percent of the designed throughput of gas will be off-loaded in Myanmar. After three years of construction, the gas pipeline (Myanmar section) was completed and underwent a test run on May 30. The project has created a huge amount of job opportunities, hiring over 6,000 for the construction work. More than 220 Myanmar enterprises were involved in the project with their employees receiving technical training.
Severe internet disruptions - Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) said disruptions to internet traffic and speed were caused by a damaged cable, which has now been mended. Disruption began in mid-July and MPT originally said the problem would take one month to repair. It claimed to have fixed the damage, blamed on a half kilometer of “leaking” at an underground cable near the Irrawaddy Delta city Pyapon but disruptions continued well into the month. Until new contract winners move into Myanmar to expand the country’s wireless and telecommunications system, there is only one Internet link with the outside world. MPT has signed an agreement with China Unicom to add at least one more Internet router into Myanmar, but no time frame for its installation has been announced. The cause of the damaged line was not disclosed but it resulted in a 60 percent reduction in power.
Ital-Thai ends operations in Dawei - The Italian-Thai Development Company will end operations in the Dawei Special Economic Zone. The company is facing financial difficulties with the project and has failed to implement the project to within the agreed time frame. Myanmar and Thailand have established a new company to continue the project and registered it in Thailand. For the Dawei SEZ and its related projects to be successful, Myanmar and Thailand will have to sign agreement between share holders, and other agreements. Both countries will hold equal shares in the company through Myanmar’s Foreign Economic Relation Department (FERD) and Thailand’s Neighbouring Countries Economic Development (NEDA). However it was also announced that the construction costs of the highway already constructed by Ital-Thai would have to be reimbursed.
New airports - Myanmar has awarded contracts to expand two existing airports and build a new international airport, as growth in tourism expects to see annual foreign arrivals rise from about 2 million to 7 million by 2020. One contract to expand Myanmar’s main international airport, Yangon International Airport, which currently has a capacity to handle 2.7 million passengers annually has been awarded to a consortium led by Pioneer Aerodrome Services Co., an affiliate of the major Myanmar conglomerate Asia World, which is run by Steven Law (aka Tun Myint Naing), who is still on the US sanctions list. Malaysian and Singaporean companies are also part of the consortium. Apart from Yangon International Airport a new international hub, Hanthawaddy International Airport, will be built by South Korea’s state-run Incheon International Airport Corp (IIAC). The new hub will be built in Pegu, about 50 miles northeast of Yangon. The airport is expected to handle 12 million passengers a year and be finished by 2018. The final contract for the Hanthawaddy project, worth over US $1 billion, will be signed by the end of the year. Elsewhere, a consortium of Mitsubishi Corp., Japan Airlines Corp. and SPA Project Management Ltd. have won a contract to repair and operate Mandalay . Built in 2000, the existing Mandalay airport is currently capable of handling 600,000 passengers a year. Located in central Myanmar, the airport handles flights to 12 cities across the country and saw a 20 percent growth in passengers last year, with 500,000 domestic passengers and some 80,000 international passengers.
Are we ready for AEC? - Although Myanmar is moving forward with economic reforms and opening up to the international community, businesspeople say the country is not yet ready to join a planned integrated network of Southeast Asian economies in 2015. A lack of infrastructure, human resources and technology, along with an unfinished legal framework for businesses, are a concern for Myanmar as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) attempts to form a single market within the next two years. Myanmar has a largely agricultural economy that depends on rice and bean exports. Farmers are worried that the country’s agricultural sector will struggle to meet requirements for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). According to data compiled by Myanmar’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation from 2011, 25 percent of the country’s economic output comes from the farming sector. The country’s rice exports almost tripled over the past three years and are expected to reach 1.4 million tons in the current fiscal year, according to the Myanmar Rice Federation. However, rice traders say they lack solid financial support and continue to encounter logistical problems, largely due to poor infrastructure. Ports and trading points were not yet sufficient to upgrade the export sector. The quality of Myanmar’s rice also makes it difficult to compete with neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. Dr. Maung Maung Lay, vice president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), agreed that Myanmar was not yet prepared for the ASEAN single market but said business people were ready to overcome existing hurdles.
