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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tranportation costs put pressure on honey makers

A beekeeper holds out a section of a beehive. Pic: Supplied
A beekeeper holds out a section of a beehive. Pic: Supplied

By Soe Sandar Oo 

November 15 - 21, 2010

MIGRATION costs – required to shift hives closer to flowerbeds – are threatening the honey export business this year, bee experts say.
Myanmar Apiculture Association co-secretary, U Kyi Lwin Oo, said the cost of moving beehives to different fields is threatening to overwhelm the profits from selling the honey.
At the same time, the demand for Myanmar’s honey from abroad is strong, with the amount exported on track to better last year by 50 percent. However, a weak dollar means the earnings aren’t likely to be significantly higher, U Kyi Lwin Oo said.
“Beekeepers aren’t really expecting to earn big profits because the cost of transporting hives is quite high,” he said.
By early November, companies had exported about 800 tonnes of honey, worth about US$740,000, since the start of the 2010-11 financial year in April. For the whole of the previous fiscal year only 1000 tonnes, earning slightly more than US$900,000, was exported.
The current domestic price of 1 viss (1.6 kilograms or 3.6 pounds) of honey is between K1200 and K1400.
At this time of year as many as 90pc of beekeepers keep their hives in Kani township, in Sagaing Region. But soon some will migrate to southern Shan State or Meiktila in Mandalay Region to bring their bees in reach of the sesame crops.
In February and January they will move on again to Katha, Kale, Monywa, Htigaing or Madaya.
These relocations make up a large percentage of the costs of production, U Kyi Lwin Oo said.
“Seventy percent of the total costs of producing honey comes from moving the bees to new fields. This year our exports are worth less and the transport charges have risen. I’m worried that if this situation continues then we will see a dip in production,” added the general manager of Welcome General Trading.
Part of the problem is that beehives cannot be driven by bus or truck to many of the fields the bees feed on, leaving the keepers no choice but to hire ox-driven carts.
Bees also have a limited flying range – only about 2 miles, or 3.2 kilometres – and need to be moved to a fresh field every week, Welcome General Trading’s general manager said.
Production also relies on the weather: Heavy rainfall can reduce the amount of pollen the flowers produce and in turn curtail the amount of honey.
Companies typically export as much as 90pc of all the honey produced here, selling it to Thailand, Japan, China, Singapore and Malaysia. This year Thailand is buying the majority, he said.
Myanmar’s honey also has too much moisture in it to compete in many international markets. This year’s exports have about 20pc moisture content courtesy of the heavy rains, whereas the international standard is below 20pc.
Honey is exported in drums that weigh between 250 and 290 kilograms each.
U Kyi Lwin Oo Oo said that if producers here were able to minimise their transport costs, boost production and lower the moisture content of the honey they would find ready markets nearby, pointing out that Japan consumes at least 20,000 tonnes of honey a year.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rangoon Hotels Struggle to Meet Tourist Demand

Rangoon's most famous hotel, The Strand. (PHOTO: Colin Hinshelwood)   
Recent political reform in Burma has stirred an immediate demand from foreign visitors to visit the country; however, its limited infrastructure could leave some tourists unable to find hotel rooms.
Burma lists just 731 hotels around the country—a total of 25,000 rooms, with only 8,000 in Rangoon, the former capital and by far the most common gateway to the country.
According to Maung Maung Swe, who currently sits as both the chairman of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) and the vice-chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Board (MTB), only 3,000 of those hotel rooms are “suitable for tourists.”
Rangoon's hotels and guest houses are already at capacity and most have doubled or trebled their prices as a result. On Feb. 1, the YMCA in central Rangoon said it was fully booked through to the following week, as was the popular Central Hotel on Bogyoke Aung San Road.
“We finally found a cheap guest house down a backstreet for $25 a night,” said a disgruntled Canadian backpacker. “But it was dark and dirty, and there were pigeons nesting above the ceiling.”
But the demand for hotels in Rangoon is not being saturated by foreign tourists. Sources in the former capital say that businesspeople, diplomatic missions, NGO staff, and various facilitators lured by the new air of opportunity in Burma are taking up most of the rooms.
Armin Schoch, a Swiss national who was the first foreigner to be granted a tour operator license in Burma, said that in December he was firmly asked to leave the 5-star Chatrium Hotel along with dozens of other guests when the US secretary of state arrived.
“We were told to move out immediately. The Clinton delegation took over the top three floors, with one floor reserved for armed security. I couldn't find another hotel, and had to go and stay at a friend's house,” said Schoch.
The increased demand for hotel rooms is set to outstrip supply this year. Burma received between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors on tourist visas in 2011; of that figure, Chinese and Thais came in the greatest numbers, with 65,000 and 61,000 visitors respectively. These figures are expected to increase by at least 30 percent in 2012, according to government officials.
Higher numbers of Westerners are also expected to be drawn to the “Golden Land” after several leading publications—The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, CNN and Lonely Planet among them—recommended the country as a top travel hotspot in 2012.
“We estimate that in 2012 we will receive 500,000 tourists through Yangon International Airport, and in 2015, we expect over one million tourist arrivals to Myanmar,” said Ohn Myint, the deputy director of the Ministry for Hotels and Tourism for Yangon Region.
However, many tourists may find that flights to Burma are impossible to acquire. At present, few international airlines fly directly to the country, forcing most would-be visitors to route their trips through Bangkok. The other “international” airports in Burma—Mandalay, Pagan and Naypyidaw—can barely cope with minimal traffic as it stands.
A handful of INGOs still support the opposition National League for Democracy's “Boycott Burma” campaign in relation to package tours and cruises. Independent travelers and backpackers are encouraged to make their own way, and many will be tempted to take their chances and arrive in Burma without reservations.
“They might end up walking the streets all night or sleeping in a monastery,” said a Rangoon travel agent. “There will simply be no beds for them.”
Even under such circumstances, Rangoon residents cannot open homestays or spontaneously offer rooms to foreign guests. The law still requires international visitors to register with local authorities before they arrive at a private residence. And, of course, no one has forgotten the commotion caused by a certain US citizen, John W. Yettaw, who swam uninvited one night to Aung San Suu Kyi's lakeside home—an act which resulted in her being charged with “harboring a foreigner.”
However, all is not lost. Rangoon officials are fast-tracking planning permissions and applications in a bid to attract investors. Local entrepreneurs have been invited to open hotels, and several of Rangoon's grand old colonial buildings may be earmarked and offered to hoteliers.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which represents worldwide chains such as the Sheraton, the Westin and Le Meridien, announced its intention to invest in Burma at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month. According to MTB Vice-chairman Maung Maung Swe, several other chains pledged similar investments.
“Some, like the Marriott, invested before,” he said. “But they withdrew, I think, because of pressure from their governments.
Now I think they will all want to come back. I think they will begin surveying the situation this year, but will not return until 2013.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

