The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (June 28, 2014)

By William Boot 28 June 2014

Foreign Banks Will Be Licensed to Operate in Burma ‘From September’

A number of foreign banks will be permitted to open limited banking services in Burma from September, a report said, quoting Central Bank Deputy Governor Set Aung.

Licenses will be issued to between five and 10 foreign banks out of the dozens that have already opened representative offices in the country.

A selection committee to pick the banks will be made up of the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank, the Attorney General’s Office, a German advisory team and representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, reported Eleven Media, quoting Set Aung.

Earlier this month, the IMF’s chief representative in Burma, Matt Davies, said the Burmese government would need to firmly control bank licenses when it gives the final go-ahead.

More than 40 foreign banks have representative offices in Burma, but presently they can only provide consultation and advisory services.

Upmarket Property Development Lures More Foreign Money to Rangoon

Singapore-based Marga One Investment will lead a US$300 million luxury property development in Rangoon, featuring a five-star hotel, apartments, shops and offices, reports said.

Marga One has teamed up with Burmese property firm Thu Kha Yadanar to form the joint venture Marga Landmark, the Marga Group said on its website.

Marga One is linked to Marga Group, an international finance business headed by Hong Kong businessman Stephen Suen.

Work on the luxury development on a plot on Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda Road leased from the government is scheduled to begin in September and be completed by 2019, Mizzima magazine reported.

Marga Landmark plans more property development in Burma but will not be involved in low-cost housing, Mizzima quoted Suen as saying. Instead, the joint venture will allocate 2 percent of annual profits to Rangoon authorities for welfare work, including the construction of schools, he said.

Thai Coup Leaders Oppose Visa-Free Overland Travel From Burma

The National Council for Peace and Order formed by the leaders of Thailand’s military coup last month is blocking completely visa-free travel with Burma, a travel industry magazine reported.

Thailand is one of four countries out of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) with which Burma has yet to achieve open travel agreements. Next year sees the beginning of the Asean Economic Community, a European Union-style open trading market that will also supposedly allow for unfettered travel among member states.

“[Burma] has requested visa exemption [with Thailand] whatever the mode of transport, but Bangkok opposed blanket permission for overland travelers fearing it would encourage migration for work purposes,” said TTR Weekly.

“[Thailand] counter-proposed that visa exemption be limited to air travelers,” it said, quoting Thailand’s deputy chief of mission at the country’s embassy in Rangoon, Chainarong Keratiyutwong.

“As long as Thailand insists that visa-free exemption is linked to airline travel, it will favor airlines operating between the Thai capital and cities in [Burma]. The same inconvenience applies to [Burmese] citizens planning to travel to Thailand for leisure or business,” said TTR Weekly.

Burma has already signed via-free agreements with Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei, but not with Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand.

Bids Invited for Gas-Fueled Electricity Plant at Kyaukphyu in Arakan State

The Ministry of Electric Power has invited bids to supply a temporary 50 megawatt gas-fueled power plant for Kyaukphyu district on the Arakan State coast.

A power supply is urgently needed as more businesses move into the district in preparation for a special economic zone.

The government has been resorting to mobile, temporary electricity generating plants as a quick-fix solution to acute power shortages in areas of development.

Few details of the terms of the tender have been published, but President Thein Sein told the legislative assembly several months ago that more than US$50 million has been made available to fund a power plant at Kyaukphyu. The money will come from a loan provided by the Export-Import Bank of China, according to the website

It is expected that gas for the power plant will be provided by the Shwe field in the Bay of Bengal. A pipeline from the field comes ashore at Kyaukphyu. Most of the field’s gas has been bought by the China National Petroleum Corporation to be piped through Burma into China.

Government Ministry Budgets to ‘Face Checks’ After Religion Minister’s Dismissal

Spending by government ministries is to be subject to checks by a special parliamentary committee following the dismissal of Minister of Religious Affairs Hsan Hsint over allegations of corruption.

The budgets of each Naypyidaw ministry will be scrutinized, Eleven Media reported, citing Khaing Maung Yi, a member of the Sports, Culture and Public Relations Development Committee.

“The committee is duty-bound to check the budgets of government ministries, including the Information Ministry. The previous years’ budgets will be rechecked at a time when the relevant budget is under scrutiny,” Eleven Media quoted Khaing Maung Yi saying.

Hsan Hsint was accused of spending 10 million kyat (US$10,000) of ministry funds on “family interests,” various media reports have said.

Ministry budget scrutiny comes as an international NGO, Global Witness, published a report this week alleging that only a few of the foreign and domestic Burmese firms that have won offshore oil and gas exploration licenses have voluntarily disclosed details of their ownership.

“The international watchdog group said that out of 47 companies that have gained license interests who were contacted with a request for information on ownership, only 13 provided feedback, and many of these gave only partial responses,” the Western industry magazine Upstream reported.

“Global Witness stated that only two of the 16 local companies required to partner international players on onshore and shallow-water tracts disclosed their ownership information.”