An Independent Survey of Events in Myanmar
Immigration officials told Rohingya Muslims in Sahab Bazar of Maungdaw North to identify themselves as ‘Rakhine Muslims’ instead of Bengalis and apply for the green card. At the same time, they made threats of a crackdown to root down illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In retrospect, it would have been better for Rakhine Muslims to have kept to this designation which ties them firmly to Arakan, rather than to have sought to establish a new ethnicity under the disputed designation "Rohingya".
- UEC rejects Muslim parliamentary candidates - Mizzima 2 September 2015
- Myanmar election body rejects Muslim parliamentary candidates - RFA 1 September 2015
Many people thought this would become one of the hottest new markets for American capital a few years ago, when the country began opening to the West after decades of military rule.Instead, Myanmar has been a letdown for many investors - especially Americans. Many have already pulled out after opportunities failed to materialize.
Numerous construction projects for new hotels, offices and condominium buildings in Yangon have stalled, as investors wait for clearer investment rules and to see how the dust settles after the November election. Washington, meanwhile, has in many ways made it hard for U.S. firms to do business in Myanmar, even as it encouraged U.S. companies to go there. The Obama administration added requirements that forced U.S. firms to make extensive public disclosures if they invested more than $500,000. It also kept some sanctions in place in case the government backtracked on its promised overhauls.
Eric Rose, a U.S. lawyer who opened a branch of his firm, Herzfeld & Rubin, in Yangon, says about half of Myanmar’s economy is controlled by the military and another 20% is dominated by blacklisted cronies, effectively making 70% of Myanmar off-limits.
Wary of Washington’s mixed signals, American banks kept blocking some transactions involving the country. Citibank Inc. and others made exploratory trips but decided not to do more there. Six foreign banks have branches in Myanmar and dozens more have representative offices, but none are American.
The U.S. has declined to lift import duties, meaning companies like Gap have to pay as much as 17% in tax when bringing goods home. The European Union in 2013 granted Myanmar products duty-free and quota-free access to Europe. Officially, U.S. firms have invested just $2 million in Myanmar since 2011, according to Myanmar government statistics, though that doesn’t include an undetermined amount spent through regional offices in Singapore. China has invested $5.2 billion since 2011. The U.K. has spent $1.3 billion and the Netherlands $312 million.
Since expanding into Myanmar in 1992, Total has become the country's biggest international energy exploration and production company, mainly thanks to its operation of the Yadana gas field. Total is also a key player in local development. From the start of operations, it introduced an extensive social policy for its employees as well as a far-reaching CSR program targeting education, public health, local job creation, micro-finance and access to energy.
Myanmar has set a minimum wage of 3,600 kyat (US$2.80) for an eight-hour work day, a move likely to boost investment in the fast-growing country's garment industry. Under the newly-established level, Myanmar's minimum monthly pay would be around US$67 a month, based on a six-day work week, giving it a competitive advantage over thriving garment makers such as Vietnam and Cambodia where the monthly minimum wage ranges from US$90 to US$128, according to the International Labor Organization.
In a wide-ranging article on the present situation in Myanmar, Hugo Swire, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made a number of points, including:
- 2015 could be the most important year in Burma's recent history. The November general elections are the litmus test for the reform process which began in 2011. Successful elections would consolidate a remarkable, peaceful transition from dictatorship.
- I agree that there have been major setbacks in Burma's transition over the last year. We have seen a shrinking of the democratic space, numbers of political prisoners again on the rise, ongoing instances of sexual violence in conflict affected areas, and the introduction of potentially discriminatory legislation on race and religion.
- Of all the human rights concerns in Burma, the appalling treatment of the Rohingya community remains the most worrying. For a community already struggling with a lack of basic human rights, the removal of 'white card' identity documents this year - and the prospect of disenfranchisement - has clearly been a moment of great distress.
- Since 2011, thousands of political prisoners have been released, a vibrant media has emerged from decades of absolute press control and a flourishing civil society scene has developed. You can see and feel this on the streets of Rangoon.
- The peace process, while not at all straight-forward, is closer to bringing a nationwide ceasefire than at any time since Burma's independence, and hundreds of child soldiers have been released.
- Some have questioned, in particular, our engagement with the military. I cannot see how Burma can make genuine political progress without the buy-in of the military, who remain a powerful force in Burma.
- I know there will be huge interest here in the elections in November. The international community must do everything it can to support the next milestone in Burma's remarkable journey.