Myanmar reform is ‘non-reversible’

By Andrea Ong | Source: ANN
There is a new mood of hope and vibrancy in Myanmar which cements President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s view that the path of reform its government embarked on in recent years is “non-reversible”.

“It will go ahead, it will have ups and downs, but I don’t think that we will have a reversion back to the old regime,” Dr Tan said at the end of a five-day state visit which took in the capital Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Yangon.

He spoke of its “significant progress” in building a sustainable democracy and open economy, with the introduction of more liberal foreign investment laws.

He said he sensed in the population a palpable vibrancy. Many of them are also young and eager to learn. Even the ordinary folk he met were eager to build a Myanmar which is open to the world and creates jobs for them. “They believe that this is possible, and this gives me hope.”

However, even as the Myanmar government works towards the longer-term goal of political reform, it must ensure widespread support for this aim by delivering immediate economic benefits such as housing, education and health care, said Dr Tan. These are areas in which Singapore can share its expertise, he added.

For instance, Singapore’s experience in building low-cost public housing may be useful to Myanmar. Myanmar ministers and officials have visited Singapore several times this year to learn about public housing and urban planning. Singapore’s agencies have also offered to help Yangon build urban planning capabilities, said Dr Tan, who was accompanied by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Housing Board chief executive Cheong Koon Hean, among others, on this trip.

Dr Tan singled out job creation and human resource development as another immediate priority for Myanmar ahead of an expected boom in foreign investment. One key outcome of his visit was the announcement that the Singapore Government intends to build a vocational training institute in Yangon which will help establish a base of skilled workers. He has also pledged Singapore’s support in educating Myanmar’s young workforce.

Yesterday, Dr Tan said Myanmar President Thein Sein, who he met earlier this week, has welcomed the proposal and tasked his officials to work closely with Singapore on the institute. On recent ethnic unrest in the Meikhtila and Bago regions, Dr Tan said Yangon Chief Minister Myint Swe, who he met on Thursday, had assured him the situation has stabilised and all necessary steps would be taken to ensure the security of citizens and foreign investors, including safeguarding their properties.

He said the key political leaders he met, such as Mr Thein Sein; Speaker of the Lower House Thura U Shwe Mann; and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, “are all passionately concentrated on delivering a better life for their people”. At the same time, they are realistic and know the road ahead will not be smooth. While Myanmar’s general election in 2015 will be a challenge, he is confident the country will weather the transition successfully.

The private sector and people of Singapore can also play a part in this transition, said Dr Tan. He highlighted prospects for Singapore’s small and medium-sized enterprises in niches like logistics, business and consumer services such as telecommunications and hospitality.

Dr Tan also said he was “extremely pleased” to see strong people-to-people ties, which encompass a training programme by KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and Temasek Foundation in Myanmar hospitals as well as cooperation between the Red Cross societies of both nations to set up a first- aid building along a highway linking key cities.