More curbs on foreign labour

From iTODAY:

Lin Yanqin | 18 Feb, 2012 6:00 AM

SINGAPORE - Strapped for manpower, some companies here were hoping that the uncertain economy would provide some respite from government measures aimed at further reducing the Republic's dependence on imported labour.

But their hopes were dashed yesterday, as further reductions were announced in the Budget to the dependency ratio ceilings for hiring foreign manpower for the manufacturing and services sectors, along with a cut in the Man-Year Entitlement (MYE) quota for the construction sector.

The dependency ratio ceiling for the manufacturing sector will be lowered from 65 per cent to 60 per cent, and from 50 per cent to 45 per cent for the services sector. The MYE quota for the construction sector will be cut by 5 per cent.

And all sectors will be hit by the reduction in the S Pass Sub-dependency ratio ceiling from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

In his speech, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam noted that the economic downturn provided an opportunity to lower the dependency ratio ceilings across the board. "All firms can then take this into account in their future hiring decisions. This will help to contain our dependence on foreign workers in the long term," he said.

The new dependency ratio ceilings and MYE quota for new foreign workers take effect from July. For existing workers, companies have until June 2014 to comply.

Still, the July deadline is "too abrupt" for businesses to adjust to, said Mr Lawrence Leow, chairman of the Singapore Business Federation's Small and Medium Enterprises Committee. "It would have been more fair to maintain the status quo, given the uncertainty businesses, especially small businesses, will face this year," he said.

The announcements were greeted with consternation by businesses - in particular the construction industry - which have seen rising foreign worker levies and cuts in quotas over the past few years.

Singapore will need another 30,000 construction workers for public housing alone, with some 25,000 Build-To-Order housing units to be added this year, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said on his blog last month.

Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong noted that the dependency ratio ceiling reduction for S Pass holders deals the industry a double blow, as the construction sector is in need of middle-management staff, such as foremen and supervisors. "We want to hire Singaporeans, but the fact is that many are not willing to do it," he said.

Using prefabricated units - a practice the Government has been encouraging - can help to speed up construction and ease the need for manpower. "Prefab is the way to go, if contractors want to manage costs better," said Mr Ong Chong Hua, executive director of Ho Bee Group. "I see a lot of contractors adopting the methods, so I believe over time we can be less dependent on foreign manpower.

But Straits Construction director Kenneth Loo felt this would not mitigate the short-term manpower crunch: "Construction is labour-intensive ... whatever (productivity) improvements we make can't make up for the shortfall in supply at such a short notice."

Businesses in the services sector also decried the measures, noting the uncertain economic outlook. "This adds to our cost pressures at a very tough time," said Ms Christine Chan, head of human resources at Riverview Hotel. "Of course we support raising productivity, but there is a limit - it still takes a person to serve tea and coffee."

Mr Howard Lo, owner of Standing Sushi Bar, added: "I (have) been fielding requests to franchise overseas but, since I would need to send some of my staff overseas to train up the folk there, it would be hard for me to find people to fill in here in Singapore."

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rangoon airport on high alert

Wednesday, 08 February 2012 21:19 Myo Thein

(Mizzima) – On Friday, Burmese authorities placed the Rangoon Mingaladon Airport under a high security alert, following a bomb threat against Myanmar Airways.

A Myanmar Airways aircraft   Photo: Mizzima
The alert was implemented after a letter threatening a bombing was received by the Burmese embassy in Bangkok. Sources said the bombing might involve a Muslim male.

The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) under the Directorate of Air Transport determined the threat level.

“The DCA upgraded the alert level to grade 1 after receiving the threat on Friday,” said a senior official at the airport.

Sources said that warning notices were posted in warehouses of Myanmar Cargo Services (MCS) at Rangoon airport saying a Muslim male bomber might make an attack on planes.

Despite the high security alert, ordinary air travel continued and observers said they did not notice any special security measures at the airport.

Meanwhile, in what appeared to be an unrelated move, it was announced this week that security forces deployed at the airport by the air force and Military Affairs Security (MAS) would be withdrawn not later than March 1 and be replaced by DCA personnel and security forces under the Home Ministry.

