BANGKOK, Thailand -- Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for investments that create jobs to avoid a “time bomb” of youth unemployment on her first trip abroad in 24 years after the former dictatorship shifted toward democracy.
“I’m extremely worried about the high level of unemployment in my country, particularly youth unemployment,” Suu Kyi told reporters Friday at the World Economic Forum on East Asia. “That’s a time bomb. Many of our young people are already following the wrong path.”
The former political prisoner who won the Nobel Peace Prize during her 15 years under house arrest became a lawmaker last month after her National League for Democracy party won 43 of 45 seats in April 1 by-elections.
The move prompted the United States and the European Union to ease economic and financial sanctions as the former dictatorship loosens its grip on power.
London-based WPP Plc, the world’s biggest advertising company, and Tata Motors, India’s biggest automaker, announced moves to expand in Myanmar last month, while General Electric and Honda are among other companies considering investing in the country of 64 million people.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is “set for economic takeoff” if it implements the right policies, the International Monetary Fund said last month.
Suu Kyi warned companies that Myanmar’s investment law “would be of no use whatsoever” in a dispute because the country’s legal system remains unreliable.
She called for transparency in all investments and aid projects, saying projects such as Italian-Thai Development Pcl’s plan to build an $8.6 billion deep-sea port in Myanmar left people “completely in the dark” about what the contracts contained.
“Whatever investments, governmental agreements, whatever aid might be proposed, please make sure that this is transparent,” she told reporters in a briefing after her speech. “We have to make this quite clear. Otherwise we may find the benefits go to one particular group or one particular person, even.”
Suu Kyi declined to say which types of investments she wanted to see Myanmar attract because “I might be giving the kind of signals I should not be giving at the moment. But let me say I’m thinking in terms of low-hanging fruit because we require quick creation of jobs.”
Suu Kyi, who also spoke on a panel about women’s rights that included Telenor Chief Executive Officer Jon Fredrik Baksaas, called for the elimination of licensing requirements that make it difficult to acquire mobile phones.
One in 30 people in Myanmar have a mobile phone and fewer than 1 percent of the population has an Internet connection, Nomura Holdings said in a March 14 report.
Suu Kyi also called for companies to help train employees in the services industry to meet demand from “a tremendous flood of tourists.”
“You would be helping our economy to go forward in a very acceptable way,” she told participants in the forum. “Short courses can give people a start in some job that will also give them an opening into a higher level of employment.”
Myanmar announced Thursday it would allow visas on arrival for investors from 26 countries, including the U.S., Germany, China and Britain.
Thai Beverage Pcl, Thailand’s biggest producer of beer and whiskey, is exploring potential investments in the country.
“It doesn’t have to be an acquisition,” Chief Executive Officer Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi said Thursday. “We have been discussing with the local partners there, and that would be a great opportunity going into one of probably the most attractive markets at the moment.”
Since arriving in Bangkok three days ago with a seat in the airplane’s cockpit, Suu Kyi has met throngs of Myanmar migrant workers and discussed their plight with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung.
She called for better treatment for the estimated 2 million laborers, about 60 percent of whom are unregistered and thus ineligible for health care and a $9.43 minimum daily wage.
“If we were able to offer them the job opportunities that they get here, then they would not need to come here,” Suu Kyi said. “It was very touching to meet our workers and to find out how much they long to go home.”