Yangon The Organizers’ Forum delegation started making its way, bleary eyed but bushy tailed across the world from the US and Canada via Taipei, Doha, Tokyo, and Hong Kong to visit with people and groups getting a sense of the transition of Myanmar (Burma) from a closed country towards more open elections and an opening of its borders. Some are still on the way from various points and ports and one has run afoul of immigration because of visa problems, but comparing notes this evening with random sources and tidbits of information, made us wonder if Myanmar’s economic transition is caught in a bit of a lull.
The cab driver told us on the way that tourism had slacked off after the first rush of guests. Part of the problem is that Westerns and way too many Easterners have become too accustomed to first world pampering, but many according to the cabbie and some others are not impressed with the hospitality offerings. Our hotel, the Eastern, has very good wi-fi and is clean with hot water and working air conditioning so we’re happy as clams, but I’ll grant you that the standards of a bunch of organizers are more on the side of casual than businessmen might embrace. Despite our one problem, it was also easier and more accommodating to get our visas here than a half dozen countries I might name including Vietnam and Russia.
The talk around the bar at the 50 Pub, popular with expats, included a lot of stories of business frustrations. A Norwegian office building is so caught in red tape that it sits locked and empty. Others say they are giving up after 9 to 18 month periods trying to navigate the bureaucracy and finally deciding just to move somewhere else in the world since there is a long line of other countries begging. Vietnamese cellphone concessionaires can’t build towers because the national government tells them to work it out with the local villages, and the villages want to access free power generation. FDI is looking for corporatism and they are not finding the red carpet, just an open door.
Speaking of power generation, it is interesting every block almost in this area of central Yangon to see large wired off generators standing at the ready for the next power shutdown. So far this sight is more ubiquitous than pagodas.
Mike Orders from BCGEU in Vancouver and I had both read the same story somewhere in the last week about office rents being higher in Yangon now than in Manhattan, which also speaks to the cost of being path breakers in a newly opened country.
It will be interesting to sort out fact from fiction and see if this is just a blip on the screen of new development or something more systemic and fundamental in this beautiful newly emerged country and economy.