Local investment on the increase - Local investment has reached over 3,069 billion Kyat after the Myanmar Investment Commission gave permits to another nine citizen-owned businesses, according officials. Myanmar nationals have opened 11 enterprises in the country this year according to the report of the Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration (DICA). Local businessmen will be investing in various enterprises including a 50-MW natural gas-fired power plant, motorway tolls, garment manufacturing, and the construction of hotels and shopping centres. Myanmar businessmen mostly invested in the construction industry in the past, but now are moving into other sectors such as consumer goods.
Indonesia in Telecoms too - Indonesia based PT Telkom has been selected to construct telecommunication mobile network in Myanmar. Telkom is the largest telecommunications services company in Indonesia and state-owned. Myanmar awarded Norway-based Telenor and Qatar-based Ooredoo communication licences at the end of June. Among two operators, Ooredoo is reported to have chosen PT Telkom to carry out construction work of the mobile network. Although PT Telkom was not involved in the competitive mobile tender for the two operating licenses, they were granted permission for opening a branch office in Myanmar. Telekom mainly operates in fixed line telephony, mobile and internet services, digital television and IT Services, while other businesses are run by subsidiaries.
New Housing Bank - The Construction and Housing Development Bank Limited (CHDB) will open its first branch in the next few weeks. The bank was licensed on July 15 and aims to provide cheap housing loans with 20 to 30 year terms for low-income families, pensioners and government workers. The company aims to go public and sell up to 10 million shares at K 10,000 a unit. The CHDB will allow government employees, staff from private companies and international investors to invest in shares, according to the Ministry of Construction.
ExIm India invests - India’s state Export-Import Bank is planning to invest US$800 million in Myanmar. The money, in the form of loans, will be used to modernize the Yangon-Mandalay railway line and finance a vehicle assembly factory for India’s budget carmaker Tata Motors. The loans are part of an Indian initiative to counterbalance the huge investment that China has already made in Myanmar.
Indonesian Agro Industries - Indonesia’s state-owned agricultural industries are bidding to operate farms and sell fertilizers in Myanmar. The Pupuk Indonesia Holding Company (PIHC) and subsidiary Pupuk Sriwidjaja are weighing up the potential market in Myanmar. Indonesia wants their state-owned companies to not only sell fertilizer but also manage their own plots of land in Myanmar an Indonesian minister said. PIHC has already sold 40,000 tons of fertilizer and aims to sell 180,000 tons by the end of 2013 through dealings with the Myanmar Agribusiness Public Corporation. Myanmar is a promising market with millions of hectares of rice fields and good quality water for irrigation, but also with low yields due to poor fertilization.
Four new local airlines – Four new locally owned airlines have been given operating licences. They are Yadanabon, Saga, Apex and FMI. Yadanabon and Saga will base their companies in Mandalay and the rest will be based in Naypyitaw. FMI is already operating its Yangon-Naypyitaw flight services with aircraft leased from Myanma Airways. The companies chose Mandalay and Naypyitaw to base as the authorities have restricted the number of airlines to base in Yangon International Airport (YIA) which is the main gateway to the countryThere are seven local airlines already operating in the country Air Bagan, Golden Myanmar Airlines, Myanma Airways, Yangon Airways, Asian Wings, Air KBZ, and Air Mandalay.
Interbank currency trading - Myanmar introduced interbank currency trading in August, the latest reform to the financial sector, which follows the managed float of the kyat currency from April 2012. The local banking system is rudimentary at best, so the interbank market is likely to be tiny initially. Banks can now compete on equal terms with each other with compete transparency. Than Lwin, vice-chairman of KBZ Bank, the biggest private lender in the country, and a retired vice-governor of the central bank, said: “We do welcome their allowing interbank marketing. It’s a big step toward the emergence of a foreign exchange market.” Under International Monetary Fund supervision, the authorities started unifying the various exchange rates at the time of the introduction of the managed float in 2012, and the central bank started selling foreign currency to private banks through auctions. In an annual report on Myanmar’s economy published by the IMF it said that as of May the currency had fallen about 13.5 percent since the float, which had taken it closer to its long-run fundamental value. Last year it said the kyat was as much as 40 percent overvalued. The central bank sets a benchmark rate against the dollar each day. Other traded currencies are the Euro and Singapore dollar.
