Burma Business Roundup (Saturday, April 20)

By William Boot 20 April 2013

MOGE Nudged toward Openness by Australian Lawyers

Australian government lawyers are helping Burma to reform Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise in preparation for the country to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

The state oil and gas company was strongly criticized by Western governments and some major international oil firms last year for its continued involvement in Burma’s oil and gas industry despite a tainted history of close links with the former military regime.

“EITI sets stringent requirements for financial transparency, environmental standards and corporate governance,” wrote the London Financial Times.

The Burmese government’s eagerness to join EITI comes as the country prepares to open up huge tracts of the Bay of Bengal for oil and gas exploration.

Foreign companies are being invited to bid for 30 licenses to operate in Burmese waters of the bay, with a deadline of mid-June to make offers for the blocks.

Exploration of Burmese territorial waters, estimated to hold large reserves of natural gas, will require investment of tens of millions of dollars.

“[President] Thein Sein has also made good on threats to crack down on corruption, including on what many executives say was the endemic practice of accepting or soliciting kickbacks and bribes to award contracts,” the Financial Times reported on Monday.

The EITI’s implementing agency is based in Norway.

Suu Kyi Seeks More Investment from Japan

Japanese industry and the government in Tokyo are both being urged to provide more investment help for Burma’s development.

The appeal was made by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during her weeklong visit to Japan, which ended on Friday.

Japan is already among the leading countries pouring money and aid into Burma, including its agreement to cancel debts owed by the former military rulers totalling some US $3.6 billion.

During her visit, Suu Kyi asked for help in particular with agricultural irrigation, road construction, investment in delivering more electricity and aid for health services, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported from Tokyo.

Japanese industry’s biggest investment commitment to date is for the Special Economic Zone planned at Thilawa on the edge of Rangoon.

At the end of her visit to Japan on Friday, Suu Kyi met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who promised to “keep providing government official development assistance to build social infrastructure in [Burma] and help promote private-sector investment,” an official Japanese government statement said.

Protesters Accuse Chinese Oil Firm of Short-Changing, Polluting Fisheries

Chinese investment in Burma has faced more public complaints as hundreds of people defied a ban to protest on Thursday outside the local offices of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) on the coast at Kyaukphyu.

The protesters, who were denied a permit for a mass rally in December, allege that state-owned CNPC and its partners, including Burma’s own Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, have not paid them in full the promised compensation for lands expropriated for the project, Radio Free Asia reported.

More than 160 hectares in the Kyaukphyu district of Arakan State have been set aside for construction of a natural gas terminal and pipelines to pump the gas and also transhipped crude oil through Burma to China’s neighboring Yunnan Province.

The protesters allege that they have received only half of the promised land compensation and that terminal development work has polluted fishing areas, according to RFA, which is funded by the US government.

“We protested today because we want the world see that the project is not making the lives of local residents better, it has only made things worse,” the radio quoted one protester as saying.

With CNPC claiming to have paid the agreed compensation in full, the protesters said they suspected the money had gone elsewhere, RFA reported.

Singapore Upgrades Business Presence in Burma to ‘Suss Out’ Ventures

Singapore has further strengthened its business interests in Burma with the opening in Rangoon of an office of the government agency International Enterprise Singapore (IES).

The agency has already sponsored numerous trade group visits to Burma in the past year but said it could now improve its everyday liaisons between the two countries by having a permanent representative in Rangoon.

Singapore’s minister for national development, Khaw Boon Wan, said there was “great potential for partnerships” in infrastructure development, logistics, manufacturing and trade.

“We encourage Singaporean companies to suss out these opportunities and turn them to profitable ventures, and to do so in a way that can bring long-term benefits to [Burma] and the local communities,” he said.

Failed Spitfire Hunt in Burma Goes on Show in London

The British electronic gaming company that sponsored the unsuccessful search for “missing” World War II Spitfire planes in Burma will make some business out of its investment after all.

The firm, Wargaming, will stage a show in England in June that will detail the investigation into claims that crates of unused Spitfires were buried in Burma.

Wargaming financed a search by a team of archaeologists, scientists and historians at two sites in Burma earlier this year, without success.

“Although there will not be a newly discovered squadron of vintage aircraft gracing the skies, the Wargaming team can demonstrate the fascinating genesis and evolution of a wartime legend,” the firm said on Monday.

Wargaming’s show will be presented at the Royal Air Force Museum London, and a new online game may emerge from the failed, muddy search at Rangoon’s Mingaladon Township.