Home Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko visited the Rangoon Mingaladon Airport at the end of January to coordinated the security shift, sources said.

Opinion poll on Urban Settlement

The objective of the survey is to explore the experiences and difficulties of the people who live in hostel and/or rented accommodation and their opinion on the low cost housing plan.

The survey was conducted in dense hostel area, Hle Dan, Kamaryut township in the month of March 2011 and 213 respondents participated in the poll. For the survey, the significance level (5%) and margin of errors (5%) were applied, and the data were collected by systematic sampling. The data entry was done by Epidata Software and data processing by Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) Software.
The questionnaire was based on the tenants' opinion on rental fees, accessibility of public transportation, and accessibility of market, etc.. The public view on the supportive factors for the development of low cost housing plan, namely, availability of bank loans with lower interest rate to build low-cost houses; sharing the Government cost for low-cost housing plan by means of developing new land and town plan and etc. was also interviewed.

Condition of public services amenities in rented accommodation (N=213)
Public Opinion regarding accommodation and housing (N=213)

Economic Outlook Myanmar

At the present time, political movements in Myanmar are still vulnerable to any changes as is the economic situation, which is marred by uncertainty, since economic growth was vigorously affected by political uncertainty. After World War II, two dominant economic systems were adopted by countries around the world and they both confronted each other based on their different geopolitical point of view and the beliefs of their state leaders. These economic systems are known as the capitalist economic system and the socialist economic system respectively. For instance, most countries from Western Europe and Northern America have used a capitalist economic system with the mass production of industrial products. However, Eastern Europe countries and Asian countries including Myanmar were inclined to adopt the socialist economic system and mainly relied on the agriculture sector.

When there was rapid industrialization during the 1960s and 1980s, imbalanced development of world trade led to unfavorable economic power sharing among world countries and finally it became a source of world-wide economic crisis. Therefore ideological changes of governments converged again towards a new economic system called the mixed economic system, meaning regulated government intervention in a free market system.

In practice, all world economic history after that period accounts for countries trying to spur economic development through implementing reforms in their economies by using different strategies. Basically, economists said that there were two kinds of reforms called gradual reform and shock therapy reform. There was a debate at that time regarding these two distinct ideologies. Governments either chose to reform economic or political systems first. Every country should chose their own way to reform based on the specific context and most pressing needs.

As a developing country, Myanmar must strive for economic development under the current condition of political instability. However, now with a more relaxed political environment, there are boundless options which the Myanmar Government can take in order to instigate economic reform. According to the speech of Myanmar’s new president, his government desires to change the current undernourished status of economy. Consequently, national workshops for economic development and poverty reduction were held at Naypyidaw and attended by persons from both private and public sectors.

This provided a rare opportunity for Myanmar national scholars who have immigrated abroad to foreign countries to return and attend such workshops and to play a role in future cooperation for economic reforms by working in tandem with the government. It was a rare chance in Myanmar, which has been virtually impossible in the past 2 decades. However, we still have a way to go at the start of the lengthy reform process, before we can comment for sure on the effectiveness of the reforms.

For many years to come, Myanmar will have to carry out rapid economic development especially in economically neglected areas such as ethnic areas in Upper and Lower Myanmar, where there is poor infrastructure. The greatest barriers in these areas are threats or challenges in state building such as domestic insurgencies, political instability, unfamiliar practices and procedures, a heavily deteriorated natural environment and human resource constraints due to years of economic paralysis. In the short term, it is not possible yet to solve all of those problems in Myanmar and it is assumed that the economic system in Myanmar is closer to a mixed economic system as in most world countries. This is because some fundamental characteristics of a mixed economic system are found in Myanmar such as a free flow of commodities in markets with some occasional regulation of government. If we look at the Myanmar economy, the largest sector is the agricultural sector which is the main driver of the economy currently. However, the service sector and industrial sectors were second and third largest sectors in Myanmar, while those sectors tend to be the major sectors in developed countries. Therefore, on the one hand, Myanmar still over depends on the agricultural sector and other natural resources which should be strictly managed to achieve long run sustainability. However, on the other hand, economic policies and regulations in Myanmar are still weak and in need of reform. Therefore, there are considerable constraints such as difficulties collecting economic data, an unfair and imbalanced revenue and tax system, constraints for foreign investments, hardships establishing business enterprises and a domestic economy which is vulnerable to changes in international trade. In addition, economic sanctions from international communities were also affecting the slow economic development of Myanmar.

In conclusion, the Myanmar government must strive for radical changes in the economy and try to bring together internationally acceptable political changes at the same time. Therefore, the following points should be prioritized in Myanmar for economic development.
  1. Fair and reliable income distribution system
  2. Effective and efficient resource allocation
  3. Improve foreign trade and investment
  4. Reform in the monetary and banking sectors
  5. Developing an adequate economic infrastructure
  6. Create a transparent and fair environment for economic competition

Increasing Rural Income Opportunities

In the Dry Zone, Myanmar, people have been relying on agriculture as their main income source. Bearing in mind that rural income of these people is heavily affected by variation in agriculture depending on labor availability, crop prices, productive yield, affordability to invest and favorable climatic conditions. One inefficient Top down government policy obligates rural communities to grow certain crops. Such practices ignore free markets and the agency of farmers, disincentivising them and increasing their risk. Such examples include forced cultivation of BT cotton in the Delta. In retaliation farmers boiled the seeds rendering them infertile and then grew what they wanted saying the government had provided them with bad seeds. Due to the many uncertainties regarding agriculture including climatic uncertainty and fluctuating costs of inputs, effective institutions both public and from civil society have a role to play to ensure the provision of credit to farmers.
The most prevalent idea to increase the income opportunities of rural families is the accumulation of local financial capital. This means that external capital inflows can be merged with savings of rural households to increase the amount of capital available to those families. These families that can access credit can borrow money from accumulated capital and invest in turn in profitable family businesses at a low rate of interest which is then paid back.

