Lack of economic direction, strategy leading to Myanmar brain drain

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Lack of economic direction, strategy leading to Myanmar brain drain

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A lack of economic reform, direction and strategy by Myanmar’s leaders is resulting in a draining of young talent from the country, said U Myint, economist and former chief adviser to the president, during the launch of the World Bank’s report, Myanmar Economic Monitor, on May 17.

Among the key findings of this year’s report is a persistent shortage of skilled labour in the economy. “One reason for this is an ongoing brain drain. The children of the cream of Myanmar society, those trained for public service and business as well as specialised professions and academia are mostly residing and working abroad,” he said. 

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that in 2016, around 4.25 million Myanmar nationals were living abroad. Among the reasons given for migration include better jobs and higher wages in neighboring countries.

The other reason is “the older generation and leaders like us lack conviction and clarity about where the economy is headed,” U Myint said. 

He added that one way to get a clearer picture of where the economy is headed and the progress it is making is by cooperating with the World Bank to generate more reports like the Myanmar Economic Monitor. 
With a clearer perspective and more information available, leaders can then make better and more informed decisions to take the country forward. “This will bring back to our country not only the young and smart people but millions of unskilled and semi-skilled Myanmar nationals toiling abroad to make ends meet for themselves and their family members at home,” said U Myint.

According to the Myanmar Economic Monitor, a bi-annual report, the economic outlook for Myanmar is looking “favorable,” with growth projected to rise to 6.8 percent in 2018-19 from 6.4pc before.

However, the risks have also intensified, with lower tourism arrivals resulting from the ongoing Rakhine crisis potentially weakening tourism spending and demand for related services such as hospitality and transport.

Meanwhile, investor concerns about the reputational risk of operating in Myanmar as well as perceptions of a weakening in the pace of economic reforms could lead to declines in foreign direct investments. This would come at a time when the funds are needed to stem a further widening of the current account deficit. 

Fewer investments could also result in a slowdown in manufacturing and agriculture, the two sectors which drove a faster pace of growth in the previous fiscal year. 

Meanwhile, other areas of the economy need to be improved. Based on a panel discussion at the launch of the report, better access to data and information as well as financial assistance for farmers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is still lacking. 

Suggestions made by the panel to improve the situation include having special interest rates so that more can borrow money and stronger communications and sharing of knowledge between larger corporations and SMEs.

Panelist Dr Zeya Nyunt, CEO of the Small and Medium Industry Development Bank, noted however, that the banks are unable to loan money to customers who have an insufficient or non-existent credit record. 

Another panelist, U Zaw Myo Hlaing, managing director of Unique Network Marketing, also suggested raising efforts to educate borrowers and SMEs on how to improve their credit scores and do better business.    The other panelists were Daw Khine Khine New, Joint Secretary General, UMFCCI, U Tin Htut Oo, Head Of Agriculture at Yoma Strategic Holdings and U Min Naiung Oo, managing director at Allen and Gledhill. 

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