By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Myanmar’s two military holding companies and several privately-held firms have once again performed poorly on a survey of business transparency, with some of the report’s worst performers due for imminent removal from the United States Treasury sanctions list.
The third annual Transparency in Myanmar Enterprises report, published by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business on Friday, saw little change at the bottom of the table of the country’s top 100 corporate taxpayers.
The survey –based on the online publication of a range of criteria, from organisational transparency to grievance mechanisms for human rights complaints – found improvement among companies with an established record of commitment to public disclosure.
By contrast, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation, two vast military-owned conglomerates, were lacking in any published anti-corruption commitments or social and environmental policies.
Yuzana Group, a firm dogged by numerous land seizure complaints owned by U Htay Myint, scored a perfect zero on the survey. Zaykabar Co., owned by former Amoytha Hluttaw MP U Khin Shwe, was one of 34 companies that did not have a website and could not be assessed for transparency.
All four entities are expected to be off the US Treasury list of Specially Designated Nationals by the end of the month, after President Barack Obama announced plans on Wednesday to dismantle remaining executive sanctions against Myanmar.
MCRB director Ms. Vicky Bowman said she believed that the prospect of foreign investment in the wake of the announcement would provide an additional incentive for lagging firms to “significantly raise their game.”
“Wednesday’s decision… will in a way increase the business case for being transparent, because these companies are still going to have to differentiate themselves when looking for partners,” Bowman said. “Certainly the foreign companies that we talk to are looking at them to have strong anti-corruption policies to be clear on what their business is and to be compliant with the law.”
Without a solid and immediate commitment to improving transparency and corporate governance, Bowman added, “companies like Zaykabar and Yuzana are going to get left well behind.”
Topping this year’s survey was First Myanmar Investment, the debut listing on the Yangon Stock Exchange headed by Serge Pun, followed by his privately held company Serge Pun and Associates.
As with previous surveys, Max Myanmar Group, another conglomerate soon to be removed from the US sanctions list, finished in the top three places on the report.
While the MCRB report assesses published grievance mechanisms and anti-corruption commitments, it is not able to independently verify whether these commitments are put into practice.
Bowman said the MCRB had recommended to the government that coming changes to investment laws include rules requiring foreign investors to publish regular reports on their business activities.
Similar rules requiring US investors to conform with State Department rules on responsible investment will be axed when sanctions are lifted this month.
Company disclosure requirements are expected to be significantly raised when revisions to the antiquated 1914 Companies Act are tabled to parliament in the coming months.