Myanmar association UK



view:  full / summary

Meditation-Can Meditation save use??

Posted on February 22, 2012 at 2:05 AM Comments comments (1)

Can meditation save us? By Tom McKinley Ball

Economic uncertainty, political divisiveness—it seems that our nation and many of us individually are now under more stress than we’re designed to handle.

It’s no surprise that increasing numbers of people are turning to meditation for refuge. And why shouldn’t we? It’s just the natural use of our own minds.


An effective meditation technique allows you to dive deep within and contact reserves of peace, energy and clarity to help you more gracefully accomplish what you wish to achieve in life. It dissolves deep-rooted, accumulated stresses that obstruct your health.


But it’s more than that: meditation can show you who you really are. Not just on the surface but deep within—where reside greater possibilities of creativity and intelligence, untapped potentialities of heart and mind.




“If Transcendental Meditation were a new drug, conferring this many benefits, it would be the biggest, multi-billion dollar blockbuster drug on the market.”—former senior NIH researcher Norman Rosenthal, M.D.


In the 1970s, Transcendental Meditation (“TM”) became a widespread cultural phenomenon. Now there’s a rising new wave of interest in TM, but for different reasons: because there’s so much scientific research verifying its effects.


Doctors and therapists are recommending it in growing numbers.


Business owners offer it as a human resource for employees—such as Oprah Winfrey and her company, Harpo Productions.


Prison systems in the U.S. and abroad are implementing programs for inmates. Hundreds of schools around the world are offering TM-Quiet Time programs for students. But mostly, people are learning it because they notice positive change in someone they know who’s learned.


From a health point of view, meditation can save your life: the deep, restorative rest rejuvenates body and mind and facilitates healing.


Research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health has shown that the TM technique reduces heart attack and stroke by nearly 50%. Clinical trails showed that it reduces cholesterol by 30 milliliters. "If you're on medication for cholesterol,” says Dr. Mehmet Oz, “we hope you can get 30 milliliters lower. But this happened through Transcendental Meditation alone."


Besides reducing the major risk factors for heart disease, meditation can also save lives by reducing depression and anxiety, as numerous studies on TM have shown.


“It Saved Me”


I’ve met many people who’ve told me that meditation saved their life. People struggling with high blood pressure who were eventually able to get off their meds after learning TM.


I encountered a Native American woman who said her insulin levels normalized for the first time in years, a few months after learning this meditation. A young woman on the verge of suicide learned the technique, pulled herself out of severe depression and found the wherewithal to return to college for a business degree.


There was the boy with ADHD, who after his first meditation never again needed to wear the Ritalin patch that was stunting his growth.


Hopelessness can be turned into hope when you get to that place within yourself that’s strong enough, resourceful enough to overcome challenges.


Even a person fighting for their life can find solace in meditation: it’s something one can do to help oneself instead of surrendering entirely to the care of others.


Calming the Waters


Here’s the beauty of Transcendental Meditation: it’s a stress-reducing practice that transcends personal opinion, likes and dislikes, beliefs and ideologies. It works on the basis of something deeper and more universal—the mind’s natural tendency.


Our minds naturally seek greater freedom and happiness, greater knowledge. The TM technique allows you to use that natural attraction to happiness in a special way by turning attention inward and finding greater happiness and peace inside you, satisfying the mind’s quest.


But it’s not a selfish thing. Even though you do it for yourself, it’s one of the best things you can do for the people around you.


The flight attendant tells us, in case of emergency, secure your own oxygen mask first. If you don’t, you’ll be useless to help anyone. Meditation allows us to save ourselves from the undertow of stress so we can be sufficiently calm and fully functional to help others.


Bridging the Differences


The TM technique is a secular, non-religious form of meditation involving no beliefs. Many religious people practice it and find that it deepens their spirituality. A physicist friend tells me it refines his appreciation of nature. All the things that define us in the outer world lose their ability to divide us as we familiarize ourselves with that deeper, universal field of order at the basis of the mind—a transcendental level of life that belongs to all of us.


Transcendental Meditation is not a sect. It’s not foreign to our culture because it’s based on natural principles of mind and body that we all share. It’s an effortless technique that anyone can learn, a tool you can use all your life and it gets better with age—it helps you get better with age and stay younger in body, mind and spirit (and yes, there’s research on that).


