I would like to express my appreciation for your visit. I am happy to explain our plans to the international audience. I think that I am repeating myself a bit, but let me explain again. Our country has been going through a transformation process since H.E. President U Thein Sein took over. We have been transforming in terms of governing structure, as well as economic and political structure.
For various reasons, compared with neighboring countries, Myanmar has been left behind in many areas. With regard to telecommunications, we are very far behind.
When I took over this Ministry, tele-density was at 7-8% – single digits – and it is H.E. the President’s desire to improve this sector because it improves the country’s economy as well as individuals’ living standards.
Some of the most important instructions that I received from the President were to improve the tele-density and to increase coverage not only through the urban areas but also throughout the country to rural areas, to make phones available to everyone at an affordable price, and to improve the quality of the services.
Even more difficult, HE President set a target for us that by 2013-2014 we had to reach tele-density of 27%, 50% by 2014-2015 and by 2015-2016, 75%-80% penetration.
We understand that these are very challenging, ambitious targets. But by improving the telecom sector we can improve living standards, which is why we are so determined to reach these targets. In this endeavor we will have to face difficulties, in terms of money or investment, technology transfer, and human resources.
Previously we had to accomplish tasks by ourselves through MPT alone. But we realized that these targets simply cannot be reached through MPT. We knew we could not do it by ourselves and would need partners. For this reason we reached our for partners through the tender process. Now there are two international operators, Ooredoo and Telenor, as well as domestic operators, MPT and YPT. With these four operators we are confident that we will reach our goals.
Within our organization there are also many challenges but we are working together as a team to overcome them. Previously the only telecommunications law was over 80 years old! Now we have come up with the new telecommunications law that is consistent with international best practices. We must move ahead and implement our projects according to international standards so we have to reestablish our regulatory body. We also have to change from state monopoly to competition. MPT cannot survive as a government body so it must change its structure as well. In the first stage it will be corporatized, and subsequently it will become a private company.
It is also our desire to improve the sector because we are not satisfied with our telecom sector in comparison with our neighboring countries. As we are transforming our government structure we aim to become people-centric. So, in the previous time MPT was the only operator and therefore the people had no choice. Now it is good that people will be able to decide between different choices. It is also our desire that the operators launch their services as soon as possible and in order to prepare a level playing field for them we are working with international institutions like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others.
As we engage with international organizations, what we are learning is that we have been left behind in terms of other countries, but that we now have an opportunity to leapfrog development stages by using technology.
In other countries we have seen examples where advancements in the telecommunications sector can support advances in the financial system – another area in Myanmar that is lagging behind – through things like mobile banking. Are you working with your fellow cabinet ministers on these issues?
We understand that as we can improve telecommunications network, there can also be other advantages to improving people’s lives, like e-banking, distance education and e-health programs.
This is another reason why we need the telecommunications network to extend to the rural areas, to allow farmers to improve their livelihoods as well.
To be frank, most of the poverty is in the rural areas and we want to narrow the development gap so these are all tools that we can use to bring the rural areas up to a higher standard as quickly as possible. 70% of our country is not connected to the power grid, so we need to take challenges like that into consideration as well.
With regard to mobile banking, we do have several initiatives in place and we are reviewing with the Central Bank how to allow these mobile financial services. We think this could be especially helpful to people in the regions where there are no banks.
In summary, we are trying our best to develop our telecom sector as quickly as possible. Our Cabinet has approved the licenses for the international operators. YPT is also nearly ready to start their service and compete with them, as will MPT.
By the end of 2014 we will be able to see the telecom sector developing very rapidly. We are having regular meetings every week with these operators so that we can provide the services in accordance with the established laws and regulations. We are anxious to help them to roll out their services in the fastest and most effective possible way.
In the meantime, the government operators are not going to be able to rely on the government budget and within the government structure. MPT needs to change so that it can compete, so it is also looking for a partner. For the corporatization of MPT we are receiving assistance from the World Bank. Based on the tender results from the previous tenders we went through a selection process of the companies ranked then and we are currently in the final stages of the selection.
Regarding Chairing ASEAN, and the opening of the market in 2015. Is your sector going to adapt or change at that time?
By 2015 there will be a lot of investment and economic integration, however due to the technical limitations of our network we are not planning to increase the number of operators. However, there are other support sectors where investors can come in.
Of course we are talking about internet penetration and all of the associated services. We are trying to catch up with the requirements of our people. We also need to improve a lot in terms of broadband and we are looking at ways to better this infrastructure. We are talking about more advanced data technology instead of staying with voice because data will grow much faster, again through leapfrogging.
In our country everyone is hungry so the chefs are feeling a lot of stress to provide everything to everyone at the same time.
We are also working together with the operators to see how they can share the infrastructure and the facilities. Also there are some ways that we can work with international companies like Google, Microsoft, and Cisco regarding security, which is one of our concerns and where we lack expertise.
Another ongoing theme of our meetings here has been the challenge of human resources and the need for training, possibly vocational training, to address the skills gap. Are you working with the new operators on training your citizens?
The two new operators are indeed required to provide vocational training to our local people, and they are already started on the process.
Our last question is regarding your goals and challenges in this office. You have taken on an incredibly complex situation with huge aspirations. What have you prioritized to accomplish before you leave office?
The challenges will still continue in the future, but we are confident that if we work hard enough we will be able to reach our targets. We will also continue with the improvements of the telecom sector through the mobile phone roll-out, but we will not stop there. We also want to improve a lot in terms of internet connectivity. Right now we have about 20 gig, but this year we are trying to reach 100 gig connectivity and that may not even be sufficient. We also want to improve related value-added services.
Servicing the educational sector is also important. We need the rural areas to be reached and online training and education require a very large bandwidth. I have made up my mind that as long as I am tasked with this responsibility I will try as hard as possible to accomplish our goals.
What is your advice for international investors that we are talking to through this project? Our American readers are unsure, and are waiting. What can you say that will make them feel more secure?
In order to improve our country and to move forward with friendly international nations and our neighbors in the region we need to follow HE the President’s people-centered policy. In each sector there are rules and regulations already established. We need to adhere to international best practices while building trust. There is no way for us to turn back now. The most important thing is to improve the livelihoods of our people.