IPMA International Project Management Association
6 March 2017 / 8:38

Projects and project management in Myanmar

Myanmar, sometimes better known as Burma, is a sovereign state in South East Asia bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand.  Both names are derived from the name of the majority Burmese ethnic group, the “Bamar”. Myanmar is considered to be the literary form of the name of the group, while Burma is derived from the colloquial form of the group’s name. Myanmar is a multi-ethnical union, more than 130 distinct ethnic groups are recognised, of which the Bamar nearly constitute 70% of the population, followed by the “Shan” and “Karen”.

The Empire of Pagan was not the first civilization in the history of Myanmar, but it is worth mentioning it as it lasted approximately 400 years. It grew out of a small settlement during the 9th Century at Pagan (Bagan). Over the next two hundred years, the small principality gradually grew to absorb its surrounding regions until the 1060s when the Pagan Kingdom was formally established. The wealthy donated tax-free land to religious authorities and the rulers built over 10,000 Buddhist temples in the Pagan capital zone of which over 2000 remain. The kingdom went into decline due to internal disorders and external challenges. Repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301) toppled the kingdom in 1287. The collapse was followed by 250 years of political fragmentation that lasted well into the 16th century and beyond. The British conquered Myanmar after three wars in the 19th century and the country became a British colony. After the defeat of the Japanese Army Myanmar became an independent nation, initially as a democratic nation and then, following a coup d’état in 1962, a military dictatorship. In 2011, the military junta was officially dissolved following a general election.

Besides the political change, also the economy of Myanmar embarked in 2011 on a major policy of reforms including anti-corruption, currency exchange rate, foreign investment laws and taxation. Foreign investments increased from US$300 million in 2009-10 to a US$20 billion in 2010-11 by about 6567%. Myanmar is a country rich in natural resources such as jade and gems, oil, natural gas and minerals. In 2014, its GDP (nominal) exceeded US$60 billion. However, the income gap in Myanmar is still among the widest in the world. A large proportion of the economy is controlled by supporters or families of the former military government. As of 2014, according to the Human Development Index (HDI), Myanmar had a low level of human development, ranking 148 out of 188 countries. About 60% of the country´s cultivated land area is used for producing rice. Workers earn approximately US$2 per day (a minimum wage of US$ 2,8 was introduced to the garment industry recently) and thus have difficulties to make their living. The Government of Myanmar is trying to overcome this challenge by a new education programme, large investments in infrastructure and encouragement of foreign investors from China, Korea, Japan and institutions such as the Asia Development Bank (ADB) for economic growth. The key asset is a highly motivated, young generation seeing their changes in the global markets…

There are a lot of ongoing projects, funded by the ADB on social, urban and infrastructure development, the same applies to the World Bank, which is also caring for the recovery of areas recently affected by landslides and floods. A major project in Myanmar is the Dawei Port Project. Construction started in 2011, was suspended in 2013 and resumed in 2015 again. It aims to transform Dawei into Myanmar’s and Southeast Asia’s largest industrial and trade zone, developing local businesses, providing local employment opportunities, and stimulating the infrastructure build-up. As with many megaprojects, also the Dawei Project suffers from a tumultuous history, as many financial and human rights violations have arisen during the project’s history. Another Deep Sea Port project is run by the Chinese in Kyaukpyu on the Bay of Bengal, which is of strategic importance for China and part of the “One belt, one road” Initiative.

Project management is not yet developed in Myanmar. In first talks with Government Officials, a major University and the and the Myanmar Engineering Council, interest was widespread to start a National Association for Project Management and develop project management-related competences for the greater good of society. That would lead into regulations for project management, starting education programmes and supporting Government in selecting the right partners for publicly funded projects. The establishment of a National Project Management Association should also be seen from a regional point of view. The ASEAN region is developing project management in a joint effort, IPMA and the Asian Pacific Federation of Project Management (APFPM) can support all developing countries in the region with know-how, standards and exchange of experiences. Stay tuned for reports from Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries in the region…



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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.