Ex-Norway Ambassador to Burma Becomes Telenor Executive

By Saw Yan Naing 21 May 2014

Katja Nordgaard, Norway’s ambassador to Burma from 2010 to 2013, has been appointed as Executive Vice President at Telenor Group, a Norwegian firm that was awarded a license to build a telecom network in Burma last year.

During her tenure as ambassador, Nordgaard oversaw the normalization of relations with Burma’s reformist government and helped secure deals between the government and Norwegian firms, including for the company that that she will now be joining.

Telenor said in a press release Friday that Nordgaard, who currently holds the position of Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia, will join the multinational company in August this year as head of the firm’s Corporate Affairs unit. Here she will “maximize the existing capabilities of these essential areas, and to further strengthen our communication and interaction with key stakeholders, including governments and the public.”

She is one of three new executive vice presidents that Telenor appointed last week. Nordgaard, 52, has a Master in Business Administration from the Norwegian School of Business and Administration and started working for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1988, according to the Telenor press release.

In July last year, Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo won a hotly contested bidding process for foreign firms to develop networks in Burma. The license allows foreign companies to operate mobile phone services and obliges them to develop the telecommunications infrastructure in Burma.

After decades of isolation under the former military regime, Burma’s telecom market remains undeveloped and the country, with a sizable population of around 55 million people, is considered the last frontier in the telecom industry in Asia.

Telenor aims to provide network coverage to 90 percent of the population within five years. It has paid US$500 million for its 15-year license and expects to break even in three years.

In her role as ambassador to Burma, Nordgaard arranged meetings between Norwegian business delegations and Burmese government officials and ruling party lawmakers in Naypyidaw.

In February 2012, Burmese government mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar reported that Nordgaard accompanied a business delegation comprising executives of Telenor and Statoil, the Norwegian oil and gas company, during a meeting with Hla Myint Oo, chairman of the Lower House International Relations Committee, and several other MPs.

“During the meeting, Mrs Katja Christina Nordgaard discussed matters related to opportunities for Norwegian businesses to invest in the private sector in Myanmar,” the paper said, adding that Hla Myint Oo told the Norwegians that lawmakers would formulate laws to facilitate foreign investment.

Telenor and Statoil have since landed important investment deals with Burma. Last year, Statoil received a license to explore one of Burma’s most promising offshore oil and gas blocks.

Norway was long a strong supporter of Burma’s democratic opposition and the ethnic refugees stranded on the Thai-Burma border. After Burma began a democratic transition in 2011 under the nominally civilian government of Thein Sein, a general handpicked by former junta leader Than Shwe, Oslo quickly reengaged with the country and began to support Norwegian business deals in Burma.

In January 2012, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, paid a two-day official visit to Burma. Oslo subsequently indicated it would no longer urge Norwegian companies to refrain from trade and investment in Burma.