By and large, most rural families are unable to save and their accessibility to financial credit is also very limited. Therefore, two approaches have emerged for rural financing activities which are microfinance and micro credit schemes with a basic concept of a revolving system and low interest repayments with an extendable lending amount to borrowers. If these initiatives are able to function well, local economic growth can be supported by achieving increased local employment, per capita income and greater consumption. Therefore with the help of clearly established rules and regulations between community and supporting organizations capital accumulation can be encouraged. This local economic growth should be sustainable and fit within growth trends at a regional and national basis.



President’s commitments in his inaugural speech Vs. implementation status

63% (743) of 1,181people think that press freedom is now common in the country and 19% of 743 people are very satisfied with that.

President’s commitments in his inaugural speech Vs. implementation status

As follow-up survey for opinion poll on the President’s inaugural speech which was conducted in May 2011, public perception on the implementation of the President’s commitments was surveyed in the month of November 2011. The survey results showed that 63% (743) of 1,181 people thought press freedom was now common in the country and 19% of 743 people were very satisfied with that.
Perception on implementation of the President’s commitments
  • 63% (743) of 1,181people think that press freedom is now common in the country and 19% of 743 people are very satisfied with that.
  • Regarding the environmental issue, only 17% of total 409 respondents are satisfied with the President’s commitments while 56% (664) of total 1,181 respondents viewed that the government is emphasizing the environmental affairs and 25% of 664 people are very satisfied with the environmental actions taken by the government.
  • 31% of total 409 respondents are satisfied with activities related to economic reforms and 42% (492) of total 1,181 respondents responded that it is now in progress but only 12% of 492 people are very satisfied with that.

Satisfaction on different aspects of President’s inaugural speech (N=409) May 2011

Rank of implementation in progress of President’s commitments (N=1,181) Nov. 2011

Perception on the top five issues implementation in progress (N=1,181) Nov. 2011

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Myanmar Market Price at January,2012

Market Price
1.RICE Kyats
Sr.NoDescription of GoodsA/U24 - 1 - 2012 31 - 1 - 2012
Bayintnaung Market
PyayBayintnaung MarketMandalayPyay





Sr.NoDescription of GoodsA/U24 - 1 - 2012 31 - 1 - 2012
Bayintnaung Market
Bayintnaung Market
1.Peanut Oil
2.Sesamum OilViss340034003200340034003100
3.Palm OilViss180019501850180019501850
Sr.No Description of
A/U24 - 1 - 2012 31 - 1 - 2012
2.Toor Wholebasket1700016900168001780016700164001660016900
3.Green Mung Beanbasket1590015500157001550015900147001500015200
4.Whole Chick Peabasket1920016700-161001820016900-16100



Description of GoodsA/U24 - 1 - 2012 31 - 1 - 2012
Fish Trading Center

Fish Trading Center





4.Feather BackViss/Kilo25003700




6.Snake HeadViss/Kilo22003400




8.Giant Sea PerchViss/Kilo20005500


9.Rosy Jaw FishViss/Kilo--------


12.Shrimp(big size)Viss/Kilo20005500




6.MYANMAR GOLD PRICE Kyats/1 Tickle (16 Karat)
City24 - 1 - 201231 - 1 - 2012

Sr.NoKinds of Rubber24 - 1 - 201231 - 1 - 2012
FOB Price (US$)
FOB Price (US$)


Sr.NoKinds of Steel24 - 1 - 2012 31 - 1 - 2012
1.Long Product

(a) Deformed Bar[SD 295(direct) D 19-25]560000560000

(b) Flat Bar (6 x 50.9 x 100)620000620000

(c) H-beam (5.5'8 x 200 x 100)700000700000
2.Steel Sheet

(a) Hot R-sheet 2.3mm800000800000

(b) Cold R-sheet 1.0mm930000930000

(c) Medium Plate (3.2 x 3 x 6)710000710000

(d) Plate (12 x 5 x 10)800000800000


About Myanmar
Being situated at the tri-junction of Southeast Asia, South Asia and East Asia, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar lies between north latitudes 09.32 ံN and 28.31 ံN and between longitudes 92.10 ံE and 101.11 ံE.
Geographically, Myanmar shares borders with The Republic of India and The People’s Republic of Bangladesh in the west, with The People’s Republic of China in the north, and with Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Kingdom of Thailand in the east. To the far south of Myanmar lies the Bay of Bengal linking to the Indian Ocean.
The country covers an area of 677,000 square kilometers (261,228 square miles) ranging 936 kilometers (582 miles) from east to west and 2,051 kilometers (1,275 miles) from north to south. Myanmar is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. It is a land of hills and valleys and is rimmed in the north, east and west by mountain ranges forming a giant horseshoe.
Enclosed within the mountain barriers are the flat lands of Ayeyarwaddy, Chindwin and Sittaung River valleys where most of the country's agricultural land and population are concentrated.
The length of contiguous frontier is 6,159 kilometers. The total length of Myanmar-Bangladesh boundary is 271 kilometers (152 miles). The total length of Myanmar-China boundary is 2,204 kilometers (1,375 miles); Myanmar-Thailand 2,107 kilometers (1,314 miles); Myanmar-India 1,338 kilometers (857 miles); and Myanmar-Laos 238 kilometers (128 miles).

