Competition watchdog rejects protests over solar tender


U Than Myint (centre) talks to the media after attending a union parliament session in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, 22 March 2016. He is now the commerce minister and also chairs the Competition Commission. Photo: EPA-EFE

Myanmar’s competition watchdog says it does not intend to challenge the government’s controversial solar plant tender despite protests by foreign governments and business associations that conditions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic effectively excluded many outside bidders.

Responding to questions from the Myanmar Times, the Competition Commission said the solar tender requirements set by the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE) were not designed to be anti-competitive and that the firms applying were not involved in anti-competitive practices.

“The Competition Commission also concludes that this (tender) does not fall under the area of the Competition Law and is not in violation of said law,” it said.

The tender, issued on May 18, is for the construction of 30 ground-mounted solar plants capable of generating 1060MW of power in total under a 20-year build, operate and own basis. The deadline was extended from June 17 to July 17 after a backlash among the local and international business community as well as the European Union and the US.

They argued that with travel restrictions, quarantine measures for visitors and other COVID-19 constraints, the tender needed to be extended by at least nine months in order to accommodate the requirements on land acquisition evidence and project financing.

The written response to The Myanmar Times was signed by U Mun Aung Aye, director of the Commission office. He said the law on tenders stated that “no one is able to draw and set a tender or bid which controls and restricts competition.”

However he acknowledge that in this case “there could be difficulties for those applying for the tender”.

U Than Naing Oo, managing director of the ministry’s Electric Power Generation Enterprise (EPGE), last month ruled out allowing bids to be sent digitally or to be prepared outside the country and then scanned, printed and submitted in Myanmar. The ban on international flights was in place throughout the entire application period, meaning that most foreign investors outside the country were not able to enter Myanmar to conduct due to diligence, site visits and negotiate land deals.

Investor from China appear to have a way of bypassing the ban, however.

An announcement issued by the Myanmar embassy in Beijing said that the government made a decision in early July to allow Chinese travellers to opt for a “fast track” scheme by relief flights, special or charted flights and be put under a special quarantine programme.

Foreign affairs ministry deputy director general U Aung Kyaw Zan told Mizzama the “fast track” programme allows Chinese travellers to visit Myanmar for urgent business matters, including projects and construction and would be expanded to other nationals.

The EPGE has not responded to requests for comment.

The competition Commission added that it had received no complaints about the tender. It did not disclose which had submitted bids.

The Commission was formally launched last June, more than three years after parliament passed the 2015 Competition Law. More than half of its members are government officials and it is headed by the commerce minister, rising questions about how effective the body would be. The watchdog has previously highlighted that is is serious about competition policy and the five non-government members are independent.

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