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Cablegate: Burma: Government Budget Funds Soes, Military

VZCZCXRO1402
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0604/01 2130724
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 310724Z JUL 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7981
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1960
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1394
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4943
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4916
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8478
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 6045
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1537
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1732
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0388
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3937
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1899
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 RANGOON 000604

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EEB/TPP/ABT/ATP - JANET SPECK
BANGKOK FOR USDA/FAS, ECON OFFICE, USAID
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID - CHERYL JENNINGS
PACOM FOR FPA
TREASURY FOR OASIA:SCHUN

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: EFIN EAGR EAID ETRD ECON PGOV PREL BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: GOVERNMENT BUDGET FUNDS SOES, MILITARY

REF: A) RANGOON 118 B) 07 RANGOON 549

RANGOON 00000604 001.2 OF 004


1. (SBU) Summary. The Burmese Government published its FY08-09
budget in late April, along with the FY07-08 supplementary
expenditures figures. Once again, the GOB's budget data sheet
provided only general guidelines, with little explanation of
spending. The largest proportion of public funds as usual will go
to State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) and the Ministry of Defense.
Public spending on health and education remains the same as last
year, totaling less than five percent of the total budget or 1.4
percent of GDP. Based on the figures, the GOB predicts a budget
deficit of 415 billion kyat for FY08-09 ($377 million), a 25 percent
reduction from the projected FY07-08 budget deficit. However,
adding in the budget supplemental, the FY07-08 budget deficit
totaled more than 1.7 trillion kyat ($1.4 billion). If past budgets
are any indication, the FY08-09 budget deficit should be higher than
targeted, despite limited GOB efforts to improve revenue collection.
End Summary.

2. (SBU) The Burmese Government published its consolidated public
sector budget in the Burma Gazette, a publication with limited
distribution and readership, in late April after the Cabinet passed
the State Budget Law for the new fiscal year. Burma's fiscal year
runs from April 1-March 31. The official FY08-09 budget provides
general guidelines and funding amounts, leaving out any explanation
of how each agency will spend its money. Multiple exchange rates are
used but not identified. Despite the lack of specific information,
the budget gives an indication of GOB priorities.

Increasing Costs Despite Increasing Revenues
--------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) According to the FY08-09 budget, the GOB's spending for
FY08-09 is expected to total 4.887 trillion kyat ($4.1 billion at
current market rates), up 30 percent from FY07-08's 3.736 trillion
kyat budget (before the supplemental). The GOB's spending
priorities remain the same as last year. State Owned Enterprises
(SOEs) received more than 65 percent of the budget, with most
operating at a deficit. "Government," which includes spending on
government-related projects such as the construction of Nay Pyi Taw,
and the Ministry of Defense received more than seven percent of the
budget each, with "Government" receiving a 20 percent increase over
last year's amount. GOB spending on health and education remained
stagnant, at less than five percent of the total budget, or 1.4
percent of GDP.

--------------------------------------------- -------
FY08-09 Expenditures
In Billion Kyat
--------------------------------------------- -------
Recipient FY07-08 FY07-08 FY08-09 % of % of
w/supp. Total GDP
--------------------------------------------- -------
Total 3990 4938 4887 100.00 30.0

SOEs 2299 2834 3211 65.7 19.8
Government 201 762 361 7.4 2.2
Defense Min. 352 356 354 7.2 2.2
Finance Min. 121 135 182 3.7 1.1
Education Min. 169 171 167 3.4 1.0
Agriculture Min. 119 137 126 2.6 0.8
Electric Min. 72 107 101 2.1 0.7
Construction 101 103 88 1.8 0.5
Home Affairs 47 48 52 1.1 0.3
Health 44 45 44 0.9 0.3
--------------------------------------------- -------

RANGOON 00000604 002.2 OF 004

4. (SBU) The GOB projects revenues will total 4.472 trillion kyat
($3.7 billion), a 41 percent increase from last year's figures.
According to projections, the majority of revenues will be generated
by SOEs, including oil and gas companies. Revenues contributions
from SOEs and taxes are expected to account for 98 percent of total
revenues, and should increase by 34, 70, and 40 percent respectively
over last year's returns. The GOB also predicts that the Ministry
of Defense will increase its revenues by 50 percent, the Ministry of
Agriculture will bring in 22 percent higher revenues, and the
Ministry of Finance will earn 40 percent more compared to last
year.

