The Irrawaddy News
Intelligence - Sep'08
Stung by charges that millions of dollars are being creamed off cyclone aid in a sophisticated currency scam, the Burmese regime has come up with a proposal it hopes will allay the accusations.
The military government’s minister for national planning and economic development, Soe Tha, suggests that aid agencies could bypass dubious currency exchange regulations by paying dollars directly into the bank accounts of Burmese vendors from whom they purchase goods and services.
At present, aid agencies have to exchange their dollars for foreign exchange certificates at a rate below the real value of the US currency. The discrepancy results in the disappearance of large amounts of dollars, and some donor countries are demanding to know where the money goes.
However, Soe Tha’s proposal hasn’t been received with much enthusiasm by the aid agencies.
Soe Tha is the man who exaggerated the cost of the damage wrought by Cyclone Nargis, telling the donor conference in Rangoon in May that US $11 billion would be required to rebuild the devastated areas and their economies. The Asean-Burma-UN group that surveyed the damage put the cost at $4 billion, however.
In another misleading statement, Soe Tha said the rice output in Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions made up only 2.3 percent of the nation’s total production. Experts agree that the two regions, in fact, produce more than 50 percent of the country’s rice.
Soe Tha was appointed minister for national planning and economic development in 1999, after the dismissal of Brig-Gen David Abel. His area of expertise before this appointment was in the postal service and telecommunications—where observers say he should have gained greater skills in economic planning and reliable prognosis.