All eyes on parliament, but much remains to be seen
The new parliament, elected in November, convened for the first time on 1 February. In November Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won around 80% of seats contested – the military automatically retains 25% of seats in parliament. While this marks an important moment for the democratic transition in Myanmar, investors face a long road ahead.
As expected, U Win Myint, an NLD MP and ex-political prisoner was voted in as speaker of the lower house. The NLD has chosen three ethnic candidates for the positions of speaker of the upper house and the two respective deputy speakers. This sends a positive message regarding the inclusion of ethnic groups in the political process. The speaker of the upper house will be U Mann Win Khaing who is an NLD MP and an ethnic Karen. His grandfather, Mahn Ba Khaing, served as Minister for Industry and Minister for Labour in Aung San’s pre-independence cabinet. He was assassinated alongside the NLD leader’s father.
The deputy speaker of the lower house is an ethnic Kachin and member of the military-affiliated USDP party, while the deputy speaker of the upper house is an ethnic Rakhine and member of the Arakan National Party. These appointments also send a positive message, confirming Suu Kyi’s wish that members from all parties be involved in governing.
Uncertainty continues over who will be the next president. The NLD has the voting power to unilaterally appoint the president, however Suu Kyi remains ineligible under the constitution. Any constitutional amendment requires the support of over 75% of parliament, which means the military has an effective veto. The announcement of the new president could be made as early as next week.
It is likely that Suu Kyi is still lobbying the military to become president. On 26 February, she met Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of the armed forces. Many political observers believe that talks continue behind the scenes. An NLD spokesman said recently that the announcement of the presidential nominee will be a ‘big surprise’. U Tin Oo, a long time patron of the NLD and former head of the armed forces, said this week that Suu Kyi ‘must be’ president, giving hope that she might yet hold the position. On Monday, however, an article in the military newspaper, Myawady, said that the constitution should not be changed ‘for all eternity’.
Assuming Suu Kyi is not president, the candidate will almost certainly be from within the NLD. There is a small chance that Shwe Mann, the ex-speaker of the lower house and former number three general under the junta could be president. Over the past couple of years, he has increasingly allied himself with Suu Kyi, even pushing for constitutional reform. It is more likely that he will take a ministerial position. In any case, Suu Kyi has stated numerous times that she will rule ‘above’ the president.
It would be a positive development if Suu Kyi were able to become president, not least so that significant amounts of energy could be turned towards government reform (she is likely to continue to push for a constitutional amendment).
Despite landslide elections and the democratic transition maintaining momentum, the enormity of the task facing the new NLD government should not be underestimated.
Other than announcing that national reconciliation with ethnic minorities will be a priority, the NLD has no stated policies. To date, there is little indication as to the direction of economic and investment reforms.
Even in its stated aim of pursuing national reconciliation and a federal system of government, the NLD is likely to have a hard time implementing such policy.
The military retains significant power in government. The ministries of defense, border affairs and home affairs remain under direct military control. The latter includes the police force, special branch and the General Administration Department (GAD), which staffs all regional and state-level governments and provides administration for the country's multiple districts and townships.
As U Ko Ni, a respected constitutional lawyer, recently commented, this effectively means that ‘all levels of government administration are under authority of the military chief ‘. This is likely to become a significant impediment in pursuing federal reforms in practice: the administrative structure of government is controlled and budgeted by the military. It even raises questions about the government’s ability to reform ministries directly under its control.
It appears that the military are keen to maintain an active role in government. A week before the end of the last parliament, a bill was proposed to subsume the Ministry of Immigration and Population into the Ministry of Home Affairs – within military control.
The military also retains a majority in the 11-member National Defense and Security Council. The council has the power to impose martial law, disband parliament and rule directly if the president declares a state of emergency.
A close working relationship between the government and the military is going to remain critical.
One form of continuity which might serve as assurance to investors is in the ministries. While no details have been made public, it is likely that a number of ministers and deputy ministers will retain their portfolios. It is rumored that in some ministries, senior civil servants are being considered for promotion to ministerial positions. Such moves should be welcomed by investors.
