By KYAW LIN HTOON | FRONTIER
YANGON —Minister of the Office of the Union Government U Thaung Tun has been appointed chair of the Myanmar Investment Commission, dividing opinion on whether the career diplomat has the necessary economic experience for the role.
The June 5 appointment follows the resignation last month of Minister for Planning and Finance U Kyaw Win, who also chaired the investment body. It was expected that his successor at the ministry, U Soe Win, would inherit the role of MIC chair.
Instead, the government chose Thaung Tun, who has risen quickly within the government since his appointment in January 2017 as National Security Adviser.
Last November, Thaung Tun was named minister for the office of the union government, one of two new ministries created that month to ease the workload of the administration. He became a member of the Myanmar Investment Commission earlier this year.
The decision to place him at the head of the investment commission, which is responsible for approving national and capital-intensive projects, has split opinion.
Views on his appointment can broadly be separated into three groups: those who believe the minister for planning and finance should chair the MIC; those who think an economic background should not be a prerequisite for the position; and those who support the appointment because it will reduce Soe Win’s workload.
“More than experience, the most important thing in this role is leadership. He was appointed because the government has witnessed his leadership skills,” said economist Dr Aung Tun Thet, who also sits on the MIC.
He said since the primary objective of the MIC is to increase domestic and foreign investment, Thaung Tun’s experience in business consultancy and international relations make him a good choice for the role. “I believe the combination of those two will result in good leadership for the MIC,” he said.
In 2016, Thaung Tun worked as a government relations advisor for Shell Myanmar Energy, according to The Irrawaddy. Last November, U Soe Thane, the former minister for the President’s Office, told reporters that Thaung Tun was a former partner of Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist George Soros, although he did not provide evidence for the claim.
Economic researcher and columnist U Hla Maung (Aung Chain Bwar) was more critical of the recent appointment. “The MIC sits in the Ministry of Planning and Finance, so its minister should be the chairman. Appointing another minister is aberrant,” he said.
As investment is an economic issue, he added, diplomatic experience is unnecessary for the role.
“Those who are going to come and invest in Myanmar are businessmen, not politicians. Therefore we just need to be brave and clear in our assessments and promotion [of the opportunities].”
The MIC is expected to receive more applications after August 1 when the new Myanmar Companies Law comes into effect, enabling foreign entities to own up to 35 percent of local businesses.
“I expect those months would be busy for MIC, but in a good way, as we might have to receive investors and explain the opportunities to them. Occasionally we may also need to travel and persuade them to come and invest in Myanmar,” said Aung Tun Thet.
Dr Soe Tun, chair of Myanmar Automobile Development Public Company Limited, said he was indifferent to whether the new MIC chair came from within the Ministry of Planning and Finance.
“But if I take a positive view, since the Ministry of Planning and Finance has many responsibilities, I think it’s better to give this position to U Thaung Tun, who has fewer duties at his own ministry.
“As he seems able to dedicate more time to MIC, I hope he can also study, case-by-case, those things relating to the investment sector and make improvements.”