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Burma: Energy price hiking damages poverty alleviation scheme

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Burma or Myanmar president has repeatedly said that the country is right on the reform path since he took office in March 2011. However, the grassroots feel that they are out of the reform process. It is an obvious example that the electrification distribution never reached to the grassroots.

In such a situation, self-styled reformist President U Thein Sein sent a letter dated 14 November to the parliament, mentioning electricity payment hikes will not be cut and will go into operation in the next fiscal year, as reported by media. His reason is that the increasing fees focus on a long-term preparation for the benefit of the citizens as well as growth of the country's economy.

But, the President's letter seems to be overpowering upon the Parliament on this matter of electricity fees hiking. According to the Daily Eleven, Members of Parliament said that the topic needs the people's agreement in order to make judgment for hiking payment for electricity consumptions. 

"What the parliament said is that the electricity ministry is required to submit a review about the issue to the parliament at the beginning of the next fiscal year. But the president's message says the hikes will surely begin in the fiscal year. It means that no review is needed from the parliament. And my view is different. We will discuss more about the issue at the parliament," said MP Aye Mouk for Ma Hlaing Constituency. He submitted the urgent proposal about the hikes to the parliament, the Daily Eleven said.

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The parliament decided on November 17 to turn down the government's plan to increase electricity fees until the next fiscal year. It is likely to proceed only after it has been improved at the parliament session.  The electricity ministry permitted local private companies to distribute electricity in 84 townships before this July.

For the time being, the parliament has temporarily suspended the electricity price hike by the Ministry for Electric Power as an answer to the proposal urging to slash the electricity price hike. The parliament made the decision following consumers' complaint against the measure introduced by the authorities, adding the problem will maintain under assessment until the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year.

As said by the state media, only 30 per cent of the total population of Myanmar currently has access to electricity while the remaining 70 per cent in rural areas are still without electricity. As regions of northern Kachin State, some regions in the northern part of Sagaing Region, the whole Rakhine State, eastern part of Shan State, Taninthayi Region and Chin State and some regions and townships in Kayin State and Ayeyawady Region are not included in electricity supply system.

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People in those regions are to rely on diesel-fired power stations that can produce electricity for two or three hours a day and they have to pay a minimum of K 460 to a maximum of K 700 per unit.

With the aim of ensuring economic sustainability and the development of industrial sector of the country and bringing more electricity for the people in regions and states which are without electricity, arrangements are being made to build power plants and power lines, the state-run media said.

People are never pleased with more costly electricity. Therefore, a gradual set of connections and instantaneous improvements in responsibility may make the government's policy easier to make clear and trust.

At the same time, Myanmar Minister of Electric Power U Khin Maung Soe has said the requirement to build more power plants in the country to meet public demand, as the state media reported on 13 Nov. 2013. While electrification, especially of rural areas, is of primary concern, issues of sustainability and protection of the environment must be considered at the same time.

Good news is that on 12 October 2013, Myanmar signed agreements with the World Bank Group designed to give a critical boost to the economic development and growing international economic engagement of the South East Asian country.  Myanmar took an important step to full membership in the World Bank Group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Minister of Finance U Win Shein signed the convention to accede to MIGA on behalf of the Government of Myanmar, joined by MIGA Executive Vice President Keiko Honda.

At a Washington DC ceremony, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and Myanmar's Minister of Finance, U Win Shein, joined by World Bank's East Asia Pacific Regional Vice President Axel van Trotsenburg, signed a US$140 million credit agreement to support the installation of a modern, high-efficiency 106 mw electricity power plant in Mon State.

This investment is part of Myanmar's power expansion plan and the cornerstone of the World Bank Group's support for Myanmar's energy sector. The project, replacing aging gas turbines with new units, and producing 250 percent more electricity with the same amount of gas, is the first step to bringing more and cleaner electricity to the people of Myanmar, according to the World Bank Group.

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"Access to a reliable supply of electricity can transform people's lives. It can empower them to expand businesses and create jobs, enable children to study at night, and clinics to refrigerate medicine," WBG's President Jim Yong Kim said during the signing ceremony.

In comparison with the neighboring countries, the electrification rate of Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are 99.4 %, 99.3 % and 97.6 % respectively while Myanmar's rate is just 13 %. Even Bangladesh's rate is 41 %, in keeping with the World Bank's data in 2009.  More than a quarter of Myanmar's people live below the poverty line, and the electrification rate is among the lowest in Southeast Asia.

Escalation of Myanmar's electrification distribution is vital to alleviating poverty. Moreover, it may well help practical improvement concerning the medium and long-term development of the nation. Electrification is a critical obligation, without which the country will be hopelessly in an inferior position in its efforts to proceed competently.

The Myanmar public advancements also bank on electrification, without which health, education, and other essential services certainly suffer shortcoming. There are many points to the energy branch to be addressed at length and ever more in an attempt to guarantee competent and helpful use of natural resources.

Disappointingly, President U Thein Sein's message to the last parliamentary session refusing the withdrawal of electricity-price hiking seems against not only the people's will but also his own reform scheme of poverty alleviation.


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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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