5th press release of the Tripartite Core Group - Myanmar and the UN find solutions to foreign exchange loss of cyclone Nargis humanitarian aid

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Yangon, 13 August 2008 - Through the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), the Government of Myanmar and the United Nations agencies working in Myanmar have identified ways and means of reducing losses of Cyclone Nargis humanitarian aid dollars due to foreign exchange rate differentials. The Minister for National Planning and Economic Development U Soe Tha on Friday, 8 August met with members of the TCG, including the UN Resident Coordinator and the Humanitarian Coordinator as well as with the Deputy Foreign Minister and TCG Chairman U Kyaw Thu and an ASEAN representative, Dr. Puji Pujiono, to resolve the issue.

According to UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar and TCG member, Daniel Baker, "The loss in value due to foreign exchange for the Cyclone Nargis international humanitarian aid during the last three months has been about USD 1.56 million". He stated that this accounting was based on the United Nations' most recent figures of the total amount of money they had changed to date inside Myanmar. The issue had been initially raised by the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, when he visited the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, on 24 July. The discrepancy was a source of double concern. "We are not getting the full value of dollars donated for emergency relief, and donors are extremely worried and keen to see that this issue is resolved," Mr. Baker added.

The exchange rate disparity is dictated by the supply and demand of the local markets in Myanmar and this is affecting everyone, including the international humanitarian community. Differences occur when the hard currency is changed into Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs), which are the medium for purchasing the local currency. Minister U Soe Tha assured the TCG members that no one was exploiting the situation. "Nevertheless," he said, "the Government is committed to addressing this concern of the international humanitarian community. We do have alternative ways for the international humanitarian community, including international NGOs, to bring in dollars and to get the full dollar value of their assistance" he explained.

Minister U Soe Tha suggested to the UN representatives that "you could avoid loss from the FEC by employing, to the extent possible, dollar-to-dollar direct bank transfers to the vendors when purchasing humanitarian goods and services. It will then be up to the vendors to manage their dollar accounts". He confirmed that the vendors will have no obligation to convert the dollars into FECs or local currency neither will there be an obligation for the international humanitarian community to commission particular vendors.

"This mechanism would hopefully help us to address the bulk of the problem very quickly, and we appreciate that the Government has been willing to work with us on a solution," said Bishow Parajuli, the UN Resident Coordinator and TCG member.

The TCG will continue to address issues arising from the exchange rate. "Representatives of the relevant ministries such as the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Ministry of Finance could be invited to the TCG meetings when the issues such as currency exchange are on the agenda" said Deputy Foreign Minister and TCG Chairman U Kyaw Thu.

At the end of the meeting, Minister U Soe Tha invited the UN representatives to inform him of any further issues, if they arose, so that the Government of Myanmar could help address them accordingly. "Effective assistance to the Nargis-affected population is our common goal and we certainly have the intention to continue addressing any issues as they arise" he said.

* Note: The TCG is an ASEAN-led mechanism to facilitate trust, confidence and cooperation between Myanmar and the international community in the urgent post-Cyclone Nargis humanitarian relief and recovery work. The TCG started its work on 31 May 2008 and has been meeting at least once a week in a spirit of mutual understanding, trust and cooperation. It has been working closely with the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee chaired by His Excellency Prime Minister General Thein Sein, Union of Myanmar.

The TCG comprises three members from the Myanmar Government: (Deputy Foreign Minister H.E. U Kyaw Thu who is the Chairman; Acting Director-General, Ministry of Social Welfare and Resettlement U Aung Tun Khaing; and, Deputy Director-General, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation U Than Aye); three members from ASEAN (Thailand's Ambassador to Myanmar H.E. Bansarn Bunnag; Dr Puji Pujiono, a senior UNDP officer seconded to the ASEAN Secretariat; and, Dr. Anish Kumar Roy, Director of Bureau for Resources Development of the ASEAN Secretariat alternating with Ms. Adelina Kamal of the ASEAN Secretariat); and three from the UN (UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mr. Daniel Baker; UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Bishow Parajuli; and, a rotating UN agency representative).

For further information, please contact:

Ms. Adelina Kamal
Head, Coordinating Office for the ASEAN
Humanitarian Task Force
Phone: +95 1 544 500 ext 417

Mr. Aye Win
United Nations Information Centre
Phone: +95 1 546 933, +95 1 542 910 - 9 ext 110, Mobile: +95 9 512 3952