Generally, Myanmar has three seasons. The summer is from March to May, the rainy season from middle of May to end of October, and the cold season from November to end of February.
Myanmar enjoys a tropical monsoon climate. However, climatic conditions differ widely from place to place due to widely diverse topographical conditions. For instance, Central Myanmar has an annual rainfall of less than 40 inches while the Rakhine Coast and Taninthayi Coast get about 200 inches.
The temperature of Central Myanmar is about 110 degree Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Centigrade) in the months of March and April. During the period, the temperature of the northern part of Myanmar reaches 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36.1 degrees Centigrade) and in Shan Plateau it is about 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 to 35 degrees Centigrade). Temperature of towns vary according to their location and elevation.
Extremes of temperature are not encountered. The directions of winds and depression bring rains and in some years past, severe storms occurred causing damages in coastal regions. On 2 May 2008, Myanmar was hit by the Cyclone Nargis which was the severest one of the natural disasters in the history of Myanmar. In order to bring about the favorable climatic conditions, the State has given priority to the forest conservation and greening of nine arid districts in central Myanmar.

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar has over 100 national races, of which the main national races are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. The population of the country is estimated at 58.38 million (2008-2009 Provisional) and the population growth rate is 1.52 percent.
Natural Resources
Myanmar has abundance natural resources such as petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, marble, limestone, precious stones, natural gas and hydropower.
Agriculture products
Rice, pulses and beans, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables, sugarcane, hardwood, marine products are produced in Myanmar.
Agricultural processing, knit and woven apparel, garments, oil and natural gas, jade and gems, wood and wood products, copper, tin, tungsten, iron, manufacturing, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer and cement industries are being operated.
Export Commodities
Agricultural produce, wood products, natural gas, minerals, marine products, clothing, jade and gems and all exportable commodities are exported.
Import Commodities
Crude oil, petroleum products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, construction materials, fertilizer, cement, edible oil, food products, fabric and plastics resin are imported.
Pyar, Kyat ( 1 Kyat = 100 Pyars)
Fiscal year
1 April - 31 March
International Organization Participation
Myanmar is a member of various international organization: APT, ARF, ADB, ASEAN, BIMSTEC, CP, EAS, FAO, G-77,IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM, OPCW (signatory), SAARC (observer), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO.
Administrative Divisions
There are 7 Regions and 7 States in Myanmar.
Region : Ayeyarwaddy, Bago, Magway, Mandalay, Sagaing, Tanintharyi, Yangon.
States :Chin, Kachin, Kayar, Kayin, Mon, Rakhaine, Shan.
Ethnic groups
There are over 100 ethnic groups in Myanmar.
Myanmar enjoys religious tolerance and since the ancient times, there has been full freedom of worship for followers of different religions. So, different religions can be practiced in Myanmar. The religious edifices and religious orders have been in existence and religious festivals can be held on a grand scale.
The main religions of the country are Buddhism (89.3 %), Christianity(5.6%), Islam(3.8%), Hinduism(0.5%), Spiritualism(0.2%) and others(0.6%).
Official Language is Burmese. Minority ethnic groups have their own languages.

Burmese Society in Singapore - For those interested Burmese Society

Burmese Society in Singapore

During 1991 (3 years after the bloody 1988 uprising), Singapore immigration started to accept many Burmese work passes (Employment Pass - E.P). Before that period, to get Employment Pass in Singapore is quite difficult. That time, our country’s official name was still BURMA but military rulers simply changed to MYANMAR. Anyway, most of young Singaporeans know MYANMAR but westerners, senior Singaporeans and we Burmese still prefer the name BURMA.

General Ne Win staged the coup in 1962 from democratic government and governed in communist style except that religions are allowed. Ne Win seized all private businesses and made state owned. After military ruled for 26 years, Burma was declared as LDC (Least Developed Country) and later in 1988, democracy uprising occurred. Burma’s communist style party (so called Burmese Socialist Programme Party) collapsed afterwards, and later Communist Party in China restructured in 1989 and Communist Party in Soviet Union collapsed too.

Ne Win and his government resigned. New generals governed with old generals’ advice at the beginning. In 1988 uprising, thousands were shot dead in the streets of Rangoon (now called Yangon). More than 100,000 students and people fled to the jungles to fight back the military junta. 18 armed ethnic groups who are still fighting against the junta, welcomed the fleeing Burmese people. Due to deadly jungle diseases and many other circumstances, thousands died in the Jungle. To prevent those anti-government groups to come back to their home towns, Junta simply scrapped all citizens’ registration cards (ICs). New ICs with different numbering system were issued to all citizens.
Military allowed general election as they promised just after the coup, assuming that pro-military party (National Unity Party) will win. To their surprise, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD (National League for Democracy) won by landslide with 91% vote. Military generals never recognized the result and put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for about total 18 years. General Saw Maung who allowed the free and fare general election slowly fade away and General Than Shwe became top general in 1992. New military government tried to run the country by allowing foreign investments in Burma without changing the political system. After they tried for 18 years, at least 3 millions Burmese left the country mainly for economic reason. Most of the educated people (middle class) have difficulties to survive. All government ministries and departments are controlled by military generals. Corruption can be found everywhere, even at the level of primary and secondary education examinations. You can bribe to get the excellent result. The junta has succeeded in reaching ceasefire agreements with all armed ethnic groups except one (Karen ethnic group, KNU). But these agreements were not the solutions as all the groups are still allowed to keep their weapons.
Due to those reasons, a lot of educated Burmese families have migrated to other countries, in significant numbers to Singapore. Some are migrated to other democratic countries such as USA, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and EU. A few millions Burmese who do not have passport are smuggled into Thailand and Malaysia as illegal workers. According to an article in the Straits Times dated 8 October 2007, at least 3 millions people are outside the country. Over 2 millions to Thailand, 28,000 to Malaysia, 30,000 to Singapore, 50,000 to USA, 7,000 to Japan, 20,000 to Australia, 10,000 to China, 2,000 to South Korea, 3,000 to India, 2,000 to Germany, 3,500 to Canada, 1,500 to Norway, etc. Many Burmese died at 2004 Tsunami disaster in Phuket area , Thailand as unknown bodies due to the fact that relatives of dead Burmese were afraid off being sent back to Burma by Thai authority. Those illegal Burmese worked in low paid industries where local people are not willing to work. Similarly, many Burmese are illegally smuggled from Thailand into better pay jobs in Malaysia especially in KL, Penang, JB, etc... We can find some Burmese waiters and waitresses in some shops and hotels in KL.