So the transition retains momentum. However, uncertainty remains around the incoming government's policy objectives; and it has a limited ability to govern effectively, in a country in need of serious regulatory and administrative reform. Investors also find themselves in an environment in which US sanctions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future - the incoming US ambassador has stated as such. The road ahead is going to be a long one. Investors may hope that it continues in a steady and positive direction.
IDG Acumen is a corporate intelligence and political risk consultancy with offices in Yangon, Bangkok and Singapore
Twitter: IDG Acumen@Acumen_Myanmar
Only One Army - Rifts emerged as more than 700 representatives of ethnic armed groups, political parties, civil society, the government and the Myanmar Army convened for political dialogue in Naypyidaw. The talks, which focused largely on issues of federalism, wound down with a feeling of skepticism among many ethnic representatives, as the Army stood by its demand that the 2008 Constitution be kept as the cornerstone of political decisions related to defense and security. The military-drafted charter has been a recurrent obstacle throughout the peace process, as it does not provide the level of state autonomy demanded by ethnic minorities as requisite to lasting peace. Participants argued that tethering discussion to the document implies that ethnic armed groups will be required to disarm, and that states will not be guaranteed equal rights. The charter stipulated that there be only one military in the Union, and army representatives have repeatedly suggested that non-state armed groups simply lower their guns and join the Myanmar Armed Forces. Ethnic representatives said the central government is afraid that states may attempt to secede if given too much autonomy, though ethnic leaders have insisted that they are committed to staying in the Union if a political solution can be found. “We want power to be based on the population of respective ethnic states, but they want power to belong to the central government,” Nai Layie Tama, general secretary of the Mon National Party said. “We are talking about equal rights, but they are talking about centralized power. We have very different points of view.”
Condo Law Passed - Myanmar’s outgoing Union Parliament has approved a new Condominium Law, clarifying some property regulations and making 40 percent of units available for foreign purchase. Three years in the making, the law is expected to breathe new life into the real estate market, though industry professionals predict foreign investors will wait for more reform. Under the new law, foreigners will be able to buy units on the sixth floor or higher, but are not allowed to manage properties. Buyers will acquire shared ownership of the land on which the condos are built, viewed as an improvement over previous property laws favoring landowners over apartment owners. The law also outlines criteria for condominiums, detailing the number of floors, units, parking places, facilities and security required. Condominiums must be more than ix stories high with a footprint of at least 20,000 square feet. Real estate professionals expect to see an uptick in sales, especially in the commercial capital Yangon, where supply has exceeded demand amid a construction boom in recent years. The property market has also slowed since 2014 due to skyrocketing prices and concerns over political stability. “There are many condos waiting to be sold in Yangon, but the market has cooled down as many investors take a ‘wait and see’ approach to the country’s political situation and laws,” said Than Oo, vice chairman of the Myanmar Real Estate Association. “But now I expect many developers will be happy, as foreign investors will come,” he added. Tony Picon, managing director of the US-based real estate firm Colliers International, said that buyers will be waiting for a clearer land titling system and changes to parking requirements, “which are hindering the condo sector.”
