First survey of company ownership in Myanmar reveals widespread secrecy in oil and gas sector
The majority of companies recently awarded oil and gas blocks in Myanmar have failed to answer questions over who really owns them, said Global Witness as it released its survey of oil and gas company ownership in the country.
The group commended Myanmar’s Machinery & Solutions and Myanmar Petroleum E&P Co. Ltd as the first two private companies to provide full details of their ultimate owners in response to Global Witness’ review, while highlighting that the owners of many international companies and local partners remain secret.
Myanmar’s substantial oil and gas wealth is considered critical to its economic development. Widespread secrecy surrounding company ownership raises risks that revenues could be lost to the corruption that has long plagued the country’s natural resource sector. Anonymous or secret company ownership structures are routinely used across the world to hide illicit activities from public scrutiny and law enforcement.
“Anonymous companies are the global getaway cars for corrupt politicians, gangsters and tax evaders. They can allow powerful individuals to hide who they are and what they are doing – creating the risk that they could effectively award themselves oil and gas riches at knock-down prices,” said Juman Kubba, analyst at Global Witness. “There’s a better chance of revenues reaching state coffers if citizens know who stands behind the companies that have won oil and gas blocks.”
Global Witness wrote to the 47 companies which have been awarded oil and gas blocks in Myanmar in the last year inviting them to answer a series of questions about their ownership. Of the 31 international companies contacted, just 11 responded to Global Witness’ questions, in three cases only partially. The majority, including private companies such as the Netherlands’ Berlanga Holding B.V. and Luxembourg’s CAOG S.a.r.l., provided no response.
Only two of the 15 Myanmar companies partnering with internationals have chosen to disclose information. This raises concerns that even where international company ownership is in the public domain, local partners often remain hidden, thus providing a potential avenue for corruption.
“We call on all oil and gas companies operating in Myanmar to provide full details of their owners,” said Kubba. “Citizens have the right to know who has been granted access to their most valuable resources, and companies should seize the opportunity to show they have nothing to hide.”
Company secrecy threatens Myanmar’s fragile progress towards a fairer and more open management of its resource wealth. Myanmar’s Ministry of Energy has taken important early steps towards a transparent oil and gas sector by publishing standard contract terms and names and contact details of bidding companies. The Myanmar government has also been working with civil society and the private sector to apply for candidacy of the global anti-corruption scheme for the oil, gas and mining sector, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
The EITI recommends publication of company ownership, giving those setting the rules for Myanmar’s scheme the opportunity to require companies engaged in the extractive industries to disclose their owners. Global Witness is calling for Myanmar’s EITI process to require oil and gas companies to open their true owners up to public scrutiny, and for the World Bank and other international donors backing the scheme to support such disclosure.
The global push towards publishing the names of those who actually own and control companies is gathering momentum. Global Witness co-founder Charmian Gooch recently used her 2014 TED Prize wish to launch a global campaign to end the use of anonymous companies. The UK government has committed to a public registry of the owners of UK-listed companies, and the EU parliament has voted in favour of the same. And, through the EITI, a host of countries are piloting company ownership disclosure schemes for the oil, gas and mining industries.
The Myanmar government has a golden opportunity to take a regional lead on this critical issue, and show that it is willing to live up to its promises of reform and real openness.
For a full briefing on the survey results, see here. An infographic showing what is known about the ownership of specific blocks is available here, together with the questions put to companies on their ownership and the full company responses provided to Global Witness.
16 July 2014 update
Since the release of the results of Global Witness’ company ownership survey on 26 June 2014, a further five companies, including two private companies, have revealed details of their ultimate owners to Global Witness. Full details of these additional responses are available at www.globalwitness.org/myanmaroilandgas/.
Correction to press release dated 26 June 2014:
The press release dated 26 June 2014 stated that Global Witness had contacted 47 companies, 31 international and 16 local companies. In fact, of the 47 companies involved in the survey, 32 are international companies and 15 are Myanmar companies.
On the international side, BG Group plc has provided a single response to Global Witness in respect of its interest in oil and gas blocks A-4, A-7, AD-2 and AD-5. The Ministry of Energy’s offshore award announcement dated 26 March 2014 records these interests in the names of two separate companies (BG Asia Pacific Pte Limited and BG Exploration and Production Myanmar Limited). For consistency with the Ministry of Energy’s published lists of licence holders we have counted the BG interests as two separate entities. We have recorded BG’s reply to the survey as one response rather than two, however.
- Juman Kubba on [email protected]ess.org or +44 (0)7720 972 394
- Oliver Courtney on [email protected] or +44 (0)7912 517 147
- Mike Davis on [email protected] or +855 (0)7797 5002
Notes to editors:
- Myanmar has abundant offshore gas (7.8 trillion cubic feet in proven reserves) andsignificant reserves of oil (50 million barrels in proven reserves), both on and offshore, some of which is already being exploited. In 2010, the value of natural gas exports was approximately US$2.91 billion, which was equivalent to 32.8% of total exports. In the first nine months of 2011, natural gas exports were worth approximately US$2.6 billion.
- Myanmar announced the award of 16 onshore oil and gas blocks in October 2013, and a further 20 offshore blocks (10 shallow water and 10 deep water), in March 2014. International companies were required to partner with Myanmar companies for all onshore and offshore shallow water blocks, but not for the deep water blocks. Winning international companies include the US’ Chevron and ConocoPhillips, France’s Total, India’s ONGC, the UK’s BG, British Virgin Islands-registered MPRL, Malaysia’s Petronas and Thailand’s PTTEP.
- Myanmar’s Ministry of Energy has committed to managing the country’s energy sector transparently and in line with international best practices, and has taken steps such as publishing standard terms and conditions of production sharing agreements for both the offshore and the onshore blocks.
- Myanmar’s application to join the transparency standard, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI),will be considered at the next EITI international board meeting on 1 and 2 July 2014.
- The EITI recommends that companies which bid for, operate and invest in extractive industry assets publish the identities of ultimate beneficial owners. There is, however, an exemption for companies which are publicly listed or wholly owned by publicly listed companies.
- Countries which are already engaged in the EITI and which are participating in the beneficial ownership pilot are Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, the Kyrgyz Republic, Iraq, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago and Zambia. The United Kingdom is currently preparing its application to join the EITI scheme, but it has already committed to publishing beneficial ownership information as part of its EITI process.
- Global Witness has been engaged in the EITI since the scheme was established in 2003. Global Witness currently sits as an alternate member of the international EITI board, and forms part of the EITI civil society constituency at the global level.
 BP, ‘BP Statistical Review of World Energy’, June 2013, http://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/pdf/statistical-review/statistical_review_of_world_energy_2013.pdf.
 US Energy Information Administration, ‘International Energy Statistics’, May 2014, http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=5&pid=57&aid=6&cid=r7,&syid=2010&eyid=2014&unit=BB.
 Yolanda Fong-Sam, 'The Mineral Industry of Burma', USGS 2010 Minerals Yearbook, http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/country/2010/myb3-2010-bm.pdf.
 Yolanda Fong-Sam, 'The Mineral Industry of Burma', USGS 2011 Minerals Yearbook, http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/country/2011/myb3-2011-bm.pdf.
 US Embassy, Rangoon, ‘Joint Statement on Good Governance and Transparency in the Energy Sector’, 20 May 2013, https://www.facebook.com/notes/us-embassy-rangoon/burma-us-statement-on-good-governance-in-energy-sector/466193080129183.
 Full details of the current members of the EITI international board are available at http://eiti.org/files/EITI-Board-members-2013-2015-16.pdf.