Small business owner in Tenasserim Region loses out to privatization

September 25, 2012

HURFOM: On July 11, 1995, the State Law and Order Restoration Council gave the owner of the Golden Point Hotel & Trading Co Ltd. permission to open his first petrol station in Kaw Taung. He started the business in 1998, but just one year later, on February 18, 1999, the Ministry of Energy expropriated the station, asserting that petrol companies in Burma could not be privately owned. More than a decade later, the country embarked on a process of reform that led owner U Sit Kyan to anticipate finally reclaiming his business, until, three weeks ago, he learned that the station was granted to Yuzana Co. Ltd, one of the largest companies in Burma.

The local entrepreneur’s early attempts to regain control of his petrol station also proved unsuccessful. In 2010, there was a shift towards privatization in Burma, also known as Myanmar, and a number of state-owned enterprises were sold at auction. U Sit Kyan contacted the Ministry of Energy two times that year to inquire about retrieving his petrol company, but did not receive a response. Last year, President Thein Sein announced the establishment of a new Privatization Commission to guide the rise in privatizing businesses, again renewing U Sit Kyan’s hope that policy changes would compliment his efforts.

Now, with the knowledge that the petrol station was awarded to a major conglomerate, U Sit Kyan awaits a reply to the letter he sent President Thein Sein on September 19 repeating his request that the company be returned. A member of the Democratic Party (Myanmar) who helped U Sit Kyan prepare the letter said, “I think the authorities should give the company back to the rightful owner because he spent millions of Kyat [to start] his company. If we look at the law, it is not fair to give permission to another company to run it. The authorities do not respect their own laws. They should reconsider this company’s claim and reach a fair conclusion.”

For U Sit Kyan, the government’s decision to assign ownership of the petrol station to the Yuzana Company further aggravated his grievances. Founded in 1994, Yuzana Co. Ltd has enterprises ranging from fisheries, rubber and palm oil production, construction, and tourism, and has frequently grabbed headlines in recent years due to lawsuits over land confiscation in Kachin State. In 2010, the Kachin Development Networking Group published its report, “Tyrants, tycoons, and tigers: Yuzana Company Ravages Burma’s Hugawng Valley,” demonstrating widespread environmental and social impacts caused by the company’s seizure of over 200,000 acres of local farmland starting in 2006. Yuzana’s founder and chairman, real estate tycoon U Htay Myint, has earned equivalent renown for his close ties to the former military junta and a current seat in lower parliament for the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Both he and his company appear on financial sanctions lists in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.

U Sit Kyan said, “I want my company back, but the authorities gave it to another businessman. That is not fair to me; they should give it to the legitimate owner. [The Ministry of Energy] took my company 12 years ago and I never received any compensation, so I sent a letter to our president seeking justice for my company. Now that the policies have changed, I went to Nay Pyi Daw and applied for my business to be returned, but instead of giving it back to me, they handed it over to another company. I don’t understand. The Yuzana Company is very rich and even though they don’t own any other petrol businesses, they have enough money without it.”

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