Burma Business Roundup (Oct. 5, 2013)

By William Boot 5 October 2013

Ooredoo Plans to Create Thousands of Women ‘Entrepreneurs’ in Burma

One of the two international mobile phone companies to win network development licenses in Burma, Ooredoo of Qatar, has formed a partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to provide jobs for rural women.

“As we begin operating in Myanmar [Burma], we’re looking to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the retail sector, with a particular focus on engaging women micro-entrepreneurs,” said the chairman of Ooredoo, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed Bin Saud Al Thani. “Ooredoo and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women have supported thousands of women entrepreneurs in Indonesia, and we’ll use that expertise to enrich the lives of people in Myanmar.”

Cherie Blair, a lawyer, is the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who has made several business-related visits to Burma in the last couple of years.

The partners plan to develop a franchisee model to help up to 30,000 women “entrepreneurs” by 2016—selling prepaid Ooredoo airtime in their communities, said the industry Internet website Developing Telecoms.

Details of the partnership emerged as Ooredooo also disclosed that it is negotiating with the other foreign network license winner, Norway’s Telenor, to save development costs by sharing transmitter towers in Burma.

Burma presented big challenges in developing mobile phone networks, said Ooredoo’s chief strategy officer, Jeremy Sell.

“No one speaks English, we can’t get galvanized steel. There aren’t enough cranes. The country is covered in jungle. The roads flood. There’s no power,” Reuters quoted him saying.

Rangoon’s Skyline to get US$780M Multi-Storied Facelift

New multi-story offices, more shopping malls, hotels and upmarket apartment blocks costing more than US$780 million have been approved for construction in Rangoon.

If all the projects go ahead, they will significantly alter the architectural landscape of Burma’s biggest city.

One project alone, in the Bogyoke Market area, includes a 32-story hotel, a 28-storey office-tower, a 34-story apartments block, and shopping malls, according to Eleven Media, which quoted the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

The Bogyoke Market development will be spearheaded by Shwe Taung Junction City Development Company at an estimated cost of around 200 billion kyats (US$206 million).

The YCDC also approved two smaller developments with several other Burmese construction companies valued at more than US$130 million, said Eleven Media.

Meanwhile, the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan has been linked with a US$350 million development of four multi-story blocks also housing offices, shops and apartments. This project is also in the Bogyoke area but is linked with the protected colonial-era railway office, said a developers’ statement.

Mitsubishi’s partners will be Yoma Strategic Holdings, Serge Pun & Associates and First Myanmar Investment.

Thais, Chinese Study Prospects for Building Wind Power Farms in Burma

Research is to be conducted in several areas of Burma to assess the viability of building wind turbine electricity generating projects, the Ministry of Electric Power said.

The feasibility studies are being made by Thai and Chinese firms, the ministry’s assistant director Aung Myo Win told the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.

Thailand’s Gunkul Engineering will survey areas in Mon, Karen and Shan states and Tenasserim Division.

The China Three Gorges Company, whose main business if focused around large hydro-dam power plants, will assess prospects in Chin and Arakan states, the Irrawaddy River valley and the greater Rangoon area.

Wind turbine systems, known as wind farms, are widely used in China and increasingly in Thailand, but they can be weather dependent, like hydroelectric projects.

Burma suffers from acute shortages of electricity, with only 25 percent of the population connected to the main power grid.

In September, the World Bank pledged an interest-free loan of US$140 million to renovate the 106-megawatt power station at Thaton in Mon State with new gas turbines.

VietJet Air to Target Myanmar Airlines for Regional Expansion Venture

Privately owned Vietnamese budget airline VietJet Air has named Myanmar Airlines as one of its targets for joint ventures in 2014, a report said.

The expanding airline has already announced plans for a venture with Thailand’s Kan Air, based in Chiang Mai. That venture is to be called Thai VietJetAir and will be based in Bangkok, aiming for more international regional flights, said the Bangkok travel and tourism newspaper TTR Weekly.

“The new airline will be based at Suvarnabhumi Airport offering flights to Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai and international services to China and points in the Mekong region, mainly Myanmar [Burma] and Laos,” the paper quoted Kan Air president Somphong Sooksanguan saying.

As well as Myanmar Airlines, the Vietnamese company is also targeting an as yet unidentified third foreign airline to partner with, TTR Weekly said, in order to broaden its regional reach.

Toshiba Mounts Sales Campaign in Burma From New Bangkok HQ

Japanese electrical equipment maker Toshiba plans to promote product sales in Burma via a base in neighboring Bangkok, reflecting the continuing infrastructure problems of operating out of Rangoon.

A new subsidiary, Toshiba Asia Pacific (Thailand), will direct sales in Burma, Cambodia and Laos, said Eleven Media, quoting the company.

Sales of equipment, especially related to electricity generation, will be directed from Bangkok even though Toshiba has a representative office in Rangoon.

Japanese companies are spearheading development of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on the edge of Rangoon and are planning to help construct several power plants, but they have repeatedly complained about infrastructure problems and legal uncertainties over land access.