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Is it a tender when the result is fixed?

Originally appeared in Myanmar Times

June 3, 2015

By  Sithu Aung Myint
An unusual urgent proposal was submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on May 22. Its object was to suspend an invitation to tender.

In what might or might not be a similar case, in 2013 another proposal was submitted to suspend a tender invitation for telecommunications operators just as the government was about to grant tenders, on the grounds that losses could be incurred by Myanmar citizens who owned businesses.

At that time, the process was so far advanced, and the appointment of internationally recognised consultant companies carried out with such transparency, that the cabinet decided it could not suspend the process. Telenor and Ooredoo duly won the tenders concerned and are now going about their business.

To come back to the May 22 proposal: Does it have the same intent as the 2013 proposal? And will it be more successful?

This time around, the proposal to suspend the tender process was submitted by U Aung Thein Linn, MP for South Okkalapa, Yangon Region. He proposed “that the Union government suspend the tender invitation so as to be able to reconsider and decide again whether the tender invitation to transfer 90 acres of land in Mayangone township’s Yayku broadcasting station compound to the private sector outright is appropriate or not”.

In this connection, hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann explained that the urgent proposal did not constitute interference in the processes of government, and hluttaw agreed to receive it under article 66(a) of its rules of procedure.

According to U Aung Thein Linn, he submitted the proposal because the amount of money expected to be involved is so large as to suggest that the tender rules had been written with the intention of allowing only one or two selected business persons to bid. The effective exclusion of the great majority of private companies, he said, would undermine public trust in the government.

The rules governing the tender appear to bear him out. The tender invitation states that the plot known as the Yayku Broadcasting Station compound owned by the Ministry of Information in Mayangone township is about 120 acres in extent, of which 15 acres will be set aside for the construction of two broadcasting buildings and three studios. Another 15 acres must be set aside for housing for 300 staff of the Ministry of Information, at the expense of the tender winner, who would own outright the remaining 90 acres.

The tender winner also needs to provide the information ministry with 150 acres of land in an area acceptable to the ministry within Yangon Region, as well as building a new broadcasting station to replace the old one.

So far, so inclusive – for those who have the money. But now the conditions start to get a bit more restrictive.

Regulation number 1 says, “Tender applicants shall be Myanmar national-owned companies that have been running a media business for at least the past three years, preferably including television broadcasting experience.”

Regulations 2 and 3 stipulate that tender competitors must be sufficiently familiar with broadcasting to ensure that the existing station can move seamlessly to its new home without suspending operations.

In the light of these rules, it is pretty clear that there are only two qualified companies: Shwe Than Lwin’s Skynet and Forever Group’s MRTV 4.

President U Thein Sein’s government does not allow media freedom. It doesn’t allow the private sector into radio and television broadcasting, on the pretext that the relevant law has yet to be enacted. But the former military government did grant television broadcasting permits to Forever Group and Shwe Than Lwin, and some cronies are allowed to do radio broadcasting. The Ministry of Information has handed out privileges to those two media companies, as well as giving them under the counter the right to use its own stations, studios and land, and the related tax relief. Setting tender regulations requiring qualities that only these two companies possess is inappropriate at what should be a time of increasing transparency.

Regulation 9 says the tender winner can’t do what it wants on the 90 acres of land it will acquire. It must build a broadcasting complex, TV and radio stations, a satellite headed gateway, two towers, a studio complex, a 15,000-seat weather-proof theatre, a 50,000-seat open-air theatre, a multimedia university and other related buildings, all at its own expense. No company other than Skynet and Forever Group can do this.

So to answer my own question, this proposal to suspend the invitation to tender is not the same as the proposal to block the invitation to international companies to enter the mobile phone operating business. The Yayku tender invitation resembles the Yangon New Town plan that the Yangon Region government tried to implement secretly last year that is, it’s a huge project requiring vast sums of money that nobody is told about in order to ensure that the contracts go to the right people.

In pursuing the invitation to tender as currently written, the Ministry of Information is acting out a pre-rehearsed drama, not inviting genuine competition. It wants its own heroes to win.

I hope this tender will be delayed, as U Aung Thein Lin proposed, and that in the meantime provision is added for an investigation in the event of any suspicion of corruption or partiality.

While we’re at it, the government should also draw up strict guidelines governing the appearance of impartiality and excluding any risk that tender invitations will be drawn up with the intention of selecting only companies controlled by someone’s friends.


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