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INTERVIEW: Burma to push for rural development, equality, says minister-elect

Burma’s first freely elected cabinet in more than half a century will focus on income equality, rural development and boosting budget revenue, the finance minister-elect said in his first interview since being picked for the job.

Democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi’s party on Tuesday announced the make up of its cabinet, which officially takes power on 1 April.

It is led by president-elect Htin Kyaw, a confidant hand-picked by Suu Kyi because the junta-drafted constitution bars her from the presidency.

Before his appointment to lead the Ministry of Planning and Finance, Kyaw Win, 68, had served as a lawmaker in Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a historic election in November.

The former finance ministry official holds degrees in economics and has advised the NLD on economic policy for the last two years.

“If we check income distribution, most of it goes to a small number of people,” said Kyaw Win, adding that looking only at a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was not the right way to assess its economic health or otherwise.

“Seventy percent of the population live in rural areas. These people are poor, and do not have enough income. So they are our first priority,” Kyaw Win told Reuters in an interview.

He called agriculture the “lifeblood” of the countryside and pledged to focus on improving electricity and transportation in rural areas.

The minister-elect cut an unassuming figure, sporting a grey polo shirt and a dark Burmese sarong as he sat in a modest room at the government guesthouse.

Kyaw Win faces the daunting task of improving the finances of a country which, for five decades, was beset by wayward policy decisions and scant foreign investment under a junta that stifled economic reform.

The military regime handed over to a semi-civilian government in 2011, which ushered in a series of economic and political reforms.

The International Monetary Fund cautioned Burma in September that without reforms, which could lower growth in the short term, the country risked a run on its foreign exchange reserves, which cover just three months of imports, and a burgeoning fiscal deficit.

Kyaw Win said that rather than looking for savings through tax hikes, the NLD would try to close loopholes to boost budget revenue.


“People think we will increase taxes, but that’s not true. We will try to find gaps and fix them without increasing taxes,” he said.

Echoing Suu Kyi’s tough stance during the election campaign, Kyaw Win said the government would also focus on corruption.

“We have to make civil servants realize that they need to work for the people. I can promise that talented people will get suitable positions,” said Kyaw Win.

“We will get rid of improper customs like giving positions to people who don’t have any talent just because of their background.”


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