Monday, December 17, 2007

How the Generals Motor their Way to Millions

Targeted sanctions intended to hit Burma’s generals where it hurts have so far neglected one of their major sources of income and personal prestige—the importation and resale of luxury automobiles.

Automobile prices in Burma are among the highest in the world. A new Toyota Land Cruiser, for example, costs around 400 million kyat (about US $312,000), five times the Web site list price of $63,000.

So why the discrepancy? The answer lies deep in the tangle of Burmese corruption and bureaucracy. For a start, an import license is required, and procuring one costs a lot of money—more than the average Burmese citizen can afford. Contacts at the top are also useful.

Automobiles prices have been rising steeply since the late 1990s, when ex-Gen Tun Kyi was Minister of Trade. Tun Kyi was forced to retire in 1997, but until his departure from office he and his family controlled the business of importing automobiles to Burma. He issued import license only to his cronies.

Before Tun Kyi was in charge, Burmese citizens employed in the shipping industry found it relatively easy to import automobiles. They earned hard currency and were in the position of shipping the vehicles into the country.

“But all changed after Gen Tun Kyi became Minister of Trade,” a Burmese seaman from Rangoon told The Irrawaddy. “As result, automobile prices jumped more than ten times.”

The full article can be viewed on Irrawaddy.

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