Av Pia A. Gaarder
There are not many Norwegian direct investments in the Burma of the military junta. One of the few establishments belongs to the Norwegian shipping company Belships. At its web site Belships states that it has established joint-venture companies in Manila; Tianjin, China; and Myanmar (Burma).
“It is correct that we have a joint-venture company in Burma, but it exists on paper only. It has neither employees nor an office and has never been operative”, Sverre Tidemand, general manager of Belships, told Norwatch.
“Apart from 17 Burmese electricians who work on our ships, we have no active involvement in Burma”, Tidemand said.
“But why did you establish an office in Burma at all?”, Norwatch asked.
“The company was established a year ago. We have used Burmese electricians aboard our ships for many years, and they have been recruited through Singapore. Our experience with the Burmese electricians has been particularly good. There is, in addition, a lack of seamen around the world. We therefore thought we might go further and recruit more crew from Burma”, Tidemand said.
But the military regime’s brutal behaviour during the past weeks has caused Belships to let the company remain inactive. They are, in other words, not closing down but rather putting it on hold.
“In view of what has happened now, we have decided to put the company on ice. We’ll continue to use the Burmese electricians we have in our fleet. I see no reason that they should lose their livelihood”, Tidemand said.
“If the decision was made now, what has the company being doing since its establishment a year ago?”, Norwatch asked.
“Nothing at all has happened. The company has quite simply not been activated. The reason for the establishment is that we believed things were moving in the right direction in Burma, and then it could have constituted a tempting area for recruiting seamen in the future. With the situation being what it is today, we shall in any case not do any more with it.”
“What are the wages for Burmese seamen like?”
“They are at the same level as is normal internationally. They receive the same wages as we pay others. The reason we wish to recruit Burmese is our need for seamen.”
“For large investments in Burma one has enter into a joint venture with the authorities. How did you establish the company?”
“It is correct that we as foreigners are not allowed to own anything at all in Burma. Like many other places in Asia, in Burma too you have to have a well-known local person as the owner. This is also the case in the Philippines and Indonesia. The solution then is to enter into an agreement with a well-known local person. The person concerned will then own the shares on our behalf and thereafter sell them to us at the nominal rate when we are permitted to own. In such countries this is the only way to do it.”
“What kind of well-known local person does this involve?”
“I must admit that I have no detailed knowledge about this. It was carried out through our Singapore office. As far as I know, it is a man who has worked for us previously and who has nothing to with the government”, Tidemand said.
The dry goods shipping company Belships is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange and in 2006 had a turnover of NOK 51.3 million (9,5 million $)
In the middle of August 2007 the company’s five largest owners were as follows:
Sonata A/S (35.24%)
Canica AS (16.83%)
Longbow Limited (4.83%)