As the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on employment numbers, the government will soon give cash assistance to each of Myanmar’s families. President’s office spokesperson U Zaw Htay announced that, once the measure is ratified, 5.4 million households will be eligible for MMK 20,000 in assistance under the government’s ongoing COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan, or CERP. Although CERP includes assistance for out-of-work garment factory employees (funded by a grant from the EU), the plan’s measures have so far focused on businesses, offering tax breaks, soft loans, and other safety nets to small and medium enterprises and companies in industries such as tourism, exports, and manufacturing. Yet the stimulus payments (which will be delivered mainly through digital payment platforms, which CERP also supports) could be the plan’s costliest measure so far.
Funding for the payments will come from both government coffers as well as foreign assistance, mostly in the form of low interest loans from organizations like the JICA and the IMF. The amount Myanmar has borrowed for COVID-19 relief and recovery has now topped USD 2.5 billion, bringing Myanmar’s total foreign debt to greater than USD 10 billion. However, such a high price tag could lessen an otherwise devastating economic blow. In a recent panel discussion, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she expects Myanmar’s economic plight to only get worse in the coming months. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are still without work.