Jodi Weedon,CEO of AustCham Myanmar's Speech
Ms. Jodi Weedon
Chief Executive Officer
Remarks made on the occasion of the Myanmar Development Effectiveness Roundtable
26 February 2018
Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar
Excellencies, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am Jodi Weedon, Chief Executive Officer of AustCham Myanmar, based in Yangon.
Thank you very much for inviting me to today’s Development Effectiveness Roundtable, and for this opportunity to say a few words on behalf of AustCham Myanmar, and to the extent possible, the broader foreign private sector.
I think it is critical that private sector is recognised as playing an invaluable role in development effectiveness here in Myanmar, and in fact, globally, and as such I welcome the opportunity to speak to you all here today.
Very briefly and for those that may not be aware, AustCham Myanmar is a not-for-profit organisation registered in Myanmar with more than 140 private company members. We aim to promote responsible bilateral trade and investment, and closer economic ties between Australia and Myanmar.
In doing so, we seek to support businesses interested in entering the Myanmar market; promote responsible investment in Myanmar by sharing Australian best practice; and assist in building the capacity of both the private and public sectors in Myanmar. We work closely with other foreign chambers of commerce with an aim to further these objectives also.
Further to this we work closely with local private sector through our strong relations with Myanmar organisations such as UMFCCI, Myanmar Young Entrepreneurs Association and Myanmar Women’s Entrepreneur Association, all of whom we have memorandums of understanding with, acknowledging that this assists foreign private sector in building relationships, networks and a stronger investment climate, both foreign and domestic. I always enjoy working with Daw Khine Khine New from UMFCCI seated here on my right and it is fantastic that she is here today waving the flag on behalf of our local private sector partners.
Ladies and gentlemen:
With this background in mind I will turn to the topic of this roundtable and would like to convey 5 key messages to you all here today:
Message 1: Congratulations on Launching the Development Assistance Policy (the DAP)
The first key message is that we at AustCham Myanmar would like to congratulate the government on launching the Myanmar Development Assistance Policy. As we all know, Myanmar has been a major recipient of international good will in recent years, including good will on behalf of Australian taxpayers, and we look forward to recent government-led initiatives such as this DAP and the formation of the Development Assistance Coordination Unit contributing to making this assistance as effective, accountable and transparent as possible for the benefit of Myanmar’s people.
In particular, in addition to acknowledging the essential role of Myanmar’s domestic private sector as a driving force for positive and sustainable change — I think the DAP makes a strong and very contemporary case for taking a broader, more inclusive approach toward how best to finance Myanmar’s medium- to long-term development needs.
The DAP recognises the need to mobilise all forms of development assistance, including both domestic and international private finance. This will essential to addressing Myanmar’s development needs given Myanmar’s multi-billion-dollar infrastructure gap — as just one example.
Addressing this gap will require a range of financing sources and modalities. It will require local and international companies coming together, working in partnerships, including partnerships with government, to unlock the financing needed.
So, we thank the government for what we see a being quite a forward leaning document and would like to take this opportunity to request the government ensures the implementation of the DAP be with the agreed objectives in mind and be undertaken using a transparent, systemic approach. I would also like to remind you that AustCham Myanmar, and the broader private sector, can be very useful in supporting this implementation- but I will touch on that a bit later in my speech.
Message 2: Congratulations on Recent Regulatory Reforms
The second point I wanted to make was just to draw attention to much of the progress that has been made over the past twenty-four months — the new Myanmar Companies Law as just one example — which has opened up new ways of doing business for companies operating in Myanmar.
The new Companies Law introduces a new regulatory approach and corporate governance regime which, it is hoped, will raise the standard of corporate behaviour, with Directors and senior officers having much clearer obligations to stakeholders.
When considered together with reforms such as the Myanmar Investment Law and rules and regulations, we see an increasingly favourable climate for business in Myanmar.
These are both grand developments and are, of course, welcomed by the private sector. These are 2 very good examples of where the private sector was engaged by donors to provide technical assistance to make the laws more technically robust after thorough, transparent and effective public consultation. Funding for the drafting of the Investment rules and regulations came from IFC, and for the drafting of the Companies Law, from ADB. This resulted in world standard legislation, following best practice. I would like to use this opportunity to remind you that private sector has also been instrumental in assisting with the public consultations for these regulatory reforms as well as critical in the training for implementation of these new laws.
We would like to see private sector technical assistance also funded by donors in relation to other laws currently in the Parliamentary pipeline such as the Mining law and the Occupational Safety and Health laws, to name but a few.
We look forward to seeing Myanmar recommence its rise in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. We also welcome and very much concur with the latest figures released by Transparency International last week which show that experts and the business community perceive Myanmar to be making notable progress in tackling corruption.
This is very good for businesses. Very good for government. And very good for Myanmar’s people.
Message 3: Support for the Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan
The third topic I’d like to touch upon is the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan.
Now I must admit I’ve only had a brief opportunity to review it, but from what I’ve read, I think it provides a strong foundation upon which the country’s development can and should be based. I note and very much endorse the firm alignment to the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 in particular.
