The biggest public news these past few days in Burma have been on the massive increases in petroleum, diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) prices, which have affected much of urban Burma. Media within Burma have been much quieter. For the Myanmar Times, solar-powered traffic lights were bigger news than the price increases of gas.
If the Burmese were not so patient, there would probably be countrywide protests on this issue (like those in Iran, where thousands rioted in response to gas rationing.) The Irrawaddy has a good photo essay on how locals are struggling in the aftermath of price increases.
I am still angered by the government’s inability to serve its people, not that I should be surprised in any way. Millions of Burmese live on less than $1 (approximately 1300 kyat) a day. Burma’s inflation rate is one of the worst in the world (according to a Time report, it’s at 37.5% (the third highest inflation rate in the world, although the government ‘calculated’ a far lower figure). It’s bound to get worse with these price increases, which has already had a domino effect on foodstuff prices (the price of mohinga, Burma’s national breakfast dish, has risen threefold). When the government, ill-planned in its efforts to pay its workers more, increased the salaries of civil servants and government workers by up to 1000%, the prices of rice, salt, and other basic commodities rose substantially. To combat this, the government clamped down on stores that had ‘overcharged’ on basic commodities and only worsened the situation.
The BBC seems to tie the rising gas prices to sanctions on Burma, claiming:
Sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States over the ongoing detention of leader Aung San Suu Kyi are also having an effect.
As I’ve written before, I wholeheartedly disagree with the ‘nudging’ approach of Western countries toward Burma. And I highly doubt that sanctions are the reason for the gas price increases, because Japan, which has no sanctions against Burma, is a major supplier of crude oil to the country (hundreds of millions of USD are bought annually). Note that Burma is a net exporter of natural gas, and the government made $1 billion USD last year in sales. The country also produces millions of barrels of crude oil (7.6 million barrels in 2006, a paltry amount compared to major oil-producing countries, but still a significant portion of exports).