YANGON: Myanmar’s outgoing government granted the country’s fourth telecom license to a joint venture owned by a Vietnamese operator and a local consortium that includes the military, state media reported Saturday.
The deal comes days before Myanmar’s army-backed government is scheduled to cede power to a civilian administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), crowning her party’s long struggle against harsh junta rule.
Hanoi-based Viettel, run by the Vietnamese military, will own a 49 percent stake in the venture, with the rest going to 11 local firms and a company owned by the defense ministry, according to the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar.
“To give the public more choices in telecommunications and to increase the funds of the country, we carefully scrutinised and selected the fourth telecom operator of the country,” the paper quoted presidential advisor Saw Oo as saying.
Viettel operates in eight markets spanning Asia, Latin America and Africa, according to its website. The company could not be reached for comment.
Six years back under junta rule in Myanmar, strict censorship laws and exorbitant SIM cards sold by a state monopoly meant web access and mobile phones were a luxury few could afford.
But the country is now awash with smart phones and home to a lively web culture after censorship was eased and two foreign firms, Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo, were granted telecom licenses and began selling cheap phone cards in 2014.
The move was part of a broader lineup of political and economic reforms steered by a quasi-civilian government that ended outright military rule 2011 and loosened the army’s grip on political rights, paving the way for November elections that saw Suu Kyi’s party storm into power.
But Myanmar’s military remains a mighty force in the impoverished country, with army-linked tycoons still pulling the purse strings in many lucrative industries, despite retaining spots on the United States economic sanctions list.
The military is also reserved a block of seats in parliament and controls three significant ministries.
Its stake in the telecoms deal is also likely to prove profitable and fuel existing concern that the military is racing to secure its financial clout ahead of the power hand-off to Suu Kyi’s government slated for the end of March. AFP