IHH Healthcare makes foray into Myanmar IHH Healthcare, the world's second-largest healthcare provider by market value, has made the first step in venturing into the Myanmar private hospital market. Through its indirect wholly-owned subsidiary, Parkway Healthcare Indo-China Pte Ltd, the company held a groundbreaking ceremony for the US$70 million, 250-bed hospital in Yangon. The new hospital, Parkway Yangon, is Parkway Pantai's first hospital in Myanmar, the company said in a statement released yesterday. It was encouraged by Myanmar’s steps to improve healthcare infrastructure and expand basic health coverage, demand for private health services in the country is expected to rise. Myanmar’s long-term income growth potential and gradual emergence of a middle class, coupled with the rapid influx of foreign tourists and expatriates, are expected to bode well for private healthcare providers like IHH. Dr Tan See Leng, managing director and chief executive officer of IHH and group chief executive officer and managing director of Parkway Pantai, said, "This exciting joint venture will bring high-quality healthcare to the people of Myanmar when it opens in 2020. We believe this hospital will greatly support Myanmar's national health policy, Health Vision 2030, which aims to deliver world-class healthcare outcomes, research and services, and improve the health of the citizens of Myanmar. Leveraging our more than 40 years' experience in operating premium hospitals across 9 countries, we are committed to working closely with the local Ministry of Health and our business partners to help achieve this noble vision and elevate national healthcare standards in Myanmar." The project will be developed and operated by a joint venture consortium, Andaman Alliance Healthcare. The shareholders are Parkway Healthcare Indo-China with a 52 per cent stake, Singapore-incorporated Macondray Holdings (10.5 per cent), Myanmar-incorporated AMMK Medicare (21.5 per cent), and Myanmar-incorporated Global Star (16 per cent).The hospital is located at downtown Yangon on a 4.3 acres plot of land leased for 50 years by the Health Ministry. It will be developed through a "build-operate-transfer" model. Investment for the project has obtained approval from the Myanmar Investment Commission. According to IHH, the establishment of Parkway Yangon will be a catalyst for the training of healthcare professionals such as nurses and allied healthcare practitioners. This will create more jobs and uplift medical services to world-class standards. Doctors from Mount Elizabeth Hospital, one of the key hospitals under the Parkway Pantai network, have been actively engaging with specialists in Myanmar in various community outreach initiatives like exchange of medical expertise and outreach to the masses through disease prevention and health promotion activities. The presence of Parkway Yangon will further these corporate social responsibility efforts to include partnerships with training colleges, scholarships, and overseas training fellowships for local Myanmese. IHH has been actively expanding its footprint in Asia. Earlier this month, it announced the plan to invest in a 350-bed hospital in Chengdu, China after leasing a space in Perennial International Health and Medical Hub there. It will be Chengdu’s first foreign tertiary hospital and IHH’s first hospital in Western China. IHH is a major foreign-owned private healthcare operator in China with10 medical centres in Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou and Hong Kong. Its 500-bed Gleneagles Hong Kong Hospital is on track to open in early-2017. IHH operates a global network of 49 hospitals across nine countries
Gas Find - A joint venture between Australia’s Woodside Petroleum and Myanmar firm MPRL—which is registered in the British Virgin Islands—announced this week that it had found a gas column below the seabed in an exploration block off the Arakan State coast known as A-6. French firm Total E&P Myanmar also holds a stake as a non-operator in the project. Woodside CEO Peter Coleman siad “This discovery is an encouraging outcome for future exploration and appraisal activity in the area.” Block A-6 was among 20 offshore areas awarded to international firms in a tender concluded in March 2014. Companies have now begun exploration after protracted contract agreement processes. The find reported by Woodside and MPRL is the first from the exploration projects underway offshore, which also involve majors Shell and Statoil.
Japanese Insurer Enters Market - One of Japan’s largest insurers has begun offering car insurance in Myanmar. Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance has recently entered the Myanmar market, operating out of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone close to Yangon. Sompo Japan Nipponkoa will mainly market vehicle insurance, as well as bodily injury and property damage liability coverage, to customers including businesses operating in the zone. With just 5 percent or so of drivers in Myanmar carrying insurance, the market is expected to enjoy significant growth. According to the insurer’s website, it was licensed in Myanmar in May last year, after the government began opening up the insurance market, which was long monopolized by a state-run firm.
