Burmese migrants to remit half of salaries

Nov 20, 2009 (DVB), Burmese nationals working abroad have been instructed by the ruling junta to send up to 50 percent of their salary home in remittances, via a state-owned bank.

According to the new regulation, enforced by Burma's labour ministry, those who earn less than $US200 per month working abroad are to send 30 percent of their salary back to Burma, while those earning above $US400 are to send 50 percent back.

The latest data available from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that remittances to Burma in 2004 totaled $US81.3 million.

The announcement, made last week in several Burmese journals, said that the regulation will be enforced by government employees working abroad under departments such as the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation.

On top of this, all Burmese nationals working overseas are to pay 10 percent of their salary as tax to the Burmese embassy in their respective countries of employment.

The announcement follows the recent granting of temporary passports to Burmese working in Thailand, although it is not clear whether these will also be scrutinised under the new regulation.

A Burmese national working in Singapore said however that it would be impossible for migrant workers to follow the rule.

"Some people have their whole family here; they have kids to send to school here and families to look after. How would they be able to pay half of their salary?"

Another Singapore-based Burmese national said that the regulation could force people into adopting a new citizenship to avoid paying the fee, which "could lead educated citizens of Burma to become citizens of other countries".

Critics of the idea claim that the regulation will bring more stable foreign currency to the state-owned bank, while those who receive the remittance will be given the unstable Burmese currency, which has recently appreciated.

Although the government puts the official exchange rate at six kyat to the United States' dollar, the unofficial blackmarket rate is closer to 1000 kyat per US dollar.

The government has been accused in the past of using the irregularity between the official and unofficial exchange rate to hide income, particularly from sales of oil and gas.

Outrage at the apparent siphoning off by the government of aid funding to Burma following cyclone Nargis last year exposed levels of state corruption in the country, which were reinforced earlier this week by a Transparency International report which ranked Burma as the third most corrupt country in the world.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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