NAYPYITAW, Myanmar Jan 19 Myanmar's government
will unveil a slew of new reforms to donor countries and
international organisations this weekend, aiming to consolidate
achievements since the end of military rule in 2011 but also
quickly improve the lives of its citizens.
A wide-ranging "Framework for Economic and Social Reforms"
to be presented in the capital, Naypyitaw, sets out priorities
until 2015 and broader initiatives "that will allow Myanmar to
become a modern, developed and democratic nation by 2030".
The document seen by Reuters, which addresses such issues as
liberalisation of trade and investment, health and education,
transparency and infrastructure, admits Myanmar "is way behind
President Thein Sein, himself a former junta general, has
transformed the country since taking office in March 2011 at the
head of a quasi-civilian government.
He has introduced sweeping economic reforms, including a
more market-oriented exchange rate, released hundreds of
political prisoners, and agreed ceasefires with most of the
ethnic rebel groups that have fought for decades for autonomy.
Late on Friday he issued a ceasefire order in Kachin state,
where tens of thousands of people have been displaced in 20
months of fighting, although rebel leaders would not immediately
commit to the truce, suspicious of the government's motives.
The army's continued attacks in the state had raised doubts
about his control over the military and even led some to
question his sincerity about the reform process in general.
Western governments have dropped or eased sanctions imposed
on the former junta in recognition of Thein Sein's reforms, and
international firms are keen to move into a country with vast
resources, located between China and India and part of a vibrant
Southeast Asia heading for closer economic union in 2015.
Improving the environment for foreign investment is a
central aim of the latest proposals.
The unification of exchange rates, already undertaken by the
government, will be bolstered by further liberalisation efforts,
such as removing all exchange and non-tariff restrictions on
imports "as a matter of urgency".
The government says it will give priority to a new central
bank law that will grant it operational autonomy.
A new foreign investment law was passed at the end of 2012
but left many questions open about how it would work.
"Feedback from the business community suggests that it is
particularly important that the law and procedures are specific
as to which sectors are restricted with respect to foreign
investment and does not allow for discretion with respect to
implementation," the reform document said.
Further efforts at transparency will be made in the natural
resources sector. The government will disclose the revenue it
gets from oil, gas and mining assets and companies must publish
what they pay to the state.
In the past the sector has been opaque and companies paid
little attention to how they affected local communities.
The most recent controversy involved a Chinese-backed copper
mine at Monywa in the northwest.
Dozens of people protesting at the mine's eviction of
villagers were injured in a police raid on their camp in
November last year. Thein Sein has set up a commission to
investigate the problem, headed by opposition leader Aung San
In the telecoms sector, the government will aim for an 80
percent penetration rate for mobile phones by 2015. The rate in
2011 was less than 3 percent.
The tourism industry, which requires "immediate
adjustments", will receive a boost from looser visa rules,
modelled on those of successful holiday destinations such as
Fiscal proposals include raising the threshold for income
tax and introducing a value-added tax, and the government will
look at how it can make the national budget more transparent.
As one of the "quick wins" to help ordinary people, the
document says it will improve public transport in the commercial
capital, Yangon, perhaps by lifting restrictions on motorcycles,
and banks will be able to start offering mortgage financing.
(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Writing by
Paul Carsten; Editing by Alan Raybould and Daniel Magnowski)