IFC Loan for City Mart - The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has agreed to provide a US$25 million loan to leading retail outlet City Mart Holding Co., Ltd. to boost expansion of retail markets across Myanmar. Win Win Tint, director of City Mart, said that the loans would be disbursed at the end of January and that the interest rate would be set “in line with international standards.” “We’ve been trying to get this loan for the last two years, and there were many criteria we had to fulfill in order to qualify for one of IFC’s loans,” she said. IFC’s financial support will help the chain construct some 20 supermarkets and hypermarkets across the country over the next three years. The funding will enable the company, already with about 150 retail outlets, bring more farmers and micro, small and medium enterprises into its supply chain and distribution networks. There are also plans to open more than 50 new City Express convenience stores within the next year. City Mart anticipates a six-fold increase in its purchases from domestic suppliers, reaching about $150 million by 2021, and hopes to create 4,000 new jobs, half of which will be for women. Myanmar’s $12 billion retail sector is mostly informal, with formal retailers accounting for less than 10 percent of the market. “Economic growth and the opening up of the market after decades of isolation have fueled demand for consumer goods and IFC supports the development of a modern retail sector in developing countries as it helps spur growth and job creation, develop supply chain and logistics infrastructure, and support smaller businesses,” said IFC’s regional director for East Asia and the Pacific.
YSX Trading Warning - The Securities and Exchange Commission of Myanmar (SECM) has issued a warning against illegal trading through unofficial channels. An announcement published in state-run daily The Global New Light of Myanmar cautioned that action will be taken against those caught selling stocks through illegal or “non-transparent means,” including over social media sites. The Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) was launched in December with six listed companies, but the shares are not yet for trading. Trading is expected to begin in March, pending settlement of outstanding issues with the bourse’s underwriters. A number of unsanctioned trading outlets, particularly on the social media site Facebook, have cropped up in anticipation of the full opening, some presenting themselves as official channels linked to the exchange. “If the government does not take action and give a warning, illegal trading will interfere with the market,” said Thet Htun Oo, director of the Myanmar Securities Exchange Center, which is one of about 10 underwriting firms licensed by the government. “If people want to buy or sell shares, they will have to go directly to securities companies such as MSEC and KBZ,” he said. When YSX officially begins trading in March, shares will become available for First Myanmar Investment (FMI); Myanmar Citizens Bank; Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings Public Limited; Myanmar Agribusiness Public Company Limited [Mapco]; First Private Bank; and Great Hor Kham, according to Maung Maung Thein, deputy finance minister.
New Banking System at CBM - The Central Bank has received a new computer system that will modernize the way it settles payments between the country’s banks, according to JICA, which is funding the system. At a cost of almost $44 million in grant funding, JICA said the project had provided a new payment infrastructure and prompt office functions for the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) to promote payment environment and Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) between CBM and financial institutions. The CBM-NET covers fund settlement, T-bond/ T-bill settlement, collateral management for Kyat liquidity, DVP and Mechanized Clearing House.
Credit Card Cornucopia - With credit card options proliferating, many of the Myanmar’s private banks are hoping to see more buzz within the industry in the months ahead. Last year the Central Bank gave the green light to the use of credit cards by private banks, a move that led to various types of credit cards being issued to clients. In May, the Central Bank allowed domestic banks to issue quasi-credit cards that function like debit cards. Aung Kyaw Myo, general manager of KBZ Bank, said the bank’s so-called “secure credit cards” are already in distribution, but an upgrade to fully functioning credit cards is now in the works. Aung Kyaw Moe said that credit card use is feasible even in the absence of a credit bureau, which Myanmar does not yet have. Nan Saw Kham Phyu, deputy general manager of AYA Bank, said that it has begun using “unsecured” credit cards, meaning that the bank will distribute money to its clients even if they do not currently have the assets in their accounts. “We will give a credit rating for each individual user based on their profile—income, age, occupation, recommendation of the employer and years of employment,” she said. She added that while users do not have to pay interest for upto 50 days, after this time the interest rate will become 1.08 percent per month. The credit limit is 3.5 times users’ monthly income, with a maximum withdrawal limit of 5 million kyat (US$4,500) set by the Central Bank. “We’re planning to offer debit and credit card services that will function at home and abroad,” Nan Saw Kham Phyu said. Myanmar’s former military regime stopped the issuance of credit cards after an uptick in bad debts was spurred by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Because the country’s banking system still lacks a credit bureau to evaluate loan applicants’ suitability for credit, bank managers and the Central Bank have elected to take a measured approach to financial reforms, including making credit available to consumers and businesses.
