YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s newly reformed investment commission will this month start scrutinizing some $2.3 billion in proposed foreign investment projects that have been held up since April, a senior official said on Friday.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept to power in elections last November, and the United States eased sanctions against Myanmar in May, buoying hopes for a quick uptick of foreign investment into the country which has suffered from decades of economic hardship under military rule.
But since the new government took over in April, no proposed investments have been signed off on by the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), a powerful body that decides which projects get the green light, as it awaited word on its reworked structure from the President’s Office. President Htin Kyaw announced the new make-up of the group only on Tuesday.
Aung Naing Oo, who was re-appointed as the secretary of the commission, said 102 projects had been submitted since April and were awaiting approval. About a half of these proposals are foreign investment projects, whose total worth is around $2.3 billion.
The delay, he said, happened because the NLD wanted to choose the proper people for the commission, but the long wait also raised concerns among the business community, fuelling speculation on how the NLD, made up of many activists and former political prisoners, would handle investment.
“There were some concerns from the business community. There were some rumors in the business community saying that there would be no MIC at all,” Aung Naing Oo told Reuters.
“Plus, some investors who had already submitted their proposals to MIC were also concerned about the delays at MIC because, for them, time is money. The delay means they have to spend more money.”
Aung Naing Oo said the first meeting of the revamped, 11-strong body headed by the planning and finance minister was likely to take place toward the end of June.
Aung Naing Oo said it would take around eight weeks to work through the proposals but that the MIC was still waiting on a list of investment sectors to prioritize from the NLD.
The go-ahead from the MIC does not guarantee investments will always progress smoothly, however.
In May, lawmakers decided to scrap a $70 million private hospital in Yangon backed by Malaysian group IHH Healthcare Berhad (IHHH.KL), which broke ground in January. MPs criticized the tender process for the 4.3 acre plot for a lack of transparency.
On Wednesday, lawmakers terminated a proposed extension to a port terminal on the Yangon river citing environmental concerns.
Both projects had been approved by the MIC.
These decisions violated investment laws and risked undercutting investor confidence in the commission, said Aung Naing Oo.
“According to the law, the government guarantees there will be no termination of the projects approved by the MIC,” said Aung Naing Oo.
“As an official responsible for investment promotion, it is not so good for the image of the country... If we really want to promote investment, we also need to consider (investor) protection.”
Editing by Nick Macfie