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YANGON – Myanmar needs to invest US$45 billion to $60 billion in transport projects over the next 15 years, to improve connectivity with neighbours and ensure equitable distribution of economic growth, Asian Development Bank officials have said.

“Every year, Myanmar will need about $4 billion. This is a big number. That is why we have the transport policy note, especially to help the government address some problems for projects over the next couple of years,” Bambang Susantono, ADB vice president for knowledge management and sustainable development, said.

ADB last week launched a new report entitled “Myanmar: Transport Sector Policy Note”, which has recommendations for the civilian government. The report says 20 million people, or about half of rural population, live in villages without access to an all-season road, as the country only invested 1 to 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in transport improvement over the past decade.

New investment could save logistics costs by 30 per cent and save lives lost every year due to poor road safety.

Susantono said the ADB was ready to allocate at least $100 million per year over the next five years. Better transport would mean higher economic growth and equitable distribution of development to all Myanmar people. Rural road development was as important as urban transport infrastructure, he said.

Adrien Veron-Okamoto, ADB transport economist for Southeast Asia, noted that at a similar level of development, other countries in this region typically invest 3-5 per cent of their GDP in transport infrastructure.

With a higher budget, Myanmar should allocate the money to key national corridors, Yangon infrastructure and maintenance work. Yielding the highest impact on the public would be investment in bus rapid transit lines, parking and traffic management and circular railways in Yangon. Equally important was the upgrade of national and international corridors, like the road link from Myawaddy to Muse, the modernisation of the rail link from Yangon to Mandalay, implementation of low-cost navigation aids in the Ayeyarwaddy River, plus improving access to rural areas.

Myanmar was also urged to explore new water transport options.

He stressed that Myanmar needs a new policy to increase transport investment. A unitary ministry should take charge of the job, and state-owned enterprises should be corporatised for greater autonomy.

Myanma Railways which is supervised by the Transport and Communications Ministry should be corporatised as soon as possible, as its revenue covered only half of operating costs and losses during 2013-15, amounting to about $80 billion. The report urged the government to seek funds from development partners for mega-projects.

ADB country director for Myanmar Winfried Wicklein said the bank planned to provide aid of about $350 million per year to Myanmar, 85-90 per cent of which goes into infrastructure, notably transport and energy. Better connectivity with neighbouring countries is a priority.

“We are focusing on big cities like Mandalay… Aside from Mandalay, we work in other regions and states, mostly in the nation’s economic corridors (eg Mon State near the East-West economic corridor). We are trying to support local governments to improve infrastructure there,” he said.

Wicklein said the ADB was considering co-financing models in infrastructure projects and providing grants for environmental issues and climate change. The bank has worked on several projects with the France Development Agency.

“We are very open to other partners in our discussions. The AIIB [Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank] has just started operations. So we do not have any concrete updates in this regard. But we are open to work with all partners,” he said.

‘Climate of fear will boost turnout’

Posted by pakin On July - 25 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

80% tipped to vote in Isaan as ‘many want closure’; people afraid to discuss charter; lack of knowledge on draft common in N/east

Voter turnout in the Northeast could reach the 80-per-cent goal in the referendum in two weeks and favour approval of the draft charter despite a climate of fear and a lack of understanding about the draft, a source close to Election Commission (EC) offices in Isaan provinces has said.

Ahead of the August 7 referendum, the Isaan region is still relatively quiet, the source said. There had little public discussion and political commentary, he said, because people fear meetings could breach the junta’s ban on political gatherings.

However, Isaan people will cast their ballots because they want the referendum to “finish” the issue so the next general election can be held, Kongchai Chaikung, village head of Ban Nong Hu Ling in Udon Thani province and red-shirt supporter, said.

“They are looking forward to exercising their electoral rights in the next election and have their own representatives, rather than live under the coup,” Kongchai said. He said people had suffered from record low prices for farm products since the coup and hoped that their representatives and the next elected government can solve the economic slowdown.

