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Ups and Downs
The Burmese currency held steady this week with the buying rate finishing on Friday at 965 kyat to the US dollar — slightly up from 966 last week – while the selling rate rose slightly to 972 kyat to the dollar. The price of gold also did not fluctuate drastically, sitting at about 650,000 kyat per tical compared to last week’s 649,800 kyat. Fuel prices remain unchanged: Petrol is 820 kyat per litre; diesel 950 kyat; and octane 920 kyat a litre. Rice also remains constant: high-quality Pawhsanmwe rice is selling at 1,300-1,600 kyat per basket while low-quality Manawthukha retails at 900 kyat per basket in most Rangoon marketplaces.
Telecoms giant Ooredoo has defended its presence in Burma in the face of a campaign led by Buddhist monks urging customers to boycott the firm on the basis that it is based in a Muslim country: Qatar. “At the end of the day, we’re an international telecommunications company and our focus is on providing great products and services for our customers,” said PR manager Thiri Kyar Nyo. She noted that Ooredoo currently employs more than 700 local staff in Burma, and has an outreach policy focused on healthcare, education, women’s empowerment, and youth programmes.
US govt fines Fokker $21m for violating sanctions
Dutch aerospace firm Fokker Services has been hit with a US$21 million penalty by the US government for selling US-made aircraft parts and goods to customers in Burma, Iran and Sudan, in violation of trade sanctions, according to a statement released Thursday by the US Attorney’s Office in Washington DC. More than 1,100 shipments of parts were sent to the three countries between 2005 and 2010, and the gross revenue generated was approximately $21 million.
Six jetties underway in Rangoon
Construction is underway for six major jetties in Rangoon — four in Ahlone Township and two in Botahtaung — according to state media. The report said that the terminals or ports are designed to accommodate large freighters to ease handling of a surge in shipping trade. While imports and exports continue to rise, Burma still lacks large ports and modern equipment. According to the report, large ships have to anchor in the gulf and move products to smaller boats for docking.
Aid for Burma quadrupled in May
Burma received a total of about US$480 million in international aid and loans during the month of May — four times the amount received in April — according to data released by the Myanmar Peace Centre. The amount includes several newly implemented programmes, such as a $300m loan from China for transportation upgrades and $100m in aid from the World Bank for the education sector. An additional $55m from the International Monetary Fund will go towards the finance sector, while $12m from UNICEF has been allocated for child welfare programmes in Arakan State.
UPP gets go-ahead on $46m power plant
The Myanmar Investment Commission issued final permit documents to Singapore-listed conglomerate UPP Holdings Ltd, giving the company the green light on a US$46.5 million power plant project, according to Myanmar Business Today. UPP signed a turnkey agreement with Burma-based MSP Tractors Pte Ltd and Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors Ltd to build the power plant last August.
ADB supports renewable energy in Burma
The Asian Development Bank is to provide an additional US$2 million to encourage the Burmese Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to harness renewable energy sources. The technical assistance project will provide access and investment plans for renewable energy, as well as demonstrate the implementation process through the construction of small solar and biomass power generators. Contrary to other media reports, the loan will not support power to an eventual 400,000 homes. The loan is in fact an extension to a $60million loan for a Power Distribution Improvement Project.
Thilawa villagers submit complaint to JICA in Tokyo
Three villagers from Rangoon’s Thilawa Port area submitted a formal complaint on Monday to the Tokyo headquarters of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is leading the controversial development of a special economic zone. Farmers Mya Hlaing, Sansha Tin and Khine Win travelled to the Japanese capital, with help from monitoring group Mekong Watch, after their concerns over deteriorating living conditions were allegedly ignored by JICA’s office in Burma. The delegation also met with Japanese parliament members.
Burma to substitute white rice with parboiled rice
Burma is planning to replace white rice with parboiled rice for local consumption, with the Ministry of Health citing the health and cost benefits of this type of rice, which has been partially boiled in the husk, according to rice industry publication Oryza. Together with the Myanmar Rice Millers Association, the ministry started a campaign to promote parboiled rice, which contains vitamin C and is 15 percent cheaper than white rice.
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Presidential advisor warns about widening wealth gap
The wealth gap in Burma between rich and poor is increasing and should be a cause for worry, an economic advisor to the president said last week. “Twenty percent of people in a population of 60 million hold 80 percent of this country’s wealth,” said Aung Tun Thet, adding that there should be an economic development plan that is more inclusive to the poor and that addresses social and environmental issues. The UNDP estimated that one in four people in Burma live under the international poverty line.