February 06, 2013 00:00
By Kwanchai Rungfapaisarn
Private-sector participation sought in telecom, transport development
Myanmar is in the second phase of reform with an emphasis on public services, Kan Zaw, minister of national planning and economic development, said recently.
Public utilities and facilities will be upgraded under the second phase, which will encompass education, communication, electricity, water sanitation and urban transport.
Reported earlier was Myanmar’s attempt to grant telecom licences, which drew interest from telecom companies in many countries including Thailand’s Advanced Info Service and True Corp.
“We are now very systematic and in the last two to three months, the Posts and Telegraphs Ministry has changed its name to the Communication and Information Technology Ministry. The Myanmar Post and Telecom Enterprise is going to corporatise. It means trying to work with a private-public partnership. This is big progress,” he said during his briefing to journalism and mass communication PhD students from Thammasat University.
“We will also work together with the private sector and regulators. Originally, the government is the sole proprietor of telecommunications, but after corporatisation, we will have four corporations dealing with the country’s telecommunication services,” Zaw said.
In the national five-year plan running from 2011-16, by 2015, Myanmar targets 40 million of its 60 million population having access to telecom services. This will be sped up through telecom corporatisation, which will allow private ownership of 35-100 per cent.
The country’s mobile penetration is the lowest within Asean at about 26 per 100,000. But within six months after corporatisation, the country will increase mobile phone users to three million to five million.
Myanmar is the last frontier in Asean and is the new area for investment. After finishing the Dawei deep-sea port project, which will open its first phase in 2015, Myanmar will promote itself as a land and sea bridge between Southeast Asia and South Asia, and between Southeast Asia and the Middle East, thanks to its good geographic location.
The minister believes that with improved access to basic services and utilities, Myanmar as a whole will witness development.
Democratic reform was kicked off in 2011 to end five decades of isolation. This paved the way for economic reforms, following the lifting of trade sanctions by international communities. Asean nations recently agreed for Myanmar to host the 27th SEA Games in Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and Mandalay in December. Asian business leaders will also be in the country to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia this year. To cope with international events, the country has to finish the communications network, not only for its own people but also visitors, who can access the Internet.
After political reforms that highlighted inclusiveness, economic reforms are on the way. In the third phase, the country would promote transparency, accountability and greater environmental concern.
Amid the opened-up environment, Myanmar will enjoy a mixed culture, especially for younger people, who will imitate foreign culture and retain their own culture. It will be based on individuals and how people as well as the country maintain their traditions.
“For the government, that’s a competition principle, whether you give priority to development or to culture. It is quite difficult to care for both at the same time,” he said.
Myanmar is still quite unique and still maintains its traditional culture. It is the only country where people wear an official dress called the longyi. In the countryside, Myanmar still keeps its tradition and culture alive.
Anucha Thirakanont, lecturer of journalism and mass communication at Thammasat University, said the influx of foreign culture would make the indigenous culture obsolete and deemed by the people as old fashioned. For sure, many rites and rituals will go out of practice and be replaced by something more current and “meaningless”.
“In the near future, the traditional dresses worn in public will be out of sight; national identities will be forgotten,” he said.
With globalisation, the young generations will be excited by anything non-Myanmar, whether fashion, entertainment, lifestyle or social norm. Of course, nostalgically, it will be less attractive to a tourist, but one must understand that everyone is longing for modernity and conveniences, he added.
Population: 60 million (estimated)
GDP growth: 6.4% per year for 2012-17, according to IMF forecasts
Mobile subscriber base: 5.44 million as of end-December