Myanmar: fossil fuel giants cut payments to junta but gas still flows

Total and Chevron halt some payments to military in wake of coup but advocacy groups say more needs to be done

Advocacy groups have called on French fossil fuel giant Total and US company Chevron to further cut ties with Myanmar’s military, after announcing they would suspend dividend payments to the junta from a large gas project in the wake of February’s coup.

“Total condemns the violence and human rights abuses occurring in Myanmar and reaffirms that it will comply with any decision that may be taken by the relevant international and national authorities, including applicable sanctions issued by the EU or the US authorities,” the company said in a statement.

But advocacy groups said 90% of the money the junta makes from the Yadana gasfield joint venture with Total and Chevron – as well as the gas itself – continues to flow.

Since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, more than 5,400 people have been arrested, according to monitoring group AAPP Burma, with the majority still in detention, often in unknown locations. At least 824 people have been killed by the junta, including dozens of children, sparking global outcry and calls for international companies to cut their business ties with the military.

Total told a shareholder meeting this month that Moattama Gas Transportation Company Limited (MGTC) – a joint venture that pipes gas from the Yadana field in the Andaman sea to Myanmar – had decided to stop making dividend payments to the junta.

The resolution was put forward by Total, which owns 31.24% of MGTC, and Chevron, which owns 28.26% of MGTC – shareholdings that give the two multinationals a controlling stake.

The rest of MGTC is owned by PTTEP, which is controlled by the Thai state (25.5%) and Myanmar government company Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (15%).

However, advocacy group Justice for Myanmar pointed out oil was still flowing through the pipeline and the vast majority of payments to the junta have not been affected.

The junta, which seized power on 1 February, still earns the state’s share of gas revenue, royalties and cost recovery from the Yadana gas field operation and corporate income tax from the MGTC.

MGTC’s suspension of dividends accounts for a tiny proportion of the estimated US$1.5bn Myanmar earns annual from offshore oil and gas projects.

Spokesperson for Justice For Myanmar Yadanar Maung said the decision to suspend dividend payments would curb one source of revenue for the illegitimate military government in Myanmar.

“Total and Chevron have made enormous profits in Myanmar in the past while simultaneously bolstering brutal military regimes … [they] have made the right choice by finally acknowledging that MOGE [Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise] is under the control of the military and finances the junta’s crimes.”

Anti-corruption group Publish What You Pay Australia said Total and Chevron’s decision to stop dividends was “a positive first step in supporting the people of Myanmar and will begin to limit the murderous Myanmar military regime’s access to vital foreign currency”.

“We urge them to stop the other 90% of payments flowing to the military from the pipeline,” the group’s director, Clancy Moore, said.

He said that in the 2017-18 financial year, MGTC paid $141m to MOGE in taxes and dividends, made up of $41m in dividends and $100m in taxes.

“Total and Chevron must stop financing the military generals who have blood on their hands and put payments into escrow accounts,” he said.

Chevron said it was aware of calls to shut off the gas and put all payments due to MOGE into an escrow account instead of paying the regime.

“Any actions should be carefully considered to ensure the people of Myanmar are not further disadvantaged by unintended and unpredictable consequences of well-intentioned decisions,” it said in a statement.

“Gas produced by the Yadana project is used to supply electricity for approximately half the population of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and also for people in Thailand.

“Effectively turning off the power to half of Yangon’s homes, schools and hospitals – in the middle of a state of emergency and a pandemic – risks creating even more hardship.”

In its statement, Total did not address the other payments made to the junta. “Total continues to act as a responsible operator of the Yadana field, maintaining the production of gas in accordance with applicable laws, so as not to disrupt the electricity supply that is vital to the local populations of Myanmar and Thailand,” it said.


Ben Butler and Ben Doherty

The GuardianTramp

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