Tom McKinley Ball is a writer for the David Lynch Foundation. He attended a Transcendental Meditation teacher training course in 1975-76, where he studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and has taught meditation for 38 years.

UN sees ‘new opportunities’ in Myanmar

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (0)

By Thomas Kean

Volume 31, No. 613

February 6 - 12, 2012

THE United Nations sees a “new window of opportunity” to further tighten relations with the government and support its efforts towards socio-economic progress, the new UN resident and humanitarian coordinator said last week.


“The opportunities are growing every day and with it we welcome the operational space that will grow with it. The UN country team sees this as a new window of opportunity to strengthen our collaboration with the government and other partners to promote socio-economic progress in Myanmar,” said Mr Ashok Nigam, who is also the UNDP resident representative.


Mr Nigam replaced Mr Bishow Parajuli, who departed in mid-2011 after heading the UN in Myanmar for about three years.


Speaking at an informal gathering of local journalists at the UN compound on Natmauk Road on January 27, Mr Nigam said the media was playing an important role in Myanmar’s development.


“Changes in Myanmar are happening at an amazing pace and we have you, our media colleagues, to thank for keeping us all informed,” he said. “For us in the UN, we are privileged to be witnessing these changes and to be part of it. The UN country team shares the vision of the president in building the Myanmar of tomorrow.”


The UN’s four priorities in Myanmar are encouraging inclusive growth in both rural and urban areas, increasing equitable access to quality social services, reducing vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change and promoting good governance and strengthening democratic institutions and rights, he said.


“In addition, we believe that it is the government and the people of Myanmar that must identify the issues in the country. We in the international community must also do our part to step up to the plate to meet the challenges and help Myanmar and its people leapfrog into the 21st century. The time is now,” Mr Nigam said.


In an effort to support the government’s reform program, he said the UN was working with three government ministries to hold a three-day conference, from February 13 to 15. The conference, titled “Development Policy Options in Myanmar (with special reference to Education and Health)”, is being held in collaboration with Myanmar Development Resources Institute and with support from the European Union.


“The conference will focus on discussing policy options and priorities and institutional reforms for accelerating inclusive human development in Myanmar. The conference will identify issues, explore critical shortfalls in policy and institutional arrangements, share experiences from countries in the Asia region, and inform future policy development,” he said.

‘Open door’ Myanmar offers 8-year tax break to foreign firms

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Volume 31, No. 613

February 6 - 12, 2012

DAVOS, Switzerland – Myanmar’s government said last week it planned to offer eight-year tax exemptions to foreign investors as Western companies “rushed” to build ties with the one-time international pariah.


Minister for Industry U Soe Thein told reporters there had been huge interest in Myanmar from business leaders he had met at the World Economic Forum in Davos as the Southeast Asian country’s reform process gathers pace.


“They are rushing to us,” he said. “We are just opening the door.”


The minister said that Myanmar expected its economy to grow by 6 percent in the coming year and that it should be an attractive location to foreign investors – citing as proof his successful visit to Davos.


“I have met with a lot of people – not just ministers but CEOs. We have engaged with them, explained our potential, our location at the junction of China and India. Our location is very favourable.


“We have a lot of hydro potential, we have lots of fishing potential, a big fisheries area. Also our people know the English language, it is easy to communicate,” he said.


Deputy railways minister U Lwin Thaung said the government was looking to enact radical legislation to attract investors.


“Presently we have a Myanmar investment law which is rather restrictive, but we are now revising it,” he said.


“We have hired foreign consultants ... and we have told them to draw up the law so as to be more attractive than our neighbours.


“It will give tax exemptions for up to eight years and, if the enterprise is profitable for Myanmar, we will extend the incentive. We have already drafted the bill ... and at the end of February the law will come out.”


The European Union is considering lifting sanctions against Myanmar as soon as February, said diplomats in Brussels, while Washington has promised further reforms will be rewarded by the US.


A few Western corporations such as French oil giant Total have a presence because the sanctions framework permitted firms that were already operating in the country at the time they were imposed in the 1990s to stay.


U Soe Thein said Myanmar had significant gas reserves along its west coast, and was already supplying China and Thailand. It also had major potential for rice exports, he added.


The invitation for the ministers to Davos was yet another sign of how Myanmar is being brought in from the cold since a nominally civilian government took over last year and then opened talks with opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a landmark visit to Myanmar in December and afterwards moved to restore full diplomatic relations.


