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TOP HEADLINES 24 October 2014
1. THAILAND: Efforts to bring loan sharks into system
2. INDIA: Employees' fund to be made portable
3. INDONESIA: Microeconomic realities of fuel subsidy cut
P O V E R T Y   S P O T L I G H T
PAKISTAN: Invest in neglected education sector
4. PHILIPPINES: Energy crisis could cost $520 million
5. CAMBODIA: Port expansion seeks funding solution
6. BANGLADESH: Protecting rights of the aged
7. SRI LANKA: Enacts ban on foreigners buying land
8. INDIA: No room for complacency on oil front
9. BHUTAN: Pledge to bridge digital divide by 2020
10. THAILAND: Rural connectivity gets boost
IN DEPTH
1. THAILAND: Efforts to bring loan sharks into system
Source: The Nation

"A toxic mix of inequality and lax financial discipline has left too many Thai citizens prey to illegal lenders. The problem of illegal lending is a deep-rooted and long-standing one in Thailand. Governments over the years have come up with various measures to try and deal with the issue and also help debtors repay their due, including helping them refinance loans with state-owned banks.

The latest plan, from the Finance Ministry, is to 'bring the loan sharks into the system' by giving them 'nano-credit' licenses, which would allow creditors to loan up to Bt120,000 per borrower and impose an interest rate no greater than 36 percent on loans. Refinancing measures and the nano-credit scheme are positive moves to ease the burden on small-time borrowers. However, they do little to tackle the problem of illegal money-lending at its core."



2. INDIA: Employees' fund to be made portable
Source: Hindu Business Line

"It may be an exaggeration to call it labor reform, but Prime Minister Modi's announcement that Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) accounts would be made portable by allotting unique identification numbers to their subscribers will bring cheer to thousands of organized sector employees. The EPF is today the default retirement vehicle for Indian employees and contributions to it are compulsorily deducted from one's salary and matched by the employer.

Yet, due to archaic administration and operation of the scheme, it mostly fails to function as an adequate social security net for workers at retirement. To start with, though provident fund balances essentially belong to employees, they are forced to access these accounts primarily through the organizations which employ them. Thus, whenever the employee switches jobs, as one does quite often these days, transferring the provident fund balance from one firm to another is quite a cumbersome task."



3. INDONESIA: Microeconomic realities of fuel subsidy cut
Source: Jakarta Globe

"One of the first issues to confront President Joko Widodo after taking office is the proposed plan to drastically cut fuel subsidies. The general consensus among economists is that fossil-fuel subsidies are detrimental to the economy as a whole, as they are in effect consuming funds that could be better applied elsewhere. Both Joko and his running mate Jusuf Kalla used this argument during their election campaign, saying the funds could be allocated to infrastructure development, education and other essentials.

While the macroeconomic rationale for abolishing fuel subsidies appears to be iron-clad, the microeconomic realities on the ground may be vastly different. This is especially true in an economy lacking both adequate infrastructure and mass-transportation facilities. So the substantial fuel price increase of more than 40 percent envisaged by the government will inevitably drive inflation up considerably in rural areas."


P O V E R T Y   S P O T L I G H T
PAKISTAN: Invest in neglected education sector
Source: Dawn

"Pakistan will have no future unless it invests heavily in the young -- and this investment begins with the long-neglected sector of education. Despite education being a universal right for all children, the country is still struggling to put every child in school. On top of that, we now have stark facts and figures about the difficulty in keeping children in school, even if they make it there in the first place.

On Tuesday, education campaigner Alif Ailaan released its latest report, 'Broken promises: The crisis of Pakistan's out-of-school children.' The figures are worrying: of those that do enroll in school, only one in four make it to Grade 10; as indicated by data from various sources used by Alif Ailaan. That means some 25 million children drop out of school. Some reasons are obvious -- poverty, the need to start pulling in an income and the expense of schooling are deterrents for both boys and girls. But other factors are an indictment of education infrastructure and its handling."

Full report here.


4. PHILIPPINES: Energy crisis could cost $520 million
Source: Business World Online

"Economic losses from a power shortage that is expected to strike Luzon in summer next year could total as much as P23.3 billion ($520 million), President Aquino III said. Speaking before a Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum, Mr. Aquino said estimated costs range from P9.3 billion to P23.3 billion, depending on the duration of outages.

'The lower figure assumes power outage of two hours a day on average for three months. The higher figure assumes a worse scenario of five hours a day also for three months,' he explained. The estimates, he added, do not include 'foregone investment and tourist arrivals arising from the negative impact of the power outage on the country's image as an investment and tourist destination.'"