Kyaukphyu - Myanmar’s government is seeking parliamentary approval to begin the first phase of the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) in Arakan State. Myint Thein, deputy minister for Rail Transportation and head of the Kyaukphyu SEZ management committee, outlined the long-mooted project, billed as the country’s western economic gateway, to Lower House lawmakers. The Kyaukphyu SEZ would “be set up on 4,289 acres of land,” Myint Thein informed lawmakers. The project will include an industrial zone, a housing estate and two deep sea ports, on Ramree and Maday islands respectively, according to the deputy minister. Tender bids for development of the zone closed last November, with a total of 12 proposals submitted by one local and 11 international firms. However, the opaque tender and evaluation process has been beset by delays, with no successful bidder yet announced, despite official assurances that the process was nearing completion. Singapore’s CPG Corporation was awarded the US$2.5 million consulting contract for the project in March last year. Ba Shein, an Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker, said the government should explain the project’s impact on local residents and ensure they are properly informed. Dual oil and gas pipelines—the latter of which became operational in 2013—which run from Kyaukphyu overland to China’s southwest Yunnan province, attracted the ire of locals over issues including displacement, inadequate compensation and environmental degradation. Myint Thein told the Lower House on Thursday that the management committee had been transparent in their dealings on the project and had heeded public opinion. According to the SEZ management committee, the project’s industrial zone will be built in the first phase of the project in a plot 8.5 km south of Kyaukphyu across five village tracts from February 2016.
More Towers - Malaysia’s OCK Group has confirmed that it will build 920 mobile phone towers for Telenor in Myanmar, investing some $75 million in the process. The group, with local partner King Royal Technologies, has been contracted to build the towers and lease them back to the Norwegian mobile phone operator. “OCK intends to build up to 3,000 telecom towers over five years. With the Telenor contract, OCK is positive in achieving its target,” the company said. OCK signed an initial agreement with Telenor last month, and is one several companies providing towers to the company. Telenor says it will eventually lease about 9,000 towers across Myanmar to meet its contractual target of reaching 90 percent of the population. Fellow Malaysian group Axiata has also entered Myanmar’s towers market through subsidiary Edotco, which recently bought a majority share in Myanmar Tower Company. The firm builds and leases towers to Telenor’s only private rival, Qatar’s Ooredoo.
Culture and Tourism
How a forgotten British captain is a hero in Myanmar. In World War Two, British Capt Peter Robert Sandham Bankes led a company of Chin tribesmen in Burma - now known as Myanmar - in repelling the Japanese advance on the nearby border with India. He was killed in those remote hills 72 years ago, but as journalist Mark Fenn found, he remains a hero in the eyes of local people. When the Japanese invaded Burma in 1942, many Burmese initially supported them, seeing them as liberators from the hated British colonial rule. But in the Frontier Areas, hill tribes such as the Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni remained fiercely loyal to the British. Many were Christian, and had been favoured by the colonial authorities. As the Japanese advanced, British soldiers and civilians were forced to retreat to India. But a few officers volunteered to stay behind, while others later trekked or were parachuted in to help raise guerrilla armies in the hill-tribe areas. These included men like Lt Col Edgar Peacock in the Karenni hills and Major Hugh Seagrim in the Karen lands - brave and often eccentric men with a great deal of respect for the local cultures and the troops they led. Lt Col Peacock was an old Burma hand with a deep knowledge of the terrain he worked in, a keen hunter and early wildlife photographer. Maj Seagrim - also the son of a Norfolk clergyman - was nicknamed Grandfather Longlegs by the Karen for his lanky physique. He was a devout Christian who "often said that he would sooner be a postman in Norfolk than a general in India", according to the author of his 1947 biography, the Australian journalist Ian Morrison. Both won admiration and respect from their men, and are fondly remembered in the areas they served in to this day. Capt Bankes was another. The son of a Norfolk clergyman, he read forestry at Oxford, where he rowed for the university and helped to run a camp for unemployed men from the East End of London. After graduating he