I note that private sector around the world are now looking at how they can contribute to achieving the SDGs and not just one or two, but all 17 SDGs. I would like to point out that private sector companies around the world are aligning their social investment and ‘creating shared value’ with the United Nations SDGs. This is world’s best practice.
An interesting example I was made aware of over the weekend comes from our very own ANZ Bank, one of the largest banks in Australia and the only Australian bank currently operating here in Myanmar. On 15th February 2018 ANZ Bank priced an SDGs Bond and raised US$937.5 million to fund its loans and expenditures that directly promote nine of the 17 UN SDGs.
We note that, in the MSDP the need to stimulate greater investment is mentioned - but are also very pleased to see that the MDP recognise that “…in addition to clear laws and regulations, it is important to create a favourable, predictable, facilitative and friendly investment climate”.
The MSDP goes on to state that doing so will require better coordination among government departments, clear standard operating procedures, facilitative one-stop and single window services, all bolstered by the application of information technology solutions.
I concur with the call for increased investment but call out louder for that investment to be responsible.
I think I speak for many private sector colleagues here when I say Myanmar does not just need investment, it needs responsible investment.
In the Development Assistance Policy, I note that there is a reference to ensuring a ‘Do No Harm’ approach to aid delivery. Well, I think it might be useful to also reflect on how we can ensure the ‘Do No Harm’ approach extends to foreign and domestic investment also.
We at AustCham Myanmar have been working in this area for quite some time — supporting sustainable economic development and industry growth in Myanmar by providing guidance to businesses on best practices in relation to responsible trade and investment, and corporate social responsibility policies.
This work led us to form the Responsible Investment Working Group, in partnership with the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business- this working group hosts representatives from 26 private companies, the Australian Government, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission and a range of NGOs. The Working Group was formed to develop best practice responsible investment models in Myanmar, and to engage in and influence public policy in Myanmar. It reports to the Myanmar Government and business community on outcomes achieved, case studies and recommendations on responsible business conduct and the concept of creating shared value in the Myanmar context. This being to encourage business activities that work for the long term interest of Myanmar and all its people.
Australian business does not see itself as a source of donations but of creating shared value as part of the way it does business responsibly and in support of the UNs Sustainable Development Goals. The Responsible Investment Working Group prepared a position paper titled ‘Incentivising Shared Vale’ which provides examples of how business agendas can be set to provide business success as well as improving the livelihoods of Myanmar’s people and the sustainability of Myanmar.
I have a copy of this Position Paper here with me today [Hold up hard copy] and would be very happy to speak to any of you who are interested in this further at the lunch break. Please note this Position Paper is also available by link on MCRB and AustCham Myanmar websites so please have a look there.
I would also like to take this opportunity to let you know some of the great work foreign private sector is doing in this space, and with Myanmar companies. An Australian company is currently undertaking studies on, and working with, several Myanmar companies to provide an in-depth analysis and case studies of the work these particular Myanmar companies are doing in creating shared value. These case studies will be presented to members of UMFCCI later in March , showcasing to Myanmar local private sector the business case for ‘creating shared value’.
I believe that our experience and the work that we have undertaken with dozens of private organisations, NGOs , government (both Australian and Myanmar) perfectly places us to meet with DACU and colleagues at the Ministry of Planning and Finance to think through, in a practical way, how we can ensure we are securing the right kind of investment, that is, responsible investment in Myanmar.
Message 4: Foreign Private Sector Relationship with Local Myanmar Companies
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage and affirm the ongoing discussions that AustCham Myanmar, and other foreign Chambers in Myanmar, are having with UMFCCI. A large number of foreign chambers meet with UMFCCI every 3 months and I applaude Daw Khine Khine New and her colleagues for continuing to provide that these lines of discourse remain open. I do believe that, in order for business to be sustainable we need to continue to discuss and deal with cross sectoral issues and challenges facing the private sector and relevant to the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan- issues such as tax, environment, labour and human resources and access to finance…… amongst the many other issues currently acting as a hindrance to ease of doing business in Myanmar. I request UMFCCI to re-consider the basis on which issues are discussed and re-affirm my request that this cross sectorial, rather than sector by sector, approach to discussions be the new way forward.
Message 5: Offer of assistance
In this period of transition and rapid change in Myanmar, businesses are influential and can, and do, play a role in ensuring a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Myanmar. I implore them to continue do so, and I am committed, on behalf of AustCham Myanmar (and I am confident many of my colleagues at other foreign chambers would support this also) to working with as much of the private sector, both foreign and domestic, as possible, to ensure that this happens.
So….Excellencies, Ministers, Deputy Mininsters, Distinguished Guests and ladies and gentlemen, in closing I would like to reiterate AustCham Myanmar’s support to Myanmar, to the DAP, and our keen interest in maintaining a dialogue with government, including with our fellow local and international Chambers - on the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan.
We understand that consultation processes have now begun and so we warmly welcome the DACU and Ministry of Planning and Finance to engage with myself and our Chamber to help facilitate consultation with the international private sector if useful.
Thank you once again for inviting me to speak today.
We look forward to continued discussion on Myanmar’s development promise.