Operations resume for many Singapore businesses in Myanmar as they closely monitor situation
SINGAPORE: Operations have mostly resumed for Singapore businesses in Myanmar, recovering from temporary disruptions earlier in the week after a military coup in the country.
But many declined comment on their outlook for the long term, citing uncertainty over the evolving situation and political sensitivities, and are monitoring developments closely.
The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) told CNA that it has reached out to Singapore companies with a presence in Myanmar.
"The situation in Myanmar is fluid and still unfolding. SBF is in touch with Singapore companies with operations in Myanmar," said SBF’s CEO Lam Yi Young in an emailed response.
"The companies we have spoken to shared that they are monitoring the situation to see how it evolves."
Myanmar’s military seized power on early Monday (Feb 1) in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
The military, which declared a one-year state of emergency in Myanmar, said it had carried out the detentions in response to “election fraud” in the general election held last November, which the NLD won in a landslide.
Media reports on Wednesday night said Myanmar police had filed charges against Aung San Suu Kyi for allegedly illegally importing communications equipment and she will be detained until Feb 15.
For agriculture firm Golden Sunland, which ventured into Myanmar in 2016, news of the military coup was unexpected.
Co-founder David Chen recalled having difficulties contacting the team based in the country's capital on early Monday. It took a few “unsettling” hours before they got in touch with the 60-person team, which included Mr Chen’s father who is the company’s chief executive officer.
The company has asked its Myanmar office to be closed for the week until it has clarity on the situation. Certain company projects that require extensive stakeholder engagement on the ground have been halted.
But its key rice farming activities in Naypyitaw and Bago have continued without disruption throughout the political developments.
Asked about contingency plans, Mr Chen said the firm already had a “supply chain resilience framework” in place and did not expect to see any material change to what had been done previously.
In fact he sees “business back to the new usual within a week” given how bank and flight operations, as well as most communication services, have resumed, he told CNA.
Singapore-based payments platform provider 2C2P said its service in Myanmar was affected on Monday for about 10 hours due to disruptions in telecommunication services.
All of its services in the country have resumed operations, its Myanmar country head Pyay Nyein told CNA on Wednesday.
“All our employees in Myanmar are contactable and safely accounted for. We will continue to monitor the situation closely,” he added.
UOB temporarily shuttered its branch in Yangon on Monday. The branch has since reopened and remains in operation, said a bank spokesperson when contacted on Wednesday.
“We continue to meet our customers’ banking needs,” she said.
OCBC, the other Singaporean lender with bank branches in Myanmar, noted that its branch in Yangon has been on split-team operations since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted last year.
“We will continue to monitor the situation, bearing in mind that the safety of our staff and customers are of paramount importance," said the bank's head of operational risk management Patrick Chew.
Singapore-listed conglomerate Yoma Strategic, whose businesses range from property development to tourism in Myanmar, said some of its businesses were disrupted intermittently on Monday due to telecommunication outages in the aftermath of the coup.
These business operations, including its KFC restaurants, have since resumed but office employees have been asked to work from home this week, its chief executive officer Melvyn Pun said in a business update to the bourse operator on Tuesday.
READ: Myanmar nationals in Singapore express disbelief over military coup back home, worry about families
Over at Keppel Land, which owns commercial properties in Yangon, it was business as usual.
“There has been no disruption to our operations so far,” said a company spokesperson. “We have taken the necessary precautions on the ground and are monitoring the situation closely.”
STILL ASSESSING THE SITUATION
Beyond this, businesses said they were still assessing the situation and would not be able to comment on the long term.
“We have the same information as everyone else, and we do not have sufficient information to comment on this at this stage,” said 2C2P’s Mr Pyay Nyein.
Yoma Strategic said the political situation in Myanmar remains unclear at this stage as it continues to evolve and could potentially bring about “a change in business sentiment”.
“It is still too early to ascertain the longer term impact to the group’s businesses,” said Mr Pun in the filing to the Singapore Exchange.
“The company will continue to closely monitor the political developments in Myanmar and provide further updates as and when there are material developments.”
Similarly, Memories Group, a spin-off of Yoma’s Myanmar-focused tourism arm, said it remains too early to assess the impact of the latest political developments on its business.
But it “could be reasonably assumed that interest of tourists from Western countries would be dampened in the near future”, said its chief executive officer Cyrus Pun in a separate bourse filing on Tuesday.
This comes amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has already impacted the tourism sector in Myanmar. At the moment, only one of Memories' hotels remains open and continues to receive guests. Others are closed due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Memories said the outlook on Myanmar’s tourism sector would largely depend on how long the country takes to return to normalcy.
Over at Golden Sunland, Mr Chen said the firm is still holding on to its vision of transforming rice production and consumption.
“We are definitely reviewing our business model, particularly bringing forward some of the digitalisation plans. It is premature to talk about exit. We survived the first black swan (that is COVID-19), we can survive the second,” he told CNA.
Asked if he was concerned about the possibility of international sanctions against Myanmar, Mr Chen said: “At a personal level, because we work so closely with the small farmers, we understand that sanctions would affect them drastically.
“Pandemic, political change and economic downturn due to sanctions - the triple threat is going to cripple the lives of people who are already struggling. The challenge Golden Sunland faces is real, but not as staggering as the people of Myanmar, it is something we have to be sensitive and tactful about.”