UK stays away - British firms are staying out of Myanmar because they are sceptical of President Thein Sein’s reform process despite the end of EU sanctions and concerned about continuing military influences in business. That’s the conclusion of the human rights NGO Burma Campaign UK after talking to a number of companies in the manufacturing and retail sectors. Although firms are being encouraged by the British government to invest in Myanmar, the consensus seems to be to stay out until after the 2015 elections. They say there is a sense that the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) is dominated by officials close to the military who, in many cases, are likely to favour businesses owned by the military. Meanwhile Reformists amongst the political elite are keen to demonstrate improved governance to create a more favourable foreign investment climate for western investors. However, a sudden influx of capital and donor-financing is likely to increase the scope for corrupt practices, which will require consistent monitoring and risk mitigation mechanisms. The Burma Campaign UK is one of a number of European human rights NGOs which have argued that improved trading relations with Myanmar should be conditional on improved human rights in the country. However, companies in Asia now investing in Myanmar do not share the concerns of British firms, nor do their governments subject them to the close scrutiny that US companies face from Washington. Japan is at the forefront of seeking investment opportunities in Myanmar, although some big corporations have complained about the slowness of progress in obtaining approvals to start projects—notably the Thilawa special economic zone on the outskirts of Yangon.
Credit Card Expansion - Visa International expects that the number of Myanmar merchants accepting its credit card for transactions will climb to between 5,000 and 6,000 over the next 3-5 years. Like other multinational companies investing in Myanmar after the US lifted economic sanctions, Visa entered the market a year ago, and already some 100 local merchants have installed electronic data capture devices, whilst there are around 100 ATMs accepting Visa cards. Visa card payment and cash withdrawal services are available only for foreign travellers, as Myanmar's central bank does not permit local banks to issue such cards bearing the Visa brand. Visa will gradually develop the credit and debit card business in Myanmar, as it waits for infrastructure development, financial regulations and especially the telecommunications system. Visa has granted its business licence to eight of Myanmar's 18 banks, of which half already provide payment service at point-of-sale and cash withdrawal via ATMs for Visa cardholders. The others are preparing for operations. The licence covers financial transactions for all debit and credit cards. In Myanmar a mere 10,000 plastic cards issued by local banks are in circulation. Competitor MasterCard has also entered the market. Eventually they both hope that the Central Bank will allow the banks to issue their own credit cards.
No fanfare for tobacco - whilst some of the world’s biggest companies have noisily announced their arrival in Myanmar, the tobacco industry has a different strategy: it is slipping into the country without fanfare. The impoverished nation emerged from a half-century of isolation and military rule two years ago. With most international sanctions against the country lifted or suspended, foreign businesses from Coca-Cola and Unilever to Heineken and Carlsberg have scrambled to get in. So too has Big Tobacco but without the galas or grandly worded press announcements. British American Tobacco, the world’s second largest cigarette manufacturer, shepherded a select audience of government officials to a low key ceremony last month where it formalized a $50 million investment over five years to produce, market and sell its brands in Myanmar. Its factory, to be built on the outskirts of Yangon, will create about 400 jobs. Japan Tobacco, No. 3 globally, quietly inked a deal nearly a year ago with local partner tycoon Kyaw Win. A company spokesman said a factory was being built, but refused to discuss details, from the project’s scale or brand name to the plant’s location. China’s largest tobacco producer is also setting up a multi-million dollar joint venture. “They seem to think by entering the market stealthily, they can avoid public scrutiny,” says Tin Maung, a retired army major and Myanmar’s top anti-smoking campaigner. In a country where infrastructure is poor at best the government is hopeful that foreign investment will create new jobs and help speed development. But other priorities such as health, the environment and public welfare are often pushed aside.