took a job with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, which had large interests in teak in northern Burma. In 1940, back in the UK on leave, he married 19-year-old Pearl and they sailed from Liverpool to Rangoon - now Yangon - in October that year. After being awarded a warrant in the Army of Burma Reserve of Officers, he was attached to the Chin Levies, a ragtag group of tribesmen charged with stopping the Japanese advance on India. Peter Bankes managed to raise the funds to travel to Myanmar to find the resting place of his father. His son Peter, who is now 71, from Salisbury in the UK, says that at the time, they were provided with muzzle-loading flintlock rifles from the Boer War, and also armed themselves with swords, knives and spears. Later they were provided with Lee Enfield rifles and used weapons taken from enemy soldiers they had ambushed and killed as they waged guerrilla warfare against the Japanese in the mountainous region. "He became known as the 'Chin Express' due to being the fastest climber in the hills, with his long legs and bounding energy," said Peter. "The Chin warriors played a great part in holding hundreds of miles of frontline, and preventing the enemy from crossing into India." But Capt Bankes didn't live to see the end of the war. He was shot and killed in November 1943 by a renegade Chin soldier he had reprimanded twice for sleeping while on sentry duty - the soldier went off to collect his reward from the Japanese. Capt Bankes was just 32 years old, and for his service in the Chin hills he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross for "gallant and distinguished service in Burma and on the Eastern Frontier of India". Meanwhile, his pregnant wife Pearl had fled to India, where she was active in the newly-formed Women's Auxiliary Service of Burma, providing crucial support for troops. She was herself mentioned in dispatches for distinguished service in May 1944. Peter was born in Assam, India, in July that year, and returned to England when he was around a year old. There were still connections with Burma - his godfather was the British soldier and elephant expert James Howard Williams, also known as Elephant Bill, who was known for his work in the teak industry and the Burma campaign. But after the war and Burmese independence, the country became increasingly poor and isolated under successive military regimes. Myanmar has opened up in recent years, and last November held elections won by the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. With the country becoming more open and accessible, Peter planned a trip and decided to find out more about his father. He was helped by various people, including members of the small British charity Help for Heroes. "We are striving to raise financial support for the surviving old soldiers of the hill tribes of Burma - the Chin, Karen, Kachin etc," said board member Peter Mitchell. "The hill peoples fought so courageously for Great Britain against the brutal Japanese invasion of Burma in World War II. They loyally supported Britain, at our time of gravest peril, with great bravery and at huge and continuing cost to themselves. "They are now in the greatest need towards the end of their lives." Another great help was retired psychiatrist Desmond Kelly, who has written a book about the campaign in the Chin hills based on the letters of his own father, Lt Col Norman Kelly, a friend and comrade of Capt Bankes. Capt Bankes's picture is on proud display at the school in Tiddim. He put Peter in touch with the Rev Thang Khawm Pau, a Baptist minister and headmaster of a school in the town of Tiddim. The Chin people are very grateful to the British, who built roads and saved them from the Japanese during the war, the reverend says. Japanese soldiers had a reputation for brutality during the Burma campaign and were widely feared. The minister made extensive enquiries and told Peter his father's grave was located about 30 miles north (48km), in the deserted village of Lampthang. An elderly resident of a nearby village told him the location was known as "Bank manga mual", which roughly translates as the "Mount of Gentleman Bankes" in the Chin language. With some friends, he visited the grave and took three scraps of bone, which a visiting Briton helped take back to Peter in England. Experts say they appear to be from a human heel and ankle, but they would probably be unable to carry out conclusive DNA tests. However, Peter is sure the bones are from his father, as he believes he was the only British or Commonwealth soldier killed and buried in the area during the war. The unveiling of a plaque for Capt Bankes in a cemetery outside Yangon was attended by local officials and some curious tourists. When his mother Pearl died in June last year, at the age of 94, he placed the bones in a velvet sack along