Last minute development in Denis O’Brien mobile phone licence bid

Burma parliament says award announcement to be delayed


The scheduled announcement today of the winners of a mobile phone licence competition in Burma, where Denis O’Brien’s Digicel heads a leading bid, appeared to have been dramatically delayed yesterday.

The winners of two new licences were to be announced today but a leading member of parliament announced yesterday that the decision would be delayed pending the introduction of new legislation.

A shortlist of 12 bidders was published in April but yesterday the decision to postpone the announcement of the winners was apparently made after a member of the parliament’s telecoms committee submitted an emergency statement urging parliamentarians to favour local joint ventures in the selection of telecoms operators.

Digicel is the lead partner in a bid that includes a fund associated with the family of the famous financier George Soros, and a Singapore-listed property and general services group associated with one of the most respected business figures in Burma, Serge Pun.

A recommendation from Myo Swe, secretary of the telecoms committee, that the announcement should be postponed, was supported by lawmakers in Myanmar’s lower house.

“In some cases, we need to prioritise national interests,” Phyo Min Thein,from the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told the Irrawaddy newspaper. “Today nobody objected to the statement on the telecoms tender. Neither did I.”

Phyo Min Thein said all 401 lawmakers at the session of parliament approved the emergency statement and urged the government to implement it.

Other NLD lawmakers said they were surprised by the emergency statement and did not have enough time during the session to consider it before being asked to make a decision.

Thiri Kyar Nyo, the country representative for Digicel in Burma, declined to comment on parliament’s decision. An Irish spokesman for Mr O’Brien had no comment on the development.

Mr O’Brien’s consortium has said it will invest $9 billion in the mobile phone network in Burma if it wins one of the licences. Digicel has been active in the country since 2009 in preparation for the licence auction. It already employs almost 900 people there.