Name : U Win Shein
Position : Finance Minister ( 2012 – 2015 )
So far I have asked questions on the mistakes by the current government on the economic front; what in your opinion are the good things that the government has done, during the first two years of governing?
If I evaluate from the financial front, even during our times, we faced the difficulty in generating sufficient revenue and in collecting them. The current government is also facing these. At the same time, spending has to be scrutinized to rid of unnecessary expenditures. I was an ardent advocate of that. That scrutiny is being continued under current administration. I recognized this as one of the better actions.
At the same time, when we are trying to cut down projects or expenditures, we have to do it without prejudice i.e., stopping projects arbitrarily simply because it was initiated by the previous government was not the right approach. Also, the leadership needs to have a long-term view, looking at different angles; a good example would be on shutting down state owned factories. The short-term gain may end up causing long-term pain. Even though I did not see much success in increasing the revenues, I acknowledged the good process of scrutiny over expenditures.
As you were highlighting on the need for better communications, I could not help but remember the current finance minister’s statements about becoming an economic Godzilla within three months (of taking office), increasing Myanmar economy threefold within six months, or the economy taking off like a jet this year, etc. These statements are so far off from reality. How in your opinion, do these statements affect economic sentiments?
The statements by leaders play a very significant part. Especially we have to be very cautious not to speak too early or sound too pompous on the economic front, with an ulterior motive to achieve political results. Because all the figures and statements on the economy can be fact checked or compared with actual results.
One cannot speak with a political agenda on economic and financial issues. Whether the economy grew as previously gloated, people would have realized by now, as the actual statistics have come out.
What would be your proudest legacy from the previous administration?
One of them would be the Public Finance Management (PFM); from the system of totally top down approach to government budgeting, we managed to function with the new PFM, used by countries all over the world. I am also proud of the changes that we have made to the tax system, amidst many difficulties. We have not become at par with the best yet. With the help of the international institutions, we have reached a certain standard in terms of the tax reforms, with increasing revenues for the government year after year.
In terms of external debt, it was during our administration that the high levels of external debts were highlighted. The team led by me tried so much to get the waiver of $5.956 Billion of external debt from the Paris Club of creditor nations. I am very happy for Myanmar to get such an incredible result. This result was achieved after days and weeks of struggles coming from a country with little or no experience, in handling such matters. It was a proud moment for everyone. Even the drive not to incur additional debt burdens was started during our times, debt management being par of the PFM reforms.
We also managed to reform the customs department, from a manual system to MACCS (Myanmar Automated Cargo Clearing System), with the help of the Japanese government.
These are just a few significant a c c o m p l i s h m e n t s .I f t h e n e w government carries on these effectively, and addresses the improvements as needed, we will all have a better country with a better economy for the people.
In terms of gold and cash reserves, how much was left for/transferred to the current government?
I cannot state on the gold amount, as it was not under the finance ministry (gold reserves were controlled by the central bank). In terms of foreign currencies, (from the time I was in charge of the finance ministry in September 2012) there was approximately $6.7 Billion worth of funds at the end of 2012/2013 financial year. When we transferred the accounts to the new government on March 31, 2016, there was approximately $8.2 Billion in foreign currency accounts. We actually increased our cash reserves, despite Sean Turnell saying the country heading towards bankruptcy.
The last question would be whether you would continue your political career and contest in 2020 elections.
This question is the most difficult question of all. At this point of time, I would not be able to answer this question.[/paypal]