People in Isaan believe that if the draft passes the referendum, the next election will be held by 2017 according to the junta’s road map, he added.

But the junta could prolong its tenure citing a need to edit or write a new draft without a fixed timetable, he said.

On the other hand, the junta has also intensified security measures, especially in Isaan, which is known to be a red-shirt stronghold, to ensure the referendum proceeds smoothly, a source close to the junta said.

In Isaan, the junta has tried to suppress red-shirt community leaders who canvassed for Pheu Thai Party during recent elections, the source added. Tactics include frequent summons or reporting to security

authorities.

“I used to be summoned monthly to report to security authorities in 2014 when the coup took place,” village head Kongchai said. “They asked me and other red-shirt community leaders to stop political activities. We have no power and have to obey.”

He said that since then he has coordinated with state administrators and district chiefs, passing their policies on to villagers. Kongchai has even become a so-called Kru Kor, or “Teacher C”, volunteer trained by district officials to knock on doors and explain the charter draft content in person.

The military and concerned security agencies are also visiting villages for different reasons including “support missions” related to the referendum, said Watcharin Sutawadee, an official in Muang Udon Thani district.

Thongmuan Pithaknok, a villager in Nakhon Ratchasima, said she and several of her neighbours believe the military will harm them if they do not vote in the referendum.

Despite a large turnout, the quality of voting in the referendum will be poor because voters do not understand the content of the draft, said Preecha Uitragool, Open Forum for Democracy Foundation coordinator for the Isaan region.

“Booklets and a full version of the draft are not available in some areas. [There are] no inclusive debates and no political talks. How will people make the right decision?” Preecha said.

Villagers had not received booklets or a full version of the draft as of three weeks prior to the referendum, said Krisada Monthathip, the head of Ban Sommai village in Udon Thani.

According to Nakhon Ratchasima provincial EC office director Thitiphol Todsarod, state agencies have recently made a great effort to encourage Isaan voters to cast ballots as the region has the largest number of eligible voters. He said in big provinces such as Nakhon Ratchasima and Buri Ram, referendum banners bedeck downtown areas while on the outskirts of remote provinces, monks, village chiefs and the state’s local networks urge people to vote in face-to-face discussions.

Provincial EC director Thitiphol said not all households had received the full draft because only 1.2 million copies had been printed. But he said all families would receive booklets spelling out the main ideas of the draft. Some 17 million copies of the summary booklets have been printed.

With more than Bt200 million budgeted for referendum PR activities, provincial EC offices will initiate a number of projects in collaboration with a massive state administration and security agency effort to get at least an 80-per-cent turnout nationwide, a source close to the EC said. In the 2007 referendum, 57 per cent of voters cast their ballots.

Pantip Plaza to reopen following renovation

Posted by pakin On July - 15 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Pantip Plaza, Bangkok’s most famous electronics mall, will completely open its doors to customers early next month after embarking on a massive two-year, 300-million-baht renovation.

Dubbed the Tech Life Mall, the renovation is intended to demonstrate the transformative power of the emerging Internet of Things.

Asset World Estate, the operator of Pantip Plaza, announced it will open its new Tech Life Mall on Aug 8.

“The renovated mall will provide a variety of revolutionised electronic products in order to serve the rapid transformation for consumers moving to a digital lifestyle,” said Sansern Na Patthalung, asset manager of Asset World Estate, which is under the umbrella of TCC Land.

The 36,000-square-metre mall will boast 300 IT dealers occupying half of the total space. The remaining display space has been reserved for gadgets, gaming, a co-working space for startup companies, enterprise solution products and restaurants.

Mr Sansern said the new Pantip will for the first time provide what it called a Syn Hub, featuring a co-working space for tech startups, an e-sports area powered by Intel Microelectronics (Thailand), business solutions supplied by Com Seven Co, and a Microsoft experience store.

“We expect our renovated mall to attract more teenagers, and not just hardcore computer consumers like previously,” he said.