Major migration starts after 1988

Early Burmese migrants to Singapore are engineering graduates. They found works in ship repair and service industry due to the fact that local Singaporeans dislike those kinds of jobs. Then, degree holders with experience in accounting, geology and nursing, and skilled technicians were welcomed by Singapore. After some years, Burmese youths started to study in Singapore polytechnics for diploma. They understood that education is the only way to improve their lives. Many graduate students from Burma are also accepted into NUS and NTU master programs. After receiving their certificates from Singapore Institutions, some are granted permanence resident status in Singapore. Many ‘government -to-government’ staffs also started to flow into various industries in Singapore. Burmese migration to Singapore is greatly seen after Burma became an ASEAN member.

Dr. Mahathir, who was then the prime minister of Malaysia, brought the junta into ASEAN. UN has appointed Malaysian diplomat Mr Razali Ismail as Burmese envoy to mediate between the junta and the opposition. It has failed. Before the retirement, Dr. Mahathir officially mentioned that "I regret, brought Burma into ASEAN". Recently Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew mentioned to San Francisco media that "they are rather dumb generals economically, Singapore hoteliers who have sunk millions of dollars on his advice, have now found their hotels empty".

Detained Noble Peace Price winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has written a very famous book named, "FREEDOM FROM FEAR". But most of the Burmese are still in fear of Junta who use very heavy jailed sentences and tortures on those political prisoners. One must be very careful to form a charity and a society in Burma as Junta dislikes any society without their management. All societies in Burma are closely monitored by Junta. In Singapore, just two official societies linked to Burma are registered under Singapore registry of society, "Myanmar Club" and "Myanmar Business Association". The rest are Buddhist and Christian religious societies such as, "Burmese Buddhist Temple – Toa Payoh", "Shwedagon Society", "SMC Meditation Center - Havelock Rd", "Mahamuni Buddhist Society - Clementi", "VIPASSANA MEDITATION CENTRE - Paya Lebar", "Judson Baptist Church - Novena", "Karen Baptist Church", etc… Their addresses can be found at www.mingalaronline.net website.
Little Myanmar (Peninsula Plaza)

Peninsula Plaza is the Burmese gathering point in Singapore. Before 1991, Burmese sailors’ gathering point is in China Town. A shop named Thanlwin was famous to sailors to buy things or to send their monies back to Myanmar. After 1991, another shop "Yadana" started to open in Peninsula. (Now this shop is no longer operating). Second shop is Tawwin which is operating at 3rd floor of Peninsula Plaza. Estimated 100 Burmese shops are now operating in Peninsula Plaza and Peninsula Hotel, mostly in 2nd to 5th floors of Peninsula Plaza. Most shops are in the business of sending money back to their relatives at home. It is called, "hondi" business. Burmese never believe in their government banking system. Official rate is S$1.00 equals 3 kyats at government bank. But black market rate is S$1.00 equals ~900 kyats. They just give S$ dollars to the shops and their relatives can collect equivalent kyats in one to three days at any cities in Burma. Those shops deal with their partner shops in Yangon. If someone need Singapore dollars in Singapore, their relative gives equivalent kyats to Yangon shop. On their paydays in Singapore, many workers send their Singapore dollars to their relatives via those hondi shops in Peninsula Plaza.

Beside from those hondi shops, today you can find some restaurants and others such as beauty saloons, barber shop, Burmese fish & prawn, jewelry, computers, clinic, lawyer, astrologist, consultancy, work agents, HDB agents, property agent, internet cyber cafes operating daily with thousands of Burmese shoppers. There is a Myanmar Club providing Burmese language classes. At the 5th floor, a Burmese Library was opened by a group of Burmese. In Burmese, it is pronounced as "Lan-Pya-Kye", meaning "Guiding Star" in English. This library accepts donation of books in Burmese language. Members can borrow these books free of charge. Membership fee is SGD10 dollars for 6 months. Their main purpose is to maintain Burmese language in Singapore. They also have a notice board to display information related to Burmese community in Singapore.
Burmese Students

