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Cablegate: Gob Curfew and Internet Ban Killing Business

VZCZCXRO6642
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #1015/01 2840957
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 110957Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6674
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0594
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1543
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4632
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4125
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7684
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5243
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1220
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1125
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0083
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3340
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1026
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 001015

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS;
PACOM FOR FPA
TREASURY FOR OASIA:SCHUN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PGOV ELAB BM
SUBJECT: GOB CURFEW AND INTERNET BAN KILLING BUSINESS

REF: A. RANGOON 1012

B. RANGOON 1009
C. RANGOON 970

RANGOON 00001015 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary. Although the GOB imposed a nightly
curfew and banned outside internet access in order to derail
political demonstrations, local businesses have also been
derailed by the clampdown. Many companies, particularly
those that traditionally do their best business at night,
have been forced to reduce hours of operation. Some
factories have suspended night operations, while others
successfully petitioned the Ministry of Labor for an
exemption to the curfew, provided that their staff does not
leave the factory grounds at night. The reduction in
business hours has hurt many working people, who lost
opportunities for overtime hours and extra income. The
two-week GOB ban on outside Internet hit businesses hard,
although some found ways to negotiate intermittent internet
access after curfew and for short bursts during the day. End
Summary.

Limited Hours of Operation
--------------------------

2. (SBU) The Burmese Government, in an effort to stop the
flow of photos, videos and comments on its violent
suppression of anti-government demonstrations, imposed a
curfew on September 26. Initially, the curfew was from 9:00
p.m. to 5:00 a.m.; in early October, the GOB announced
revised curfew hours from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. Many of
our business contacts complained that the curfew not only
limited the movement people, but also had a very negative
effect on local businesses. Captain Aung Khin Myint, a close
contact who owns several businesses in the shipping and food
industries, noted that the curfew, coupled with limited
access to the internet, affected everyone, from taxi drivers
to the presidents of large corporations. Not all businesses
in Rangoon operate from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., he
complained, and those who conduct business at night continue
to lose money.

3. (SBU) Several of our contacts informed us that businesses
that traditionally closed well after 10:00 p.m., including
restaurants, bars, and karaoke clubs, were forced to change
their operating hours to meet the curfew. Many restaurants
and bars now close between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m., enabling their
staff to return home before the curfew begins. Several
restaurant owners complained to us that in the past two
weeks, they have seen a loss in revenue of between 10-25
percent. Not only are people afraid to come out at night,
they noted, but most people have less money to spend and
transportation at night is increasingly scarce and expensive.


4. (SBU) The curfew has also affected wet market and
wholesale operations, many of which conducted business at
night or early morning hours. Wholesale traders complained
to us that they can no longer receive night deliveries and
thus have limited goods to sell when the markets open in the
morning. Traders reported that they have seen a decrease in
sales because of the shorter working hours. Other traders
informed us of new difficulties transporting products into
Rangoon because of inconvenient train and bus schedules.
While most market owners have adjusted to the new schedule,
many report that the number of retailers has dropped
approximately 25 percent since the curfew was imposed.

5. (SBU) The shipping industry has also taken a hit. U
Kyaw Win, who owns several garment factories as well as cargo
delivery companies, explained that before the curfew, most
deliveries were made at night. Because no one is now allowed

RANGOON 00001015 002.2 OF 003


out after 10:00 p.m., trucks transporting goods (such as
rice, beans, and other agricultural products) into Rangoon
must wait outside the city until the curfew lifts at 4:00
a.m. Transportation companies must pay their drivers
overtime, product costs increase, and shipments meant for
overseas markets are often delivered late, he lamented.
Captain Aung Khin Myint echoed these complaints, noting that
his freight forwarding company continues to have problems
meeting deadlines because trucks are not allowed on the roads
at night.

Fewer Factory Hours, Less Wages for Workers
-------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Prior to the curfew, normal factory working hours
were from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 57 percent of factories in
Rangoon's industrial zones ran night shifts to meet
production demands; the GOB initially demanded a suspension
of all night operations. U Zaw Min Oo, owner of Crocodile
Trading Company, explained that before the curfew, he ran two
shifts at his five factories, from 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. and
from 8:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m. For the first ten days of the
curfew, he closed his factories at 7:00 p.m. Because his
night shift employees were not working, they did not receive
any salary. He petitioned the Ministry of Labor for an
exemption to the curfew, noting that not only was he losing
business, but his employees were out of work. The Ministry
of Labor has since allowed specific companies to run night
shifts, on the condition that the laborers not leave the
factory grounds during curfew hours.

7. (SBU) Other factories were also forced to change their
operation hours to comply with the curfew. For the first
week of the curfew, U Kyaw Win closed his three garment
factories at 5:00 p.m., providing his employees enough time
to return home. His factories now close at 7:00 p.m.
Production is down by ten percent, he explained, and it takes
longer to fulfill orders. His employees are also unhappy
with the situation: because the factory closes earlier, they
no longer earn as much overtime pay. U Kyaw Win said that
because of the curfew, his workers receive an average of
5,000 kyat ($3.65) less a month, a 10-15 percent drop in
salary.

Internet Ban Blocks Business
----------------------------

8. (SBU) Although internet access is now available late at
night, from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., the Burmese Government
continues to control internet access at other times. Since
October 9, Embassy officials and contacts have reported
limited and sporadic internet access between 12:00 noon and
4:00 p.m. (Reftels A and B). Our business contacts
speculated that close allies of the GOB have demanded
increased internet access during the daytime. Since very few
members of the public have computers at home, only the rich
and connected (both politically and electronically) could
access the internet during the curfew, they explained.
Despite the sporadic availability of internet during the day,
many internet cafes in Rangoon remain closed (Ref A).

9. (SBU) Myanmar Chamber of Commerce member Dr. Maung Maung
Lay criticized the internet ban, noting that most
entrepreneurs rely on the internet to conduct business.
Prior to the internet ban, companies could apply for
import/export licenses online, a procedure that the GOB
heralded as a new way to reduce licensing delays. Now many
companies face difficulties obtaining import/export licenses
quickly and are losing many business opportunities, Dr. Maung
Maung Lay emphasized. Travel and tour agencies, which rely
on the internet to make most bookings, have also lost

RANGOON 00001015 003.2 OF 003


substantial business. Captain Aung Khin Myint concurred,
noting that without access to the internet, most freight
forwarders and shippers are unable to track their containers
and cannot email shipping information and bills of lading to
their customers.

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) Burma's business climate was bad before the
curfew and internet ban; the GOB's recent actions have only
made the situation dire. The government, focused on
maintaining political order in the country regardless of the
cost, lacks any real understanding of how its actions
negatively affect local business operations and further
worsen the popular economic dissatisfaction that sparked the
recent protests. The business world has changed markedly
since 1988, when the military last faced massive public
protest, but their understanding of it has not.

STOLTZ

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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