BANGKOK, June 1 (Reuters) - Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urged foreign firms on Friday to invest cautiously in fast-changing Myanmar and give priority to creating jobs as much as making profits in order to defuse the “time bomb” that is the country’s high unemployment rate.
Speaking during her first trip outside her country in 24 years, the leader of the fight against dictatorship in the former Burma also warned against “reckless optimism” about Myanmar’s rapid reforms.
Suu Kyi, 66, said Myanmar faced a crisis due to the number of people without work and urged foreign companies to provide jobs and training. Their investments should not fuel corruption or line the pockets only of the business elite.
“The proportion of young people unemployed in Burma is extremely high. That is a time bomb,” she said in a speech to the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok.
“Please don’t think about how much benefit will come to those who are investing. I understand investors invest because they hope to profit from ventures - I agree with that - but our country must benefit as much as those who invest.
“I want this commitment to mean quite simply jobs - as many jobs as possible.”
Millions of people in Myanmar have been forced abroad, many to Thailand, because of the chronic lack of employment.
Western sanctions have prevented foreign companies from investing in the country of 60 million people, but most of these have been suspended in recent months in response to reforms by the quasi-civilian government that took office just over a year ago.
Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest under the former junta, said the government was pushing through democratic, social and economic reforms but did not seem interested in overhauling a judiciary that lacked independence.
“Would-be investors in Burma please be warned: even the best investment law will be of no use whatsoever if there are no courts clean or independent enough to be able to administer those laws justly,” she said.
“So far, we’re not aware of any reforms on the judicial front ... Not many in the government seem to agree with this,” she said. “I consider the need to be very urgent indeed.”
On a lighter note, Suu Kyi said she was dazzled by Bangkok, a glitzy contrast to Yangon and other big towns in Myanmar, where chronic power cuts sparked protests last week.
“I was completely fascinated by the lights,” she said. “What went through my mind, is: ‘we need an energy policy’.” (Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)