A New Bridge to Thilawa - Japanese-based Itochu Corporation will build a Yangon-Thilawa bridge as part of the Thilawa special economic zone project. Japan is the main investor in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and will be providing basic infrastructure for the construction of the industrial zone deep sea port as well as building the Yangon-Thilawa bridge. The bridge will cross the Bago River connecting the Thilawa industrial area to central Yangon although the site is yet to be confirmed. Upon completion of the bridge, local residents will be able to cross three bridges between Yangon and Thanlyin, KyaukTan, Khayan, Thonegwa townships and the Thilawa industrial area. Japan is giving first priority to infrastructure projects such as the construction of the NgaMoeyeik bridge, the Yangon-Thilawa bridge and upgrading the Yangon-Mandalay highway as well as Yangon’s housing and city development. Most of these projects will be carried out the Japanese development aid and assistance.
ANA buys into Asian Wings - Japan’s ANA Holdings Inc is expected to buy a 49 percent stake in Myanmar carrier Asian Wings Airways as part of a strategy to expand overseas by investing in airline related businesses. ANA will pay US$30.45 million for the stake. Yangon-based Asian Wings, which began flying in 2011, operates three turboprop ATR 72 regional aircraft and one Airbus A321 on domestic flights within Myanmar. The airline plans to begin international services in October with a flight between Yangon and Chiang Mai, Thailand. ANA resumed flights between Tokyo and Yangon last October after a 12-year hiatus. ANA last year raised $1.6 billion in a share offering to fund purchases in airline related businesses focused in Asia. The company this year established an investment firm in Singapore to coordinate its acquisitions. ANA acquired Pan Am Holdings from fund American Capital Ltd for $139 million in July, giving it ownership of Pan Am International Flight Academy, a pilot training school. In addition to leasing aircraft to Asian Wings, ANA may also provide training to its pilots.
Moneygram in Myanmar - MoneyGram, a leading global money-transfer company, has announced that its international service will be available in Myanmar and will be provided through an alliance with three banks: Asia Green Development (AGD) Bank, Myanmar Citizens Bank (MCB) and Tun Foundation Bank (TFB). Its money-transfer services will be offered in 10 of Myanmar's 14 states, giving consumers access to affordable remittances. It is an important step for MoneyGram as it increases its global footprint and makes services available to more customers worldwide. MoneyGram's initial services in Myanmar will allow consumers to receive money securely from friends and family through these three banks, which have locations across the country. The move strategically positions MoneyGram to provide services to previously underserved Myanmar customers, and aims to bring customers closer through money transfers that can be made to and from locations around the world. With the launch of money-transfer services at these three banks, Myanmar consumers can receive funds from nearly 80 countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and the UK.
Culture and Tourism
Lessons for Myanmar? - Environment and tourism groups say the oil spill that has polluted holiday beaches in the Gulf of Thailand is a warning to Myanmar about the risks of two important industries trying to coexist. The spill from an oil rig sent tens of thousands of gallons of thick crude oil onto pristine white beaches on the Thai holiday island of Samet this week, and is believed to have wrecked the island’s tourism business for the rest of this year. The incident happened as Myanmar prepares to intensify the exploration of its own offshore waters for oil and natural gas by licensing mostly foreign firms to develop 30 sea blocks covering tens of thousands of kilometers. Observers remarked that PTT, which is one of the leading companies in Thailand and globally, were not really well-prepared for such an incident. The Samet oil spill is not the first major environmental disaster involving the publicly listed PTT. In 2009, another PTT subsidiary [PTTEP] was involved in the Montara oil spill, one of Australia’s worst oil disasters, in the Timor Sea.
