Myanmar tycoon says economy neglected by Suu Kyi’s government

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Serge Pun, head of First Myanmar Investment (FMI), talks to reporters at Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) in Yangon

By Yimou Lee and Shoon Naing

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar tycoon Serge Pun, one of the wealthiest men in Asia, said on Thursday the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has neglected the nation’s much-needed economic reform.

Pun, head of property-to-banking conglomerate First Myanmar Investment <00001.YG>, urged authorities to give more attention to growth in one of the region’s poorest countries.

He said Myanmar’s economy “has not performed well enough” more than one year after its first de facto civilian leader Suu Kyi swept to power in a historic vote.

Myanmar’s economic growth, albeit still relatively strong, has slowed since she took power, while foreign direct investment has fallen sharply.

Its gross domestic product growth fell to 6.3 percent in 2016, a full percentage point lower than the previous year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“They have definitely neglected on the economy side. They have not realized the importance of the economy,” Pun told an event held by Singapore Management University in the country’s commercial hub, Yangon.

Suu Kyi has made the push to end decades of fighting between the military and myriad rebel groups a priority for her administration, but Pun said the country’s economic development is “the most effective tool” to attain those goals.

While Suu Kyi has achieved a lot in Myanmar’s peace process, Pun said, “without (a) vibrant economy, those objectives can be very vulnerable. Peace may not be sustainable”.

Pun spoke out at a time when Suu Kyi has struggled to match the sky-high expectations that accompanied her National League for Democracy (NLD) to power a year ago.

In additional to a slowdown in growth, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is grappling with increased fighting with armed ethnic groups and a festering crisis in troubled Rakhine state, where tensions between Muslims and Buddhists have been running high.

Dubbed as “Mr Clean” for his adherence to clean business in a country long known as anything but, Pun said the government needs to build more efficient bureaucracy and a conducive legal framework to facilitate investment.

In a recent report, Singapore-based Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation <OCBC.SI> said Myanmar’s recent economic victories, including the lifting of U.S. sanctions, have “yet to translate into a meaningful improvement in terms of economic data”.

“Actual data proved to be a wet blanket on the optimism when these changes were first announced,” it wrote.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Shoon Naing; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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