U Lwin Thaung, however, denied that sanctions had been a factor in the reform process.


“Our political reforms are not connected to the pressure from the outside. It is what is good for the people, good for the country and for the whole world community,” he said. – AFP

Myanmar relaxes foreign currency exchange controls

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (6)

YANGON – Myanmar’s government last week relaxed rules on legitimate money exchangers, allowing them to swap up to US$10,000 into kyat without documentation for citizens.


Under the previous rules, Myanmar nationals with identity cards could only buy or sell a maximum of $2000 daily at official foreign exchange outlets.


Those seeking to exchange more than $2000 needed to provide evidence of how they had acquired the foreign currency. As of February 1, the limit was raised to $10,000 without documentation, bank sources said.


The exchange rate on February 1 was K820 to the dollar, compared with the black market rate of K810.


However, some customers complained that the official money exchanges had run out of kyat.


“I wanted to sell $3000 but the counter told me to come back tomorrow because they had already bought too many dollars,” said one disgruntled dollar-holder who declined to be named.


Regulations for foreigners were also relaxed on February 1.


Exchange counters at Yangon International Airport were allowed to change a maximum of $200 into kyat for each foreigner in December. By mid-January, the maximum had been raised to $500 and as of February 1 it was raised to $2000.


The relaxations on foreign exchange are part of the government’s efforts to keep more currency in the banking system and out of the black market, bank sources said.


– Deustche Presse-Agentur

Art for Rangoon's Sake

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)


On the first floor of a dilapidated building in downtown Rangoon, a narrow staircase leads up to a small space that probably houses more contemporary art per square meter than anywhere else in the city: the Pansodan Gallery. Unlike other galleries, such as those at Bogyoke Aung San market that only sell paintings with “exotic” themes to satisfy the wildt Orientalist fantasies of tourists, Pansodan reveals an art scene far richer than one would expect in a country like Burma/ Myanmar—mired in poverty, isolated for years from the rest of the world, and tightly controlled by one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world.


In its three years, the gallery, open every day of the week until six in the evening, has become a meeting place for artists and art enthusiasts. Burmese and foreigners all visit the gallery, not only to buy or sell pieces of art, but to have a tea, exchange ideas, attend a poetry reading, or simply to relax for a while. The gallery’s owner, Aung Soe Min, is a gentle and kind man that welcomes visitors with Burmese hospitality, and is always relaxed and happy to answer any questions.


Aung Soe Min was born 41 years ago in a small town in central Burma. Testifying to the country’s isolation, he says he never met a foreigner until he was 25 years old. After studying engineering, he spent several years in the publishing business and began collecting books. Today he owns one of the largest libraries of Burma, which is visited by scholars from around the world.


In the late 1980s, after the collapse of the regime of Gen. Ne Win and his “Burmese Way to Socialism,” there was a slight cultural opening when the military junta that succeeded tried to attract foreign investment. “The country was changing and I tried to take advantage of this to study everything I could,” says Aung Soe Min. He also tried to make films, but he couldn’t always get the necessary permits, which, combined with a lack of official support or distribution, made it a nearly impossible undertaking.


During those years, Aung Soe Min met numerous writers and artists, and seeing that the country lacked the “infrastructure and market necessary for artists to distribute their works,” he decided to open his own gallery in 2005. It took him three years, but in 2008, after overcoming many obstacles and using the profits he made from selling “three especially valuable paintings” he was able to buy a property located in downtown Pansodan Street, close to the old colonial neighbourhood at the heart of the city, and open his gallery.


“At that time there were several galleries in Rangoon, but the majority catered exclusively to foreign clients. Burmese people did not even visit many of these galleries, or if they did it was only when accompanying a foreigner. What I’m trying to do here is create a space that’s open to evrybody,” says Aung Soe Min. His purpose is not only to “sell paintings, but also awaken Burmese people’s interest in the arts. When people say that I promote artists, I say no, I’m promoting a public.”


According to Aung Soe Min, works from some 200 artists are for sale at the Pansodan Gallery, which is not hard to believe since every day new paintings appear on the walls or scattered around the floor. “Artists will often come in and tell me they need money urgently. They bring me a painting, and if I like it I buy it myself and then try to resell it. Most other galleries, on the other hand, usually don’t pay artists until they sell their works,” he explains.