5. CAMBODIA: Port expansion seeks funding solution
Source: Phnom Penh Post

"With construction on the second phase of a new cargo terminal at the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP) set to begin in 2016, officials are now looking for ways to finance the project. Hei Bavy, director general for PPAP, said the $20 million expansion will see the existing cargo terminal, located in Kien Svay district of Kandal province, increase its handling capacity from 150,000 shipping containers to more than 300,000 by 2017.

PPAP is allegedly looking at two sources to fund the expansion including a loan from the Chinese government, which funded the first $28 million phase of the port's development, or potentially listing the state-owned asset on the Cambodian Stock Exchange as early as next year. However the budget for the expansion is likely to decline to about $10 million if the Chinese government does not agree to finance the project, the PPAP official said."



6. BANGLADESH: Protecting rights of the aged
Source: Financial Express

"Bangladesh, as one of the disaster hotspots in the world, has significantly improved its disaster management capacity both at national and local levels. But the needs of the socially excluded and marginalized groups, e.g. aged citizens, persons with disabilities and women issues are yet to be addressed in Disaster Risk Reduction policy instruments.

Older age brings reduced mobility, impaired senses and greater vulnerability to heat and cold reducing their capacity to face these weather conditions. During emergencies, food distribution and other relief packages rarely include the particular needs of older people and their specific dietary requirements while the focus for first aid and other health services do not respond to their ongoing needs."



 DEVBlogs ROUNDUP
If you were to land in Chennai, Tamil Nadu's state capital in India, one of these days, do not be surprised to see sari-clad women with khaki jackets zipping around the city ferrying passengers in black-and-yellow autorickshaws. These women have been trained and employed by Makkal Auto, a transport service that runs a high-tech and safety-centric auto fleet for women, by women. Makkal Auto solves two crucial problems in one go -- it not only provides a respectable, lucrative livelihood option to women in need but also makes the daily commute of their well-to-do counterparts safe and hassle-free.

7. SRI LANKA: Enacts ban on foreigners buying land
Source: Reuters

"Sri Lanka passed legislation banning land purchases by foreigners, a move the government said would curb tax evasion but critics said could hinder its offshore investment ambitions. The Land Bill adopted by parliament prohibits foreign individuals, companies and locally incorporated firms with over 50 percent foreign ownership from buying land in the South Asian island nation.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also finance minister, had flagged the ban plan in his November 2012 budget speech. Deputy Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama said that since 2004 foreign individuals had been able to buy land by paying a 100 percent transfer tax, and locally incorporated firms with over 25 percent foreign ownership were also subject to the levy."



8. INDIA: No room for complacency on oil front
Source: Financial Express

"India consumes around 150 million tons of liquid petroleum products every year, with the top 11 states consuming 82 percent of the petroleum products. Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, UP and Rajasthan each consume more than 10 million tons of liquid petroleum products. Over 70 percent of diesel consumption in India is by the transportation sector.

Buses, cars, even railways can, and must plan to, switch to a flexi-fuel mix of gas, ethanol, methanol blend along with petrol and diesel, while encouraging electric-powered cars in select regions. We must pursue this flexi-fuel goal even if gas were to be imported in the form of LNG and a premium price is required to be paid to increase domestic production of ethanol. This will send a strong signal that India will depend less on imported oil, even as its demand for energy will continue to grow in tune with its economic growth."



9. BHUTAN: Pledge to bridge digital divide by 2020
Source: Kuensel Online

"By 2020, Bhutan will bridge its digital divide, at least in terms of Internet broadband connectivity. This was revealed by the information and communications minister, who attended the 19th International Telecommunications Union (ITU) plenipotentiary conference, being held in Busan, Republic of Korea.

'We're confident that by 2020, more than 90 percent of our rural population and 50 percent of all households will have access to affordable broadband connections,' Lyonpo DN Dhungyel said, in his statement to the ITU conference. Lyonpo pointed out that a digital divide between the Bhutanese rural and urban populations currently exists as a result of the country being landlocked, having challenging geographical terrain, a small and scattered population, high costs of building ICT infrastructure, and low ICT literacy, among others."



10. THAILAND: Rural connectivity gets boost
Source: Bangkok Post

"Facebook is partnering with Thailand's No.2 mobile operator Total Access Communication Plc (DTAC) to bring affordable mobile Internet to the country, particularly rural areas. The move is part of its global plan to lure 4 billion unconnected people to connect via Facebook. The partnership will also help DTAC generate more mobile data revenue from lower-income consumers as middle- and high-income groups already use mobile Internet and frequently connect via Facebook.

Facebook expects 85-90 percent of the world's population to access mobile networks in the next two years, said Markku Makelainen, director for global operator partnerships. Thailand has 26 million active Facebook users a month. Some 16 million Facebook users in Thailand access the network through mobile devices, 8 million of them using the DTAC network."



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