with some earth from the Chin hills, and the undertaker placed it in her hand - thus reuniting them in death, 72 years apart. And when Peter visited Tiddim in January last year with his wife, Jennie, he was astonished to hear that his father is considered a local hero there, with several photographs of him displayed in a local school and pupils urged to honour the man who is said to have sacrificed his life for the Chin people. Although he couldn't visit the grave itself, as the area is off-limits to foreigners, Peter was happy to see where his father had served. "We were about five miles from my father's grave, and I was right in an area where he operated, and indeed he probably used this route on his regular trips on foot back to Tiddim for briefings," he said. Peter returned to Myanmar in November and attended a Remembrance Sunday service at the Taukkyan War Cemetery outside Yangon, where his father's grave is listed as unknown on a stone pillar. The plaque secures Capt Bankes place in the history of the war in Burma. Afterwards, he unveiled a simple bronze plaque on a stone plinth, paying tribute to Captain P.R.S Bankes, MC, "beloved husband of Pearl and father of Peter. Lost but never forgotten and now at rest". He was expecting a small, private ceremony but to his surprise he was joined by the British ambassador, some tourists and a group of foreign diplomats who had just attended the main remembrance service for those lost in Burma during World War Two. "I have to say, I was gobsmacked," he said afterwards. "I thought I was just going to have a little ceremony and I couldn't believe it when I saw all the ambassadors there. That was the icing on the cake, there's no doubt about it." It was a "very emotional few minutes", said Peter, himself a former Royal Marine, as he remembered the father he never met at the end of his long quest. "I believe that he can now, at last, rest in peace."
Brandname Battle - Each April, as Myanmar’s favorite festival nears, the sound of a familiar tune can be heard through loudspeakers and car radios: Tupo Tupo. The much loved tune, written by Mandalay’s Myoma Nyein, has become synonymous with Thingyan, the water festival celebrating the Burmese New Year. The title, Tupo, is said to be derived from the sound of Burmese drums and gongs played throughout the holiday. The well-known musician was surprised last year when a new beer was being advertised with an uncanny name. In English you might know it as Tuborg, a Danish brew owned by the Carlsberg Group. As Myoma Nyein’s family recalls, the company had approached the family to discuss using the name of the song as the transliterated version of their brand. The family says they met with representatives of Carlsberg Myanmar four times since 2014, and every time the family said No. “I always denied them the use of the name ‘Tupo’,” said Shwun Myaing, Myoma Nyein’s son. “I asked them after our last meeting, and their brand manager said they would not begin production and they would try to meet with us again.” The family alleged that the company’s advertising used the name Tu Po to capitalize on the song’s popularity around the beer’s launch, which coincided with the festival. Later in 2015, they said, cans and bottles were produced with labels reading “Tu Po Beer.” The Burmese script on the product and the advertising is identical to the song title, which the family took issue with, especially because there is a Burmese character sounding more like the Roman letter “b,” which they believed would make for a more accurate transliteration. “They could have spelled it in Burmese using ‘Bo’ instead of ‘Po,’ but they just used the well-known ‘Tu Po’ to win over the market,” Shwun Myaing said, “especially around Thingyan. If they did it by mistake, that would be forgivable. But they met with us, and despite our disapproval, they used it anyway.” The family said they plan to notify the Carlsberg Group’s Yangon Office with an ultimatum: Change the spelling within one week, or face the courts. Admittedly, an intellectual property case against an international corporation in a country with loose laws might not be much of a threat, but Myoma Nyein’s family wanted to make sure their point was heard. “Since we don’t have a proper copyright law, we know we’re going to lose the case,” said Zaw Myo Oo, the songwriter’s grandson, “but we are doing this for every Burmese person losing their copyright due to a lack of rule of law.” Carlsberg Myanmar marketing director Birgette Weeke said the upset was the result of a misunderstanding. “It’s quite late to do the changes as it has been on the market for a long time,” Weeke said. “However, we never wanted to offend anybody, so we will contact the family immediately to resolve the matter and, of course, we will take any appropriate action.” Carlsberg has since stopped using the name.