It’s not easy being an artist in Burma. The poverty, the lack of opportunities, and the scarce knowledge or interest in contemporary art make developing an artistic career far more difficult than it is the case of other countries. One of the young artists that displays his work at the Pansodan Gallery, Ein Aye Kyaw, manages to make a hard living painting by commission, especially traditional landscapes. After studying zoology and fine arts at the University of Rangoon, he decided to devote himself professionally to art five years ago when he saw a man painting on his street, he thought that “he’s the only person that really looks tranquil and happy” and that man became his first mentor.


Ein Aye Kyaw’s paintings, in a simple, impressionist style that he polishes in each painting, depict ordinary scenes or images that, as he explains, compel him to paint without really knowing why—an old taxi in the rain, a child playing in a park, or the strange structure of the Arakanese Kingdom, a half-pagoda, half-military fort palace that came to his mind after seeing an official building in Naypyidaw, Burma’s new capital that the military junta built in the middle of the jungle six years ago.



IMF: Burma Could Become Asia?s Next Economic Frontier

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report published on Wednesday highlighted both Burma’s potential for high economic growth and the enormous amount of work that will be required to realize that potential.


“The new government is facing a historic opportunity to jump-start the development process and lift living standards. Myanmar [Burma] has a high growth potential and could become the next economic frontier in Asia,” said an IMF statement issued by Meral Karasulu, who led an IMF Article IV mission to Burma from Jan. 9-25.


In order to accomplish this, the IMF statement said, Burma must turn its rich natural resources, young labor force and strategic economic location to its advantage, and the first step in this process is an economic reform program aimed at establishing macroeconomic stability.


If successful, such macroeconomic reform would lay an economic foundation that would allow rapid investment and development to take place in Burma that is both sustainable and does not produce dangerous destabilizing effects. But the IMF outlined major steps that will be required to institute such a reform package.


The IMF indicated that the top priority should be reforming Burma’s parallel exchange rate system—under which the official government exchange rate and the actual “black market” exchange rate are widely disparate—to eliminate constraints on economic growth.


According to the IMF, the Central Bank of Myanmar is already in the process of laying the technical groundwork and establishing the necessary market structure for implementing a unified exchange rate.


That process, however, will “require improvements in all areas of macroeconomic management,“ beginning with the establishment of a monetary policy framework that works to control inflation.


This in turn would mean that the Burmese government would have to halt its past policy of printing money as a means to reducing its budget deficit, which the IMF projected would be 4.6 percent of GDP for FY2012/2013, down about 1 percent from the previous year.


The IMF noted that revenues generated by investment and development spurred by a unification of the exchange rate, as well as revenues from the sale of natural gas, would improve Burma’s budget in the future.


However, exchange rate unification would also force the budget to reflect the losses incurred by state-owned businesses, which are now hidden by the parallel exchange system. The IMF said that further privatization of state-owned enterprises is also needed to spur private-sector growth.


According to the IMF, further sources of fiscal revenues, beyond those now contemplated, will need to be found to fund Burma’s projected development needs and provide a safety net for times of economic downturn, particularly price-declines for commodities such as natural gas.


Burma’s Parliament, which opened its current session on Thursday, will be discussing the FY2012/2013 budget in the coming weeks, and the IMF called it “a historic opportunity to redefine national spending priorities and bring fiscal transparency. “


In addition to exchange rate unification and the establishment of a sound fiscal policy, the IMF statement said that “Modernization of the financial system should be expedited to facilitate broad-based growth.”


This would include increasing the access to capital by private enterprises through such measures as a liberalization of loan requirements, expansion of bank networks into rural areas, nurturing competition among commercial banks and establishing a level playing field between state and private banks.


In addition, the IMF said that “allowing joint ventures with foreign banks would expedite the transfer of technology and prepare the sector for ASEAN financial integration in 2015.”


Increased credit is particularly important to Burma’s agricultural sector, and the IMF said that land reform should ensure that farmers can use land titles as collateral and private banks should be encouraged to lend in this sector as well.


But the IMF cautioned that “credit alone will not suffice to increase rural growth, which is essential to alleviate poverty,” and said that investment in rural infrastructure and spending on health and education are also essential.