As Indian and Chinese migrated to Singapore earlier, Burmese follow their foot steps. They tried to live in Singapore by various methods such as work permit, business, study in government and private institutions, etc… Most popular method is to study in Singapore because Singapore education is considered one of the best in the world. Parents in our region like to send their children to study in Singapore. Another reason, Singapore has least criminal case in this region, peaceful and disciplined. Now a lot of children from Asean study in Singapore although the cost is not cheap but if they study in private schools in other popular countries such as Australia, US and UK, etc…, cost will be much higher. Most Burmese try to get entry into government schools to save cost. Some children, who are not qualified for government schools, entered private schools resulting higher cost. The most famous schools are "hotel management", "casino management", "art schools", "design schools" and some private style courses now run by SMU and NUS. A lot of Language schools, business schools, accounting ACCA, LCCI schools, IT schools such as Informatics, etc… are now targeting foreign students. Benefit for student after getting their certificates is that they are allowed to work in Singapore.
Tax to Burmese Embassy

Most of the Burmese hate to go Burmese Embassy but they have no choice. Government issues passport with about 45 pages only and validity of passport is 1 to 3 years. If they want to extend their passport, they have to pay tax to Burmese government. Amount payable depends on their salary. Normally 10% of their salary is imposed to every Burmese all over the world exclusive of England which is still using double tax agreement. Most poly graduates and degree holders paid S$80 to 160 depending on their salary. For example, for a Burmese started working in Singapore since 1991 until now has already paid (150 dollars x 12 months x 16 years) 28,800 dollars to Embassy. If monthly saving of S$150 for 16 years with 3% interest will be easily 40K. Burmese cannot avoid this embassy tax because their passport can only be renewed by Embassy. If they want to visit home town in Burma, they also have to get certificate of tax clearance from Embassy. Paying tax to Singapore government is logical for Burmese working in Singapore but very strange to pay to Burmese Government. Both countries have no double taxation agreement but Embassy made it legal collection by demanding everyone to write application letter, "I myself willing to pay tax to my country". Some work permit holders work so hard as health assistance in old folks home and earn S$300 per month. They are asked to pay S$40 to 60 dollars per month and it is 15% to 20% of their salary. It is unfair but there is no choice for all Burmese because they need to extend their passport validity.
A Burmese group called DTASG , "Double Taxation Agreement - Singapore" started campaign in January 2007. Today newspaper published widely on their movement for Embassy to stop taxing Burmese. The group sent signatures to Embassy, Myanmar government minister and even Singapore government body. But it is still an un-solved issue. Now, after the Burma Monk Crisis, DTASG campaign initiated again.

World Records

Burma is the most unfamiliar country in this region. When Singaporeans visit to Myanmar, a lot of different or unexpected experiences will be observed.
Burmese people are very friendly and poor but mostly are educated at least secondary education. They love to read books. Burma has snowcapped mountains, at the same time they have very hot region like Africa. Climate similar to Singapore also can be found. Estimated 5 millions Chinese and 5 million Indian are mixed with local Burmese ethnics and they all speak Burmese language. Local currency is called ‘Kyats’. Coins are no longer in use and notes are old and dirty. Cars and trucks are not depreciative items, keeping them is considered investment, probably due to high inflation. They carry monies with gunny sacks as no one trusts banks to save their money. World oldest generals are living in Burma. To buy a hand phone line in Singapore cost nothing (of course with a contract) but in Burma, it costs more than S$2000. To get internet access to home or office is very difficult. ~S$20 is monthly income for basic worker. But rich people are getting very much richer. They owned many cars which are paid in cash not by installment. Middle class is disappearing. To get a passport is quite difficult and costly. If a Burmese passport is lost or stolen, a new passport will cost us S$1000 plus, and have to wait for months to get a new one. Burmese passport is required to have a visa for all countries. Even Burmese who wants to visit his own country also must go to Embassy and get approval letter. Funny or strange!!
Burmese Groups

There are many un-official Burmese groups in Singapore. The most famous and biggest is called exRIT group. In Burma, there was only one Engineering University called "Rangoon Institute of Technology - RIT". Engineers who graduated from RIT are exRIT and they have annual gathering in Burmese New Year which falls on the same days as Thailand’s "Sonkran Festival". We call it, "water festival" and throwing water to each other to welcome the New Year. Normally it falls at second week of April. Since 2001, annual gathering started in Singapore together with "Saya Pu Zaw Pwe". Saya means teacher in Burmese language. In Burmese culture especially Buddhists, everyone paid respect to five most important things in their lives, "Buddha, Dharma (teaching of Buddha), Sangha (monks), parents and teachers". Even for non-Buddhists, teachers are well respected in Burma. Pu Zaw Pwe means "paid respect" which is to "pay obeisance with one's hands clasped palm to palm and raised to touch one's forehead". Estimated 3000 engineering students invited their former teachers from Burma and abroad, and paid respect together inside the Toa Payoh Buddhist temple (Burmese Buddhist Temple). Burmese have difficulty to form official groups due to the fact that military junta is actively monitoring Burmese activities in Singapore. Junta’s intelligent agents (Military Intelligence, MI) are suspected living in Singapore with Junta family and protecting their businesses. Therefore, Burmese in Singapore are afraid to form an official Burmese society. Most un-official groups are found in 5 Polytechnic schools and 3 Universities (NTU, NUS, SMU). Their yahoo e-groups can be found in cyberspace. Due to plenty of Burmese migrated to Singapore since 2005, many celebrities and artists from Myanmar are invited to music performances in Singapore. Famous singers entertain in Burmese. Burmese famous music bands like "Empire", "Iron Cross" and "Thu Maung traditional music group" are regular visiting to Singapore. Also, a lot of famous Buddhist monks are invited to teach local Burmese and Chinese Buddhists.
Not only Engineering society, now geologist, doctor, nurse, lawyer, accountant, teacher also are already established in Singapore. The strongest group is "healthcare group" with medical doctors, specialist doctors, nurses, x-ray, physiologist, dentist, etc… can be found in all Singapore hospitals. Local Polytechnic trained Burmese nurses can also be found in NUH, SGH, Mount E, Alexandra and Changhi hospital ..etc.

