According to the Independent the Burmese junta has earned almost $5bn from a controversial gas pipeline operated by the French oil giant Total. Unsurprisingly the junta has not chosen to invest this money in the nation’s infrastructure, instead depositing almost all the money in bank accounts in Singapore.
A report published today by Earth Rights International (ERI) say that Total says that the windfall from the Yadana pipeline, operated by Total and two other partners, has been so huge that it has done much to insulate the country's military rulers from the impact of international sanctions imposed over its human rights abuses. While their people suffer some of the worst standards of living in Asia, with miserable state investment in health, education, infrastructure and everything else that affects the lives of ordinary people, the self-perpetuating military elite has grown obscenely wealthy.
The pipeline in eastern Burma, which carries gas from rich fields in the Andaman Sea through Burma and into Thailand, has long been controversial. Campaigners have regularly claimed that the authorities have used forced labour in the project, security for which is provided by the Burmese armed forces. Last month, Total rejected claims that forced labour was still being used.
In the report, Total Impact, which has taken two years to research, ERI says the junta, headed by General Than Shwe, manages to avoid including almost all its dollar gas revenues in the national budget by using an artificially low exchange rate. This way it calculates its revenue as just 6 kyat to the dollar when the real rate is closer to 1,000. According to a confidential IMF report obtained by ERI, the natural gas revenue "contributed less than 1 per cent of total budget revenue in 2007/08, but would have contributed about 57 per cent if valued at the market exchange rate". The report says that at these rates, the regime has listed just $29m of its earnings while around $4.8bn is unaccounted for.
"The military elite are hiding billions of dollars of the people's revenue in Singapore while the country needlessly suffers under the lowest social spending in Asia," said ERI's Matthew Smith, the report's main author. "The revenue from this pipeline is the regime's lifeline and a critical leverage point that the international community could use to support the people of Burma."
The apparent disregard for its people is a charge that has long been levelled at the Burmese junta, which calls itself the State Peace and Development Council. The group Burma Campaign UK has estimated the regime's spending on health services is the lowest in the world – just 50 pence per person a year – while it spends up to half its budget on the military.
The Burmese Embassy in London has failed to respond to questions about the report's allegations. A spokeswoman for Total said it was unable to respond comprehensively to the claims made by ERI as it had not seen the document. Asked about its earning in Burma, the spokeswoman said: "We do not usually comment on our earnings per country. Nevertheless our amount in Myanmar represents 0.7 per cent of the group's results." In 2008, the group's income was €13.9bn (around $20bn), suggesting Total annually earns $140m from Burma and its controversial pipeline.
Sadly not a word of this item surprises me in the very least. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t anger me though. But then what would you expect when a brutal regime and amoral capitalists get into bed. It’s always “Fuck the people, let’s make profit” Perhaps the not-wife is right and the asteroid that wipes out humanity can’t come fast enough.