“We expect the average time our customers spends in our mall to increase from 1.5 hours to 3.5 hours.”

The company expects the number of visitors to increase to 35,000 per day after that number dropped to 20,000 during the renovation period and a general slowdown of shopping malls for computers.

“We expect our renovated project to break even within five years,” he said, adding that the company has raised its rental fee by an additional 3-5%.

Mr Sansern said Pantip also hopes to become a mall without pirated software.

Niti Mekmok, managing director of Synergy Technology, the owner of Syn Hub, said digital technologies are creating new paths for manufactures and reshaping most industries.

The 20-million-baht Syn Hub provided various innovative technologies ranging from 3D printers, mechanics supporting the Industrial Internet of Things, embedded electronic systems design, and radio frequency identification systems.

Syn Hub also features a co-working space with 60 seats. The company charges 280 baht a day to use the space.

“It’s the right time to invest as the Thai government is pushing for the development of a digital economy,” said Mr Niti.

Messaging app Line soars in stock market debut

Posted by pakin On July - 15 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

NEW YORK – Shares in the Asian hit messaging app Line, Thailand’s favourite smartphone app, surged 40% in opening trade in New York Thursday in a market hungry for the newest technology IPO.

The largest new tech stock on the market so far this year drew strong support as Wall Street overall pushed to new record levels.

Over the day, the stock climbed $8.74 and closed at $41.58 (1,457 baht) 27% above the targeted IPO price.

But Line remains challenged to boost its popularity beyond East and Southeast Asia, and some Spanish language markets, amid a field crowded with innovative mobile messaging services like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp, Skype and Snapchat.

Founder and chief executive Jungho Chin told the US business CNBC-TV network Thursday that the company now dominates the Japanese market and that the IPO will boost its expansion.

“Ultimately we believe that this IPO will accelerate our growth,” he said.

Mr Chin told CNBC that the company’s aim right now is to expand Line’s functionality rather than focus on building it in other countries.

“Every smartphone user needs a messaging service, music service, and a gaming service, and they want a one-stop service. If the users can serve their needs with this one-stop service we can satisfy customers,” Mr Chin said.

“The short-term view will be to focus on expanding the domain, and not so much the geographical expansion.”

In early trade the shares rocketed to $43.70 (1,530 baht, or 4,620 yen), on the New York Stock Exchange, compared with the initial public offering price of $31.20 (1,093 baht, 3,300 yen) early Thursday New York time (Friday, Thailand time).

Priced at the high end of its original estimates amid heavy demand, Japan-based Line raised about $1.3 billion in the share flotation.

The shares will trade on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and on the New York Stock Exchange as ADR depositary receipts under the ticker sign “LN”. Trading in Tokyo will begin Friday.

Known for its cute and innovative digital stickers, Line is hugely popular across much of East and Southeast Asia and is widely used in Spain and Mexico as well.

It counts about 218 million active monthly users, and is strongest in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.

Owned by South Korean Internet provider Naver, the app combines attributes from Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp.

It lets users make free calls, send instant messages, and post photos or short videos, along with a host of other paid services. Games and a mobile payments function are also on offer.

It is best known for letting users send each other cute cartoon “stickers”, and is hugely popular among teenagers.

Line’s sells thousands of the stickers, many of them animated and noisy, from Hello Kitty and Super Mario to Manga and Disney characters.

One service allows users to create and sell their own characters, while Line’s homegrown stable of stickers include the duck Sally, a sad-face bear called Brown and Cony the rabbit.

“The stickers are so good at explaining how we feel,” Nanako, a 25-year-old tech industry worker from San Francisco, said at the retail store in Tokyo’s youth fashion district.

Last year, Line posted revenue of 120 billion yen (39.88 billion baht, $1.1 billion), up 40% from the year before, but a small overall loss, which it blamed on rising staff costs and other expenses.

Line said it would use proceeds of the stock offering to help it expand in Asia, and tap the US and European markets where it is not yet a major player.

It also said the funds could fuel takeovers of other services and apps.

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