Covert interviews with ten Yadana gas field workers suggest they want French oil giant, Total to prevent the military regime from receiving the government’s share of gas revenue.
And the ten Yadana workers interviewed all would prefer Total to block the payment of huge sums to the brutal junta even if it means depriving their families of electricity.
Their stance on natural gas revenue going to the military directly challenges recent statements made by Total’s chief executive Patrick Pouyanné.
Addressing what is one of Myanmar most important economic assets and a jewel in Total’s crown, Pouyanné last month wrote in French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that production at Yadana should continue in order to protect employees who might otherwise risk repercussions from the military junta.
“We would be putting our employees in terrible danger,” Pouyanné wrote.
He argued production should be maintained as some of the gas is used to generate electricity in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon.
Total’s boss also said the company had considered placing payments on taxes owed to the state in Myanmar in an escrow or third party account, as advocated by many opposing the coup. But he said this could put local managers at odds with the law.
But ten workers from Total and its subcontractors, interviewed covertly inside Myanmar by a local civil society group, all said that revenue payments to the generals should be stopped and the safety of workers should not be used as a justification for continuing the payments.
“I think [what Total says] is just an excuse. The killings and arrests [across Myanmar] happen every day anyway,” one worker said.
Total operates the Yadana project, employing about three hundred staff as well as contractors, and owns 31.24 per cent of it. The other shareholders are Chevron of the US, Thailand’s PTT and Myanmar’s state oil company.
The French company has reported that in 2020 it paid US$37.3 million in taxes in Myanmar plus another US$138.5 million which was the government’s share of gas export sales – money that is now in the hands of the military.
Yadana is also a money spinner for Total, whose Myanmar subsidiary reported profits before tax of €75.7 million (US$85 million) in 2019.
The French oil major would also have made an additional US$108 million in dividends in the year to March 2019 from the pipeline which transports gas to Thailand, according to leaked corporate records.
Pouyanné also said in his interview that gas production at Yadana needs to continue because some of the gas is used to generate electricity in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon.
But the Yadana workers interviewed, who risked their security answering researchers’ questions and therefore all requested anonymity, firmly opposed this view.
“In our villages, there isn’t any electricity yet,” said one. It is more important that the [military regime] loses power.”
New Naratif reported in March that dozens of workers at the Yadana project had submitted a petition to their managers calling on Total to suspend export revenue and income tax payments to the military regime and place the funds in a protected account.
But Total rejected the petition and told workers to keep working, New Naratif reported.
Interviewees told researchers who passed on their testimony to Myanmar Now that they or other workers have joined the opposition Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).
“We are showing our will that they should not give their money to the [military regime]”, said one.
This week, Total will face pressure from international campaigners over its stance on revenue payments to the Myanmar generals at its annual general meeting in France on Friday.
This is a Myanmar Now news story in association with Finance Uncovered