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Myanmar Leader Shuffles Cabinet to Strengthen Reforms

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein replaced nine cabinet members in the largest shake up of his administration since embarking on political reforms after taking power last year.

Thein Sein replaced ministers responsible for information and economic development, finance, industry and railways, and will transfer oversight of those ministries to the office of the president, according to a statement on his official website.

Democratic reforms since Thein Sein took power last year have prompted Western nations to ease sanctions and galvanized lawmakers to focus on economic growth after about five decades of military rule left Myanmar disconnected from the global financial system. The president, who has freed political prisoners, allowed greater media freedom and held peace talks with rebels, is seeking to create jobs before elections in 2015.

“It shows very clearly a strengthening of the president’s reformist agenda,” Thant Myint-U, an author of two books on Myanmar, said yesterday by phone from Bangkok. “It’s also notable that a lot of the reshuffle has been around economic positions. That shows the focus the president has on reforming the economy.”

Myanmar dismantled a fixed exchange-rate in April and parliamentarians are revamping laws to attract investors to the country of 64 million people, attracting companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and Visa Inc. The nation’s economy may grow as much as 8 percent a year over the next decade as inflation remains low and the government increases trade ties with neighbors China and India, the Asian Development Bank said in an Aug. 20 report.

‘Upbeat’ Outlook

The near-term outlook for the economy, which is 1/10th the size of neighboring Thailand, is “relatively upbeat” because of higher foreign investment and commodity sales, the ADB said. Annual growth of 8 percent may triple per capita gross domestic product to $3,000 by 2030, it said. Myanmar’s per capita gross domestic product is less than 10 percent that of neighboring Thailand, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

President Barack Obama last month authorized U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar for the first time in about 15 years. Thein Sein met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a July 13 business forum in Phnom Penh that included representatives from Google Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Boeing Co. and General Motors Co.

‘Good Sign’

Key ministers who have worked closely with Thein Sein have been moved into his office, said Thant Myint-U, a former United Nations official whose grandfather, U Thant, was UN Secretary-General from 1961 to 1971. It’s also a “good sign” that many key deputy-minister positions have been filled by technocrats and academics, he said.

Thein Sein replaced Finance Minister Hla Tun, Industry Minister Soe Thein, Railays Minister Aung Min and Minister for Economic Planning Tin Naing Thein, according to the statement on his website, which didn’t name all of the successors.

Aung Kyi, the former labor minister, will head the information ministry, replacing Kyaw Hsan, who will be moved to the ministry for co-operatives, according to the statement. Ohn Myint, the former minister for livestock, fisheries and cooperatives, will oversee livestock and fisheries only.

Winston Set Aung, an adviser to the president, will become a deputy minister for economic planning.

“The fact that four ministries that are key to reforms are becoming key posts in the presidential office is a positive sign for the country’s democratic transition,” Min Thu, a lawmaker from former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said late yesterday by phone. “We also welcome Aung Kyi who has become a minister of information, since he has dealt with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as a liaison minister during the military regime and has good experience dealing with the public.”

Suu Kyi was elected to parliament in May after spending 15 years under house arrest, prompting the U.S. and European Union to ease sanctions as the country transitions to democracy.

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