Tycoon Turf
covering burma and southeast asia
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Tycoon Turf


By Aung Zaw SEPTEMBER, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.9


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Burma’s business czars tread a wary path

 

In today’s Burma, two groups of people command from the general population a mixture of envy, anger and a dose of admiration. The first group is, of course, the military leadership, the generals who have been governing the country since 1988.

 

The rulers of Burma have so far somehow failed to persuade the public to accept the notion that the military government is there to serve the interests of the country and its citizens. The regime remains deeply unloved by most of the population.

 

 

The second group is the tycoons who grow rich in their impoverished country. Since the regime introduced an “open market economy” in 1989 and abandoned the “Burmese Way to Socialism” introduced by the previous government, many have taken advantage of this change, and the country has seen a growing number of tycoons and entrepreneurs.

 

Entrepreneurs opened business offices and set up companies overnight as they became self-appointed CEOs or managing directors in newly-established companies. Chauffeured in their powerful SUVs and sleek Mercedes Benz limousines, they travel far, locally and internationally, to conduct business and find new markets. Their business interests cover export-import, construction, agriculture, transportation and communications, mining, hotels and tourism, and the garment trade.

 

But the new entrepreneurs cannot succeed alone; they need partners and influential friends in order to flourish. Rule number one is to have friends in high places. Entrepreneurs need the blessing of the generals in order to conduct successful businesses. Not surprisingly, many businessmen have forged friendly ties with top military leaders, recognizing that the military is in virtual control of all aspects of the business sector. For example, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) are the two Major industrial conglomerates controlled by the military dominating many of the key economic sectors of the country. Local businessmen and entrepreneurs flaunt their powerful connections by appearing on state-run TV and in newspapers rubbing shoulders with the generals at state functions, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and charity events.

 

The fact is that business and politics are inseparable in Burma. Many successful Burmese tycoons are involved in humanitarian projects, making large donations to government projects, sponsoring events organized by the regime and even participating in the National Convention, where, since 1993, a new constitution is being drafted.

 

There are both advantages and disadvantages in this relationship. Many tycoons find themselves blacklisted by the US and EU countries because of their association with the regime, and their business travels are confined to Asia and countries like Russia.



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