Myanmar vows new openness for oil industry

March 04, 2013 - 1:42:37 pm
YANGON: Myanmar pledged a new era of transparency Monday in its oil and gas industry, as it courts foreign investors after decades of secretive rule by a junta accused of plundering natural resources.

Speaking at a conference attended by several major foreign oil firms in Yangon, energy ministry officials said international standards would be upheld in auctions for the rights to lucrative energy reserves.

"Transparency is the most important word," said the ministry's assistant director Aung Kyaw Htoo.

"That's why the government initiated the EITI process," he added, referring to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international scheme to ensure ordinary people share the rewards of a country's natural bounty.

As Western powers roll back sanctions against Myanmar in response to political reforms, world energy giants are hungrily eyeing the potentially oil-and-gas-rich nation tucked between fast-growing China and India.

But there are fears the country's energy bounty could again fall prey to the kind of corruption that characterised decades of army rule, which ended in 2011.

To meet the EITI's requirements, Myanmar must show its approach to natural resources will bring wider development to its people and be carried out sustainably and with all payments related to contracts published for scrutiny.

The reformist regime also plans greater openness in other sectors such as forestry, industry and mining, Aung Kyaw Htoo said at the conference, which was attended by energy companies including event sponsors Total and Chevron.

The only two Western groups with a long-term presence in Myanmar, Total and Chevron entered before sanctions were imposed and then stood accused of serving the interests of the junta and closing their eyes to forced labour.

Foreign interest in the sector has been heightened by Myanmar's invitation in January for tenders for 18 onshore oil blocks, with a further 50 or so offshore blocks expected to be opened to offers in around April.

In opening remarks to the two-day conference in Yangon, Minister of Energy Than Htay vowed to ensure "that the people will directly benefit from the efficient management of our natural resources". (AFP)