In that respect, in its discussion of Burma’s 2012/2013 budget, the IMF welcomed the Burmese government’s reported “plans to reorient spending to health and education.” It also said that additional revenues generated by financial reforms should be used to build human capital and infrastructure.

Regarding trade and foreign direct investment (FDI), the IMF said that “replicating the success of FDI in the energy sector in other sectors would contribute significantly to private sector development, help diversify the economy, and open up new export opportunities.”


In order to accomplish this, the IMF said that it was essential to eliminate exchange restrictions on current international payments and transfers, and that ultimately the unification of the exchange rate would require Burma to move away from its “export first” policy, under which an importer can import only against export earnings.


The IMF predicted that Burma’s real GDP growth would increase to 5½ percent in FY2011/12 and 6 percent in FY2012/13, with the growth driven by commodity exports and higher investment.


Inflation was projected at 4.2 percent for FY2011/12 and 5.8 percent in FY2012/13, with the increase attributable in part to higher food prices.


A primary risk to Burma’s growth prospects is a renewed appreciation of the Burmese kyat, which the IMF said “could undermine Burma’s already limited external competitiveness.”


The IMF noted that the parallel market exchange rate of the kyat has appreciated by about 32 percent in nominal effective terms since end-FY2009/10, primarily as a result of inflows of foreign currency into the economy.


While the exchange rate for the kyat has stabilized in recent months, if it begins to appreciate once again the government may not be able to use interest rate reductions as a method of stabilization.


The IMF said that it does not see room for further interest rate cuts in the near term, because they might result in even greater inflation than projected and risk channeling savings to potentially speculative outlets, such as real estate.






US Set to Issue Sanctions Waiver for Burma

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday eased one of its many sanctions against Burma as a reward for political reforms after five decades of direct military rule.


The step is very limited, and most of the tough US economic, trade and political restrictions will remain in place. But it should make it easier for Burma to secure help from the World Bank and other international financial institutions by lifting US opposition to them conducting assessments.


Under anti-human trafficking legislation, the US had to oppose these bodies using their funds to help Burma. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed the waiver on Monday.


President Barack Obama authorized the move on Friday.


Other US sanctions, including the 2003 Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, still require the US to prevent the institutions from giving loans or technical assistance to the country. Years of mismanagement, isolation and internal conflict have turned what was once one of Southeast Asia's most prosperous countries into its least-developed.


The waiver follows Clinton's landmark visit to Burma in December, the first by a US secretary of state in 56 years, when she expressed willingness to allow World Bank assessment missions. She said that was supported by Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.


A State Department statement on Monday said such assessments would enable greater understanding of Burma’s economic situation, particularly its “severe poverty alleviation needs.”


“The United States remains committed to supporting and partnering with the Burmese government along the path of reform,” it said.


But administration officials and US lawmakers, who have been instrumental in imposing myriad and overlapping sanctions on Burma since 1988, say more progress on democracy and human rights is needed before other sanctions can be lifted.


Free and fair conduct of by-elections that Suu Kyi and her party will contest April 1 are seen as a key test of that. There is also concern over ethnic violence and Burma's ties to North Korea.


The waiver, effective through September, applies to some but not all of the restrictions that apply to Burma under the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Burma received a “Tier 3” rating under its annual State Department assessment, meaning it has failed to comply with minimum standards for elimination of human trafficking.


Ambassador-at-large on human trafficking issues, Luis CdeBaca, who visited Burma in January, said on Monday the waiver was rewarding Burma for its political reforms, including prisoner releases, the dialogue it has begun with Suu Kyi and ceasefires with ethnic minority armed groups.


But he said it also reflected the government's encouraging steps in improving its treatment of human trafficking victims, particularly those repatriated from other countries, although the US remains concerned over authorities' use of forced labor and child soldiers.


“We have seen several decent things happen on the human trafficking front,” CdeBaca told The Associated Press. “They are not out of the woods by any means. But just as with democracy and electoral reforms, we also see the beginning of a positive trend.”


The Obama administration has reversed a long-standing US policy of isolating Burma, and in January announced it would restore full diplomatic relations after 20 years without an ambassador in Burma.


That step was supported by key Republican senators, but the administration must still tread cautiously in lifting other restrictions or face criticism for moving too fast to win friends in the country, where the strings of power largely remain in military hands.


Burma and its neighbors in Southeast Asia are urging Western nations to lift sanctions now, and the European Union has already moved to lift some travel sanctions on Burma government officials.


