Burma Conglomerates Ranked for Transparency

By Moe Myint 20 September 2016

RANGOON – First Myanmar Investment (FMI), Serge Pun & Associates, and Max Myanmar ranked as Burma’s most transparent firms, according to the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business (MCRB)’s third survey of 100 companies.

Generating scores based on companies’ published information, the survey involved 35 standardized questions meant to measure organizational transparency and respect for human rights, health, safety and the environment over the last six months.

The MCRB report stated that 30 percent of those firms surveyed had no websites; among these companies, 45 percent publish little to no data relating to corporate governance.

MCRB Director Vickey Bowman told The Irrawaddy by email on Monday that it is “smart business” for conglomerates to promote themselves through disclosure.

Not all major Burmese businesses surveyed performed well, she pointed out, citing companies owned by U Chit Khine, U Htay Myint, and U Khin Shwe, respectively.

“The fact that Eden, Yuzana, and Zaykabar don’t seem to ‘get’ the importance of transparency and stakeholder engagement is a strategic business failing in the modern world and democratic Burma,” Bowman said.

Yuzana was ranked second-to-last in the survey, and the Eden Group was listed as 11th from the bottom. Zaykabar was among the companies surveyed which did not have a website.

The timing between the publication of the MCRB report and the Obama administration’s announcement on September 14 to lift economic restrictions on Burma was coincidental, said Vickey Bowman. She explained that the date for the release of the report was determined by the six-month timetable allocated for the research.

“But there is a close link of substance,” she added. “Now that the sanctions are going to be lifted on companies, the key thing that will differentiate them from one another is good corporate governance and transparency.”

U Htay Myint and U Khin Shwe are considered Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) on the US sanctions list—and U Chit Khine was, at one time, recommended for the classification.

U Zaw Zaw, who heads Max Myanmar, is on the SDN list; Serge Pun, chief executive of both FMI and Serge Pun & Associates, is not.

In a statement released on Monday, Serge Pun celebrated his companies’ high rankings in the MCRB report, describing it as an honor “to be recognized this year as Myanmar’s most transparent company.”

The Max Myanmar Group of Companies claimed their own favorable ranking was due to anti-corruption initiatives, moves toward improved occupational health and safety, and the release of confiscated lands, in a statement published on Sunday.

Yet Max Myanmar has been implicated in multiple controversies surrounding land grabs in the past. Most recently, in May, The Irrawaddy reported that the company had been accused of unfairly compensating farmers for land in Mon State used to develop a rubber plantation. MCRB cited these claims in their report.