Myanmar to reform investment body

Yangon Shwedagon Pagoda StreetA new set of reforms drafted for the Myanmar investment law includes a proposal to transform the Myanmar Investment Commission from a government-appointed body into an independent board, according to news wire Eleven Myanmar.

This could bring greater transparency to the process of issuing investment licenses, according to the proposed reforms drafted by experts and senior officials.

The government-appointed commission currently appraises domestic investment proposals. A restructuring last year saw economists, businesspeople, former ambassadors and representatives of non-governmental organisations appointed to the commission for the first time since it was established in 1994.

Its key positions, however, are still held by senior government officials, including ministers and their deputies. It is chaired by Presidential Office Minister Soe Thein.

Besides examining investment proposals, the commission considers tax relief and customs exemptions for investors. It is overseen by the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development and its decisions are implemented by the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.

Clarification of new investment law

Myanmar has on January 31 issued by-laws to its new foreign investment law. Key features include a provision that allows shares in entities that have been formed under the foreign investment law to be transferred from Myanmar citizens to foreigners and vice versa if approval is granted by the Myanmar Investment Commission.

At the same time, the rules no longer set a minimum capital requirement for investments, except in mining ventures. Another important clarification is the dropping of foreign ownership restrictions in joint ventures, except in restricted sectors, where they will be capped at 80 per cent.

Other sectors, which have been deemed to not require foreign capital or knowledge, such as farming and fishing enterprises, as well as those that heavily pollute the environment, have been deemed off-limits to foreign investment.

The January 31 release also affirms the role of the Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration in foreign investments. The body has been given more power to carry out its stated functions.

And while the rules might appear to make the country more attractive to foreign companies, it also sets tighter requirements in terms of finishing proposed projects within specified deadlines. Failure to do so will result in the withdrawal of approval by the Myanmar Investment Commission.