One complicating factor in resuming loans to Burma is that it remains in arrears to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The two banks approved their last loans for Burma in 1987.

Property Prices Rocket by Dawei Deep-Sea Port

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Property and land prices in Dawei, also known as Tavoy, in southernmost Burma have sky-rocketing to hundreds of millions of kyat due to the development of the nearby Thai-backed deep-sea port project, claim local businessmen.


Real estate prices are highest around Ar Zar Ni Road, in downtown Dawei, where most private banks have opened branch offices. A businessman in Dawei said, “The prices go up because more commercial companies want to open branch offices and hotels in Dawei.”


According to local people, even land measuring just 40 by 60 feet can costs 200-300 million kyat. And despite the sky-rocketing prices, businesspeople have been clamoring to acquire land and property. Max Myanmar Company reportedly just purchased real estate in downtown Dawei for hundreds of millions of kyat.


Prices increased when the deep-sea port project began as speculators tried to make a quick profit, but these later came down and stablised.


“Then after Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo’s visit, prices went up again,” said a Dawei resident.


Tin Aung Myint Oo visited the Dawei project last month to oversee proposed renovations to the airport and continued construction work.


A property agent from Dawei said that land near the airport is also interesting buyers. He added that there will be more high prices in Dawei because of plans to expand the airport and deep-sea port.


The Italian-Thai Development Company originally invested in the Dawei deep-sea port project and now Japan and other Asian countries are conducting studies to determine whether to get onboard.


More than a thousand engineers and labors from Thailand and Burma are also working on road construction projects.


The Dawei deep-sea port project has courted controversy with campaigners worried about the adverse affect to the environment and forced relocation of local villages.


Some 4,000 megawatts of electrical power is required to run the industrial zone, which includes a coal facility that experts say will severely impact the livelihoods of local people.


The Burmese and Thai governments signed a contract in May 2008 to begin construction on the Technical Zone in Dawei deep-sea port.


The project is eight times bigger than the Map Ta Phut Industrial Zone in Rayong, Thailand, according to the Foundation for Ecological Recovery.


Map Ta Phut is estimated to have cost some 370 billion baht (US $10.5 billion) while the Dawei project is estimated at around 303 billion baht ($8.6 billion).


Dawei would become Burma's first Special Economic Zone, which includes plans to develop a 250 square-kilometre industrial estate with sea and land links to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as a gas pipeline to Thailand through Kanchanaburi Province.

Burmese Abroad Welcome Tax Break, but More Reforms Needed

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

BANGKOK — The decision by the Burmese government to end the practice of collecting income tax from migrant workers abroad has been welcomed by Burmese across Southeast Asia, but some say that more needs to be done to make life easier for millions of Burmese working across the region.


In late 2011, the Burmese government announced that workers abroad would be exempt from Jan. 1, 2012, from paying a 10 percent salary levy, deemed by many to be an onerous and unjustifiable burden given that workers paid taxes in the country where they lived and worked.


In interviews last year, Burmese migrants in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand all railed against the levy, which had to be paid if Burmese nationals wished to renew their passport at the country's embassy.


Kyaw Kyaw, a Burmese national living in Singapore, told The Irrawaddy by email: “I'm glad to hear that tax has been removed. All the people are happy about that news.”


However, despite the new waiver, Kyaw Kyaw still has to pay up for taxes owed last year. “My passport needs to be renewed at the end of this month, so I need to pay around 3,000 Singapore dollars in taxes to the Myanmar [Burmese] embassy. I got a lot of headache from this problem,” he added.


The Burmese government announced the tax reform as part of a series of reforms that also includes changes to the banking system and rules allowing the formation of trade unions. U Chit Shein, the director-general of the Department of Labor in Naypyidaw, said in a recent telephone interview that “the Myanmar government is very interested in this issue and as per President Thein Sein’s speech on March 30, 2011, will work to ensure worker rights both in Myanmar and abroad.”


However, some Burmese overseas say that more needs to be done. Tun Tun, head of the Burma Campaign Malaysia, an NGO that assists Burmese workers in Malaysia, said that the end of the income tax “is a very good decision for our migrants,” but criticized the passport application process at the Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur as slow and bureaucratic.