Next generation Burmese

Now, many Burmese are converting to Singapore citizenship especially younger generation. Their main reason is to avoid paying Embassy tax which is huge amount to them. It is also to get privileges from government for education grants, job opportunities and to hold Singapore passport. But majority are still holding Burmese passport with PR, Work permit, S-Pass and EP, etc…Off course, Myanmar education system also affected and Military General’s children also trying to study oversea. Very rich people and top military officer’s children can study to developed countries such as UK, Australia, USA, USA. Majority students can not effort. Only Singapore is a future education hub for Burmese youths. After they completed Diploma, Degree or Master, mostly they work in Singapore companies. If Burma has a democratically elected government in the near future, some may be going back to help build the country back which has lost all the infrastructures. But some Burmese are likely to stay put in Singapore and mixed with Singaporean in future.
End. www.monywa.org/witmone 14-oct-2007 Concern for Burma /Myanmar

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shangri-la to revive twin towers project

The two Shangri-la owned towers on the southern edge of Kandawgyi Lake. The Malaysia-backed group plans to revive the project, mothballed after the Asian Financial Crisis, within two-and-a-half years, turning the towers into serviced apartments. Pic: Kaung Htet
By Stuart Deed
Volume 31, No. 612
January 30 - February 5, 2012

THE ghostly concrete husks on the southern fringe of Kandawgyi Lake are among Yangon’s most discussed buildings. And they are set to get tongues wagging again, with the developer dusting off plans to turn the mothballed towers into serviced apartments.
A grandiose but unfinished project of Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok’s Shangri-la Yangon Company Limited, work on the towers was suspended in 1998. They have since been the subject of perpetual rumour, with Yangon residents espousing a variety of theories to explain why the project was never completed. A popular story was that the buildings failed a soil test, with proponents pointing out that one of the towers appears to lean to one side.
Yangon is a city that seems to runs on rumour but in this case there’s not a shred of truth, says Mr Craig Powell, general manager of Traders Hotel, which is also substantially owned and managed by the Shangri-la group.
“The ground is perfectly stable,” he told The Myanmar Times earlier this month.
“You might recall that in 2010 we had an earthquake in Yangon and following that not only did we get a structural engineer in to assess our hotel but we took a look at the [Kandawgyi] site as well.”
After almost 15 years on ice the buildings naturally look a little worse for wear but Mr Powell insisted they were 100 percent structurally sound.
“If the foundation or the land was unstable clearly we would have seen the effects or there would have been evident damage to the two towers. That has not been the case. … It’s not sinking either, nothing of the kind.
“Put it this way: After [Shangri-la] had done an assessment and feasibility study they wouldn’t be going ahead if the place wasn’t fit to continue,” he says.
Mr Powell quickly shot down another popular rumour – that the buildings are up for sale. Instead, they will be developed into Shangri-la Apartments, a 240-unit serviced apartment complex.
“The timing’s right I think [because] there is high demand for quality serviced apartments and a major shortage. Clearly we can see there’s an opportunity there and that’s why we want to start them up again, or rather finish what we started,” Mr Powell said. “That’s going to transpire very soon.”
Yangon’s current crop of serviced apartments already have long waiting lists and little in the way of new supply is expected over the next two years, Colliers International’s Yangon Property Market Report 1st Half 2011 stated.
“Due to limited supply and high demand, every serviced apartment in Yangon is recording high occupancy rates for long term contracts and some projects had a waiting list to stay of more than 50,” the report said.
“With no new supply expected in the next two years this is likely to continue,” it added.
In this regard Shangri-la has the upper hand on potential competitors because the basic structure and supporting infrastructure are already in place. Look closely enough and you can even make out what appears to be a tennis court in the undergrowth between the towers and the lake.
Shangri-la estimates the job can be completed within two-and-a-half years. Mr Powell said he was not privy to discussions concerning the budget for the project.
“The structure or shell of the building is fine. However, we’re going to have to do a lot of work on the inside. I think it’s going to take a bit of effort to complete it and the mechanical and electrical [systems] will have to be stripped and started over again,” he said.
“I think it’s going to take quite a bit to complete it … somewhere between two and two-and-a-half-years is the initial estimate.
“I can’t say that’s concrete because that’s dependent on what happens here in the country politically, as well as the availability of materials, being able to procure a quality contractor and skilled labour to get the work done.
“I know that this will be a challenge because we’re not the only ones looking to start a new project or continue a suspended site. Ours are not the only ghost towers in the town; there are at least six that I know of.”
Like many of the other dormant projects, which include one well-known hotel and office tower in the downtown area and prominent high-rises on Pyay Road, Shangri-la’s Kandawgyi project was the victim of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, which prompted a downturn in Myanmar.
“The reason that it stopped, like many of the projects that stopped, was the Asian Financial Crisis and also the situation in Myanmar at the time was not positive.
“People didn’t want to continue to invest money into a place that they had uncertainties about and that’s understandable. Those two towers have been sitting there since 1998 when we stopped work.”
The decision to restart the project follows a US$30-million-plus refurbishment of Traders Hotel launched in July 2011, Mr Powell said.

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