U Thant remembered - Former UN Secretary General U Thant's museum is undergoing renovation. Aye Aye Thant, U Thant's daughter said that she intends to have a Grand Opening on July 22, 2014, to commemorate U Thant's 105th birth anniversary. Currently, after a soft opening, it is open only to students and organizations on study and excursion trips. The museum will be open to public free of charge on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aye Aye Thant said, “The museum is undergoing both internal and external renovation work. We have completed only 60% renovation work for the grand opening ceremony. We have been receiving financial assistance and are seeking more funds. All the donors are from Myanmar.” Interior renovation works are being done with the assistance of Thai professionals since June, 2012.
Writer Dagon Taya dies - Dagon Taya, the pen name of Htay Myaing, one of Myanmar’s leading literary figures and an outspoken peace activist, has died of natural causes at the age of 95 at his home in Aung Ban, southern Shan State. Although known for his literary works, he was perhaps equally renowned for his reserved and flexible personality and for his life-long conviction to peace. He was a close friend of Myanmar’s independence hero, Gen Aung San, who in 1943 offered him a high-ranking position in the Japanese occupation government—an offer he refused. Before Aung San’s assassination in 1947, Htay Maying wrote an important critical essay about his friend’s personality, titled “Aung San the Untamed.” Many Myanmar of the time were shocked by his criticism of the country’s revered father of independence. But Dagon Taya merely smiled in response to the controversy generated by his essay. He was subjected to political persecution following the successful military coup of 1962, after which he was arrested and imprisoned for four years. In fact, Dagon Taya called himself “the Liberator,” but never assumed an active role in any political party or governing regime. “I have no foes, only friends,” he once said, “I have no hatred for any person”. In March 2013, Dagon Taya was awarded South Korea’s prestigious Manhae Grand Prize, given annually to people honored for promoting peace across the world.
Myanmar Times newspaper under threat - A dispute between the owners of The Myanmar Times is threatening the survival of the English-language newspaper, after the company’s majority shareholders asked a court to dissolve the firm and suspend publication. The Myanmar Times is privately owned by Myanmar Consolidated Media Co. Ltd. (MCM) with 51 percent of MCM’s shares in the hands of Dr Tin Tun Oo and his wife Khin Moe Moe. Tin Tun Oo is also listed as the paper’s publisher. The 49 percent of remaining MCM shares are owned by an Australian company affiliated with The Times’ managing director and editor-in-chief Ross Dunkley, who also publishes Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post. Dunkley has had several public disagreements with MCM’s majority shareholders in the past. Khin Moe Moe also vowed to block Dunkley’s plan to turn The Myanmar Times into a daily newspaper. Currently, the publication only appears weekly. The paper’s CEO Sonny Swe voiced concern over the future of The Myanmar Times saying “There are many employees here. If the company has to stop, many will be unemployed. They should not do this,” and added that his attempts to buy the majority MCM shares had failed because they could not reach an agreement over the price. The Times, which employs about 300 staff, was founded in 2000, when Dunkley entered isolated, military-run Myanmar to set up an English-language newspaper. The Australian businessman cut a deal with the hated Military Intelligence (MI) that allowed the paper to appear without passing through the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department, Myanmar’s censorship board. Instead, the paper’s content was only screened by the MI. Sonny Swe, a son of senior MI officer Brig-Gen Thein Swe, was the Times’ original majority shareholder. He was arrested during a purge of the MI by then junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe in 2004. Tin Tun Oo, a media person with close connections to the junta, took over his shares in The Times. After 2005, The Myanmar Times also went through Myanmar’s censorship board. Sonny Swe was released from prison in April this year and Dunkley subsequently offered him a position as CEO at The Times.
Direct to Naypyitaw - Bangkok Airways is set to launch direct flights between Bangkok and Naypyitaw next month, becoming the first foreign airline to fly to Myanmar's capital. Bangkok Airways will offer three flights weekly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to Naypyitaw from September 30 onwards. Flights will depart Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) at 5pm and arrive in Naypyitaw at 7pm. The return flight will leave at 7.30pm and arrive at Bangkok at 10.30pm.