Burmese passports are valid for just three years, compared with 10 for most other countries, meaning that Burmese migrants have to undertake the time-consuming process much more often than others. “It should be for 10 years,” said Tun Tun, speaking by telephone from Kuala Lumpur.


While millions of Burmese migrants travel abroad without official documentation and therefore don't have to deal with their embassy or pay Burmese tax, the legal vacuum leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, particularly in Malaysia and Thailand.


The Malaysian and Thai authorities have introduced measures to enable migrants to register legally, which means migrants need to acquire passports from their home countries.


Migrants send hundreds of millions of dollars back to impoverished families every year, and the Burmese government and banks see a business opportunity. On Nov. 25, 2011, the Central Bank of Myanmar granted eleven private banks permits trade foreign currencies.


Andy Hall, a migrant worker advocate at Mahidol University in Bangkok, said that the Burmese government is trying to formalize remittances through the banking sector, which might be a challenge given that an informal money transfer system, or hundi, enables Burmese abroad to send money back to families even in remote areas where banks are not present.


“It will be difficult for banks to compete with that network,” said Hall, who added that “there is a lot of concern among migrants that the bank fees will be high.”


The Burmese government is said to envisage a longer-term Philippines-style policy where emigration is supported as a means of compensating for a stagnant or under-performing domestic economy. A tenth of Filipinos live overseas, and money that “OFWs” (overseas Filipino workers) remit makes up approximately the same percentage of the country’s economy.


A study published by the World Bank in 2008 estimated that Burmese remittances formally totaled US $150 million. However, other studies suggest that the total could be three to four times that amount. With the bulk of the money coming through the hundi system, a precise measurement is impossible.

?Mehanical failure to Blame

Posted on August 10, 2011 at 5:10 AM Comments comments (0)

A black Cadillac people carrier with a family of six on board ended up on its roof after the devastating crash at the end of a motorway slip road in Chadderton, Oldham, on Saturday.


A horror smash which killed a girl of seven along with her auntie and grandfather may have been caused by a mechanical failure, police believe.


A black Cadillac people carrier with a family of six on board ended up on its roof after the devastating crash at the end of a motorway slip road in Chadderton, Oldham, on Saturday.


The crash instantly killed Khin Thiri Myat Htin, seven, her grandmother Than Tutt, 86, and 52-year-old auntie, Naw Naw Khin, 52.


All three lived in Tameside but were originally from Burma.


Three others survived including the little girl’s father, 51, who was at the wheel.


The driver, who is disabled, had a specially-adapted car with an accelerator mechanism mounted on the steering wheel, the M.E.N. has learned. Police are investigating whether this mechanism became stuck, causing the Cadillac to remain at high speed when it exited the M60 at junction 21 in Chadderton.


The car travelled up the slip road at speed before driving across a roundabout island, which acted as a ramp sending the car into the air. The Cadillac crashed onto its nose before ending up on its roof outside Chadderton police station. No other vehicles were involved.


The driver and front-seat passenger were wearing seat-belts although police suspect the four passengers in the rear were not wearing seat-belts.


A police source said: “This car was adapted. Instead of an accelerator pedal, there was a mechanism on the steering wheel. We think there may have been a mechanical defect and the car has not been able to slow down as it has gone down the slip road.


“We’re not quite sure what speed the car was doing but it was about motorway speed.


“We are 90 per cent sure the rear-seat passengers were not wearing seat-belts.”


Another police source said: “If it proves to be correct that mechanical failure was a factor, one can only imagine the panic inside that car.”


Traffic officers are working with experts from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, an arm of the Department for Transport, to explore the possibility of mechanical failure.


A spokesman for Cadillac, speaking from their Europe HQ in Zurich, told the M.E.N. said: “It’s very difficult to make a statement apart from to say this is very regrettable and just an awful incident.


“It’s very difficult for us to find out right now whether the vehicle has been adapted by us or some other company. We will have to wait for the police report to comment on this.


“I will enquire with our Cadillac dealer in Manchester whether they sold this vehicle. If this is the case, they would know who converted the vehicle.”


The driver of the Cadillac and his 51-year-old sister-in-law were released from hospital after treatment. The driver’s 76-year-old mother-in-law remains in hospital in a serious condition.


Traffic police are continuing to appeal for witnesses to come forward, particularly any motorists who witnesses the Cadillac on the main M60 before it exited onto the sliproad. Anyone with information is asked to call officers on 0161 856 8802