Monday, May 11, 2009

How I took on the Burmese junta and won

The repressive Burmese junta may have to put plans for an extensive new airport in their secretive capital Naypyidaw on hold after one of Australia's largest engineering companies pulled out of the project in rather hasty fashion because I exposed their involvement in the questionable development.

Rather bizarrely, the company in question, Downer EDI, claimed that it was unaware that its wholly-owned Singapore-based consultancy arm CPG had been contracted to design the airport until I informed them of the fact last week (see the full story here).

CPG was working alongside some pretty shady characters on this project and it really doesn't reflect well on a sizable publicly-listed company such as Downer, which is a constituent of Australia's benchmark ASX 200 share index.

Downer has also been a big donor to Australia's ruling Labor party, which has spoken out strongly against the Burmese junta and last year increased the scope of sanctions against the regime and its cronies.

But the company has moved to rectify the situation pretty quickly, saying it will pull out of the airport contract as soon as it can regardless of the possible financial penalties involved.

Most companies opt for damage limitation when caught out but not many executives would put their hands up so quickly and perform such a rapid U-turn. It's either a sign of how transparent and contrite they are or how seriously they believe they have erred.

I doubt the generals or their henchmen at Asia World, the Burmese conglomerate charged with building the airport, will be too pleased to have lost their major design partner. Particularly as they have worked with CPG, which used to be the Singapore public works department before it was privatised, in the past on other projects such as the redevelopment of Yangon (Rangoon) airport.

No international company with an ounce of decency should be involved in Burmese projects such as this that only benefit the generals at the expense of their people.

But I don't believe that extensive sanctions are the best way to curb the excesses of the vile military government in Burma and to promote democracy. The only hope for the country lies in greater engagement with the outside world, not more isolation.

1 comment:

  1. May I use the Americanism "Money talks, bullshit walks". Commerce & human rights are uneasy bedfellows. What next for "Myanmar"?