Sweeping privatisation in Burma continues

Feb 9, 2010 (DVB), Three major Rangoon shipping ports handling 90 percent of Burma's imports and exports are to be privatised, the latest in a major overhaul of Burmese industry, the ruling junta has announced.

"Arrangements are under way to hand over ports under the Ministry of Transport, including three major ports in Yangon [Rangoon]," a senior official from the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce told Reuters. The ports are situated at Botataung, Bo Aung Kyaw and Sule.

A small sector of port operations in Burma is already run by private entities. The announcement follows a series of privatisations, including gas retailing, which was passed to junta-friendly hands.

The Ministry of Planning and Economic Development declined to elaborate on the reform when contacted by DVB, and said only that "this is a sensitive issue for Myanmar [Burma]".

Speculation abounds that the move to privatise industry is related to this year's controversial elections, rumoured to be in October.

Burmese political analyst Aung Thu Nyein said that the "firesale privatisations" were a way for the military government to "maintain economic control after the 2010 election…and gain some sought of supposed legitimacy."

In the past economists have suggested that they would usually welcome privatisation in a one-party country like Burma. Aung Thu Nyein points out however that "Many of them [the companies taking control] are cronies of the military regime and many of them are blacklisted under US sanctions".

"The privatisation should be transparent and at the same time it should be backed up by law and regulation," he said. "There should be some sought of competition [over contracts]."

"Even in Russia the citizens got some sort of tokens," he said. After the fall of communism, citizens were offered a proportional stake in state-owned enterprises as a means of fairly splitting up these entities.

The issue of concern for many in Burma however is the secrecy surrounding the privatisation, and questions over who will own and run the economy after the proposed elections.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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