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Rain-wary Myanmar moves fiscal year for a dry start in October

Change is meant for infrastructure projects but skepticism runs deep

Workers refurbish a Yangon rail line in February. By summer, infrastructure projects will be interrupted by heavy rain.

YANGON -- The Myanmar government will begin its fiscal year in October starting this year, shifting from April, to cope with the country's rainy season and avoid the resulting delays in infrastructure projects.

But many question if the change will be as effective as the government claims.

From June to September, torrential rains drench the landscape, flooding roads and turning construction sites into quagmires. That climate has frustrated the progress of roadwork, bridge construction and other vital infrastructure.

Maung Maung Win, deputy minister for planning and finance, says the amended fiscal year is needed to deal with the rainy season. The old April start also overlaps with the Buddhist new year, when many people in Myanmar take long holidays.

Public works projects are typically ordered in April but do not get started promptly because of both the holiday and the monsoon, the government reckons.

The change means state-run enterprises will adjust their fiscal years as well. For private companies, the financial year will still run from April to March, according to the Union Tax Law for 2018. But many wonder if the transition will go smoothly.

During parliamentary deliberations in October, members of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is linked to the former military junta, opposed the fiscal year reform. All that will change, they said, is that the downpours will fall in the second half of the budget year instead of the first half.

In the two years of rule by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, the government has become notorious for unclear priorities and abrupt policy shifts.

One executive at a foreign company questioned whether a change in the fiscal year should be a priority, predicting that it will invite confusion. "They are [focusing on] the most stupid thing possible," the executive said. "You've got a whole list of really urgent stuff on your desk ... and picked up this one." Other companies operating in Myanmar echo that view.

The NLD is looking to establish an economic track record heading into the 2020 elections. It is said that the only major reform the late, long-ruling dictator Ne Win pushed through was to make cars drive on the right side of the road, changing from the left-side driving installed by the British. It remains to be seen if the NLD's new fiscal year will avoid a similar legacy.

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