--------------------------------------------- -------
FY08-09 Revenues
In Billion Kyat
--------------------------------------------- -------
Source FY06-07 FY07-08 FY08-09 % of est.
GDP
--------------------------------------------- -------
Total 2827 3178 4472 27.5

SOEs 1830 2086 2795 17.2
Cont. from SOEs N/A 501 853 5.3
Taxes 425 530 740 4.6
Defense Min. 8 18 27 0.2
Agriculture Min. 9 9 11 0.1
Finance Min. 3 5 7 0.1
Construction Min. 3 6 7 0.1
Health 4 5 6 0.1
--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (SBU) During IMF Article IV consultations in September 2007, GOB
officials pledged to reduce the budget deficit by increasing tax
revenues and eliminating corruption. The GOB's FY08-09 projected
deficit of 415 billion kyat ($345 million) shows a 25 percent
decrease from the FY07-08 budgeted deficit (before adding the budget
supplemental). Since FY03-04, however, the Burmese Government has
steadily increased its budget deficit, from 131 billion kyat in
FY03-04 to 557 billion kyat in FY07-08.

--------------------------------------------- -------
FY08-09 Budget Deficit
In Billion Kyat
--------------------------------------------- -------
FY06-07 FY07-08 FY08-09 % GDP
--------------------------------------------- -------
Total -235 -558 -415 2.6
--------------------------------------------- -------

Supplemental Appropriations Break the Bank
------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Government revenue increased 12 percent in FY07-08, due
primarily to high natural gas prices, increased gem and jade sales,
and increased exports of timber, agriculture, and marine products.
The FY07-08 supplementary appropriation added an additional 1.2
trillion kyat (approximately $1 billion at current rates) to the
budget, raising expenditures by more than 30 percent over projected
totals. The GOB has yet to release revised figures for FY07-08
revenues, so based on available data, the FY07-08 budget deficit
grew from 558 billion kyat ($465 million) to 1.760 trillion kyat
($1.4 billion) after adding supplemental budget appropriations.

7. (SBU) Like with previous years, "Government" received the
largest allocation of additional money in FY07-08, 561 billion kyat

RANGOON 00000604 003.2 OF 004


($467 million) or an increase of 279 percent. Businessmen explained
that the majority of this money was used to cover ongoing
construction costs in Nay Pyi Taw, as well as other government
infrastructure projects. SOEs received the second largest amount -
534.8 billion kyat ($445 million), a 23 percent budget increase.
The Ministry of Defense received an additional 4.3 billion kyat
($3.5 million), the Ministry of Agriculture received 18 billion kyat
($15 million), and the Ministry of Finance received 13.6 billion
kyat ($11.3 million).

Weak Revenue Generation
-----------------------

8. (SBU) During last year's IMF Article IV consultations, IMF
representatives highlighted the need for the Burmese Government to
improve its tax administration and modify its widespread
discretionary tax exemptions. GOB officials stated that one of
their goals was to reduce the budget deficit by addressing the main
causes: weak revenue collection, losses from inefficient SOEs and
SEEs, unrestrained government spending, and budget expenditures for
non-productive uses, such as defense and construction. However,
business contacts reported that the GOB did little to modify its tax
structure in 2007, leading them to question the government's
prediction of a 40 percent increase in tax revenues in FY08-09.
Over the past few years, authorities have attempted to increase
revenues through stricter enforcement of income taxation and through
an informal Customs valuation rate hike from 450 kyat/$1 to between
800 and 1200 kyat/$1, depending on the product and its origin (Ref
A). While the GOB privately argues that this rate hike indicates an
effort to reconcile the various exchange rates, it instead
complicates Burma's already complex informal exchange rate system.


9. (SBU) According to the FY08-09 budget data, most SOEs will
operate at a loss, predicted to be roughly 450 billion kyat ($375
million). State-Owned Enterprises registered a loss of 800 million
kyat in FY07-08, substantially more than GOB estimates of 213
billion kyat. According to budget publications, SOEs lost 436
billion in FY06-07 and 549 billion in FY05-06. Business officials
confided that the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which is
responsible for coordinating oil and gas projects, exported more
than $2.5 billion in natural gas in FY07-08; the GOB reportedly
earned at least $1 billion from this sale.

10. (SBU) Corruption at all levels remains a problem in Burma,
which affects the GOB's ability to collect revenue. While the
government cracked down on crooked Customs officials in 2006, the
payment of bribes on the borders continues, according to business
contacts. Corruption is also rife in other GOB agencies, including
the Internal Revenue Department, Immigration, and the Yangon Central
Development Committee.

Comment
-------

11. (SBU) While the published budget provides a general guideline of
how the GOB will allocate its funds, senior leaders will likely
continue spending money on pet projects with little oversight.
Thus, it is impossible to obtain an accurate picture of Burma's
fiscal situation. Despite the GOB's intentions to reduce the budget
deficit, its history, unfettered spending, and the lack of tax
reform make a growing deficit more likely. Burma's economic future
remains bleak - priority spending for SOEs, military, and
"Government" indicates that senior leaders are more concerned about
their personal interests rather than developing infrastructure,
education, or health programs that would benefit the Burmese people.

RANGOON 00000604 004.2 OF 004


Unless the Than Shwe regime begins to apply fiscal prudence (an
unlikely scenario), inflation will continue to skyrocket and
standards of living will fall, leaving the Burmese people to suffer
the consequences of the regime's economic mismanagement.

VILLAROSA

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