Six out of the 11-member body, including the chair, are government officials, while only one identifies as an economist.
Appointing Commerce Minister U Than Myint as Commission chair is “questionable” since his own ministry has been called out for protectionism, said U Aung Khant, who heads a Yangon-based policy think tank.
“The Ministry of Commerce remains protectionist across many sectors, often in favour of a select group of local business elites,” he commented. A source from the ministry denied this.
The appointment also deviates from international best practices, where governments usually delegate this area of decision-making to technocrats, independent of vested interests and political pressures. For example, none of the competition authorities in India, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK is headed by a politician.
But criticism goes beyond the appointees. Local business people have no idea how serious the Commission is, according to Myanmar businessman U Zaw Naing, who owns an IT firm and who supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the 2015 election.
The Anti-Corruption Commission has shown commitment because they are publicly taking action against senior government figures, he said. In contrast, local businesses don’t know what the Competition Commission intends to do and “how far the body will go.”
To be fair, the Commission is “at an infant stage and the Commissioners are still studying and learning,” he said.
“If the Competition Commission were to convince business that they were a serious body, they need to tackle the high-profile issues involving government policies and activities.”