Myanmar. Military-Linked UMEHL Transitions Into Public Company

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The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) announced on Thursday that, after being linked to the military for more than two decades, the conglomerate has transitioned into a public company.

According to state-run media, shares for UMEHL, which was founded in 1990 with two shareholder groups, will be consolidated into one group. This move by the board of directors and shareholders will effectively transform UMEHL from a special company, under the 1950 Special Companies Act, into a public one, under the 1914 Myanmar Companies Act.

An anonymous UMEHL official confirmed the conglomerate’s organizational restructuring but could not provide any additional details.

UMEHL has many businesses to its name, including Bandula Transportation, Myanmar Brewery Limited, Myawaddy Bank, Myawaddy Trading and, more controversially, jade mines in Kachin State.

Soe Tun, chairman of the Myanmar Automobile Dealers Association and vice president of the Myanmar Rice Federation, said he welcomed UMEHL’s transformation because it meant that it would have to follow the same rules as most other companies.

“It [UMEHL] will be more transparent and there will be equal chances for other businesses,” Soe Tun said.

Under military rule, UMEHL was free to monopolize businesses in various sectors.

“For example, it monopolized the beer and cigarette markets. … We couldn’t compete with them on a level playing field,” said a local, Rangoon-based businessman.

Zaw Lin Htut, chief executive officer of the Myanmar Payment Union, said that while UMEHL’s profits would not go toward the government’s budget, the organization will have to pay taxes according to the Public Companies Act.

“As a public company, there will be more transparency and accountability, and more responsibility, too. They’ll have to pay taxes,” Zaw Lin Htut said.

“But if the Defense Ministry is a shareholder, they [the ministry] will receive a dividend, and according to tax law, no taxes would need to be paid on this dividend,” he added.

In the past, UMEHL and its many different businesses have been accused of tax avoidance. Since Burma’s shift to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, however, they have frequently topped the annual list of corporate tax payers.