“It does seem though that the law is geared towards job creation,” Bissinger says. But entrepreneurs want more than just words on paper. “There are other hidden costs that might counter the attractiveness of low wages for investors — be that a lack of skilled people, unreliable electricity, poor infrastructure,” warns Bissinger, who recently undertook a survey of 150 local businesses.
His findings so far indicate some growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Burma, something that SME Center director Aye Aye Win also believes to be the case.
“We have 40,000 SMEs listed,” she says, “but we estimate that there are maybe 300,000 such businesses in Burma altogether.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The disparity in numbers is caused by some of Burma’s other main business hurdles — poor communications and a lack of reliable data.
“The communication process for us in Myanmar is so slow, that is probably the most difficult thing about doing business here,” says Khin Yu Waddy Myint. The country awaits the liberalization of the telecommunication sector — change that could in time bring Burmese people the type of cheap and fast mobile phone and internet services seen elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
For now, however, it has been estimated that 3-5 percent of the population have mobile phones, while internet penetration may be as low as 1 percent, both legacies of a paranoid military government. And despite its optimism about next year’s projected growth numbers, the World Bank warned this month that the country needs to improve its telecommunications if it is to maintain growth.
Lack of data and statistics is another hurdle, as Aye Aye Win suggested. There hasn’t been a census since 1983 (a new one is planned for 2014), and William Aung, a Burmese who returned from Canada after the country’s “glasnost” began, says that finding out business-relevant information – how many of what and where – can be difficult to impossible in Burma.