YANGON: Two years ago,Myanmarwas to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) what Bihar was toIndia: Dogged in its isolation, a region with low development indices and one the West loved to hate — a state perpetually on the defensive. However,Myanmar’s growth has also been as rapid as that seen byBihar.
Ravi Ailawadhi, chief executive of Vihaan Networks, has seen much change in the last few months he’s been here. His company secured a contract for mobile connectivity on highways, using GSM technology and solar power. “We came to this country 10 or 11 months ago, and found the government supportive of our plan to connect the country. We launched field trials and quickly went into business. We got our first contract in September. TheMyanmargovernment’s priority is to link villages through a mobile network. It found our idea of using solar power appropriate. So, we are connecting the 600-km highway between Yangon andMandalaythrough a mobile network,” he told Business Standard.
Jubilant Energy chief executive Ajay Khandelwal was equally bullish on prospects inMyanmar. Through an open global tender, his company had secured the rights to explore an onshore oil block. The company had forayed intoMyanmarin June 2011 and had already landed one project, with the government promising more. “For us, our activities in the Northeast synergise with those inMyanmar. So, it was logical for us to make the move,” he said. AsMyanmardoes not allow business without a local partner, Jubilant’s local investor holds 22.5 per cent equity in the consortium.Myanmarhas no prescribed foreign direct investment caps. The local investor can, therefore, invest as little as five or 10 per cent sweat equity.
No Indian who has set up a business here appeared to have paid anything to anyone to sweeten the deal, something people in other Southeast Asian countries would find hard to fathom.
In his address to industry chambers here, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiteratedIndia’s commitment to contributing inMyanmar’s development. For this, he asked the Indian industry to come forward, and promised more banking channels to help it.
“Sanctions are being lifted. But the window is very, very small,” warned the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Supriya Banerjee, who was inYangonas part of the delegation of Indian businesspeople. “It is just a matter of time before Western business saturates the country. Indian business has to move fast,” she added.
At a meeting of businessmen, the chairman of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute reminded the audience that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had turnedIndiaaround in 1991. “He is an economist of world renown who has turnedIndiainto what it is.IndiaandChina—Myanmaris sitting between these two big economies — are both determined to take us along. We, too, want to avail of this,” he said.
Myanmarwould hold the chairmanship of the Asean in 2014.
Singh said in its intentions,Indiawas neither expansionist, nor exploitative. He added growth was best when it was inclusive, reconciliatory and did not damage the environment. ‘It is only meaningful political and economic reform that can give each citizen the right and freedom of opportunity to realise his or her potential,” he said.
His remarks were possibly meant as much for the audience inIndia, as for the rulers and people ofMyanmar.