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Economy in Libya

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Strange to say, but the Libyan economy which, as is well-known – depends much, if not almost exclusively, on oil extraction and sale, performed very well in 2017 even at a time of falling prices – currently made more complex by the Covid-19 pandemic which has led to crisis in consumer countries.

It should be recalled that the 2017 good performance of the Libyan economy came six years after the silly elimination of Colonel Gaddafi, with a +67% extraction peak compared to 2016.

 In 2018 it went much worse, with a 17.9% increase, but in 2019 GDP grew by 9.9% and currently, at the end of 2020, a 58.7% vertical drop in GDP is expected.

 Obviously there is an inextricable combination of severe internal political and military instability, pandemic-related crisis in consumer countries, as well as a different configuration of the struggle for world oil power, especially with the arrival of the U.S. shale oil.

 Basically, oil extraction and refining in Libya have almost stopped, except in the last few weeks, when some oil wells (such as El Sharara or El Feel, among the largest ones  Libya) are supposed to reopen “as soon as possible”, as the Minister said.

 The two oil wells, however, are still controlled, by Khalifa Haftar’s LNA forces. Here is the clear link between political-military destabilization and the Libyan economic crisis.

 Oil production fell by 0.1 million barrels per day as from April 2019, i.e. at the beginning of the clash between the GNA and the LNA, with a public deficit that reached 28.9% of GDP in 2019, but with inflation rate falling by 4.6% in 2019 alone, although expected to reach 22.3% by the end of 2020.

 The oil barrel global cost is supposed to keep on falling also in 2021, but production in Libya continued to grow, at least until March 2020, which was the expiry date of the moratorium granted to Libya by OPEC.

Nevertheless, the specifically political level of negotiations between Libya and OPEC – which is what matters – will be mediated mainly by Saudi Arabia, notoriously pro-Haftar, and the United States, often uncritical supporter of the Tripoli regime. A complex mediation.

However, both General Haftar’s LNA and, in many ways, the various katibe linked to Tripoli’s regime – often rather loosely – are business groups – mostly illegal – and, as always happens in these cases, constitute illegal monopolies guaranteed by the monocratic exercise of power and force.

Therefore the “mafiazation” of the economy is the obvious result of a central State which is absent, substantially unlawful or perceived as such.

General Haftar has imposed his monopoly mainly on the export of scrap metal and the sale of refined oil products.

 Many monopolies, ranging from food to the sale of technological materials, have been guaranteed more or less legally to Haftar’s LNA by the Tobruk House of Representatives.

 The activities for controlling and managing the routes of transit and sending of sub-Saharan migrants to Italy are mostly connected to the parallel networks of Haftar’s LNA, but also to Tripoli’s networks of Zawiya and the “Al Nasr Martyrs” group, always operating in that city. But there are entire sectors of the Defence Ministry, the Libyan Coast Guard, the Police and the Interior Ministry cooperating and contributing, directly or indirectly, to the big bipolar system of illegal migrant trafficking and smuggling.

This is the second source of illegal income, after the smuggling of oil products. This is what happens when you destabilize an African coastal State, without any other project than the chatter of some French pseudo-intellectual on “human rights”.

 It is the classic anti-Machiavellian paradox of modern politics. The heterogenesis of ends, as Giovanni Gentile put it.

 But Haftar’s LNA, in particular, also funds itself directly with banks: Libya’s Central Bank in the East has, in fact, backed the wages and material of Haftar’s troops for three years, with the local equivalent of at least 6.7 billion U.S. dollars.

Furthermore, with a view to funding the State and its armies, both Tripoli and Benghazi used the credits granted by merchant banks – often manu militari or through corruption or political-military connections.

In 2018 alone, the government of Cyrenaica raised 7.9 billion U.S. dollars in loans, while the Tripoli area reached a budget of over 8.1 billion U.S. dollars only with loans from credit banks.

As mentioned above, this share includes the role of corruption, which is huge and even affects the officials of the anti-corruption structure in Tripoli – to the tune of millions of dollars. Obviously this applies also to the East.

With about 70,000 soldiers, Haftar’s LNA currently controls a larger territory than France, but the core of its financial operations is still the creation, on June 5, 2017, of the “Committee for Military Investment and Public Works”, led by Air Force Colonel al-Madani al-Fakhri, whose leaders immediately began to extort money from Cyrenaica’s businessmen. In the West, the various military katibe of “martyrs” shared control over all trade and productive activities, sector by sector.

Based on what can be inferred from “open” local sources, the GNA has extorted at least 5-6 billion dollars from businessmen and traders in 2020 alone.

 Although Western propaganda always tends to see Haftar’s LNA as the den of all evils, the two forces are similar, as far as the illegal economy is concerned.

Furthermore, nobody knows how many counterfeit dinars were printed in Russia – possibly 4 billion, at least – with Gaddafi’s effigy, which passed through Malta, greasing many wheels.

In May 2017, during the Ramadan, the banknotes printed in Russia were distributed particularly to banks in the South and in the East.

The idea, after all, was not bad. Libyans do not trust banks, under any circumstances, even when they make withdrawals.

Hence, when it comes to paying wages and salaries, the rulers in both East and West hurry to print new money, which is easily exchanged with the banknotes probably printed in Russia.

 So much so that if everyone accepts it at a lower value than the normal dinars, it becomes only a devalued currency, no longer counterfeit money. 

This is fine, even better than the official dinar, for the “grey” and “black” economy.

 Moreover, the financial-oil system does not directly support Haftar’s LNA, nor can it do so.

 Only the state-owned National Oil Company (NOC) – which is largely answerable to the West – has the possibility to sell Libyan oil, and only the Central Bank of Tripoli can accept the related payments.

 The fact is that all the military groups operating in Libya, in the East and in the West, are linked to the war economy and inextricably tied to the parallel para- or totally illegal economy.

 The economic crisis, connected with the non-existence of a strong and credible central State, perpetuates the positive incentives for all those who take advantage of the State dysfunctions.

 Dysfunctional and para-criminal economies are always based on three pillars: smuggling, extortion, theft of public resources and external patronage.

 The latter can be of a Libyan potentate or, more often, of an “external player”: Turkey, Egypt, the Russian Federation, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Obviously Italy has disappeared from the Libya, since currently its foreign policy is little less than a joke.

 The operations of all these countries’ Intelligence Services are largely rewarded by the business that becomes possible for the companies linked to all external Services, if they operate in Libya. The operations of the various intelligence agencies fund themselves on their own in Libya.

I have been told that, regardless of the external player, the operations of the various Intelligence Services generate 20-25% gains, which are guaranteed by the extortion ability of the various local katibe to which the external States refer.

 There is no return from a criminal economy which generates a failed state and, above all, eliminates any alternative legal option.

 In Cyrenaica, there is now a monopoly of the illegal use of force by Haftar and his LNA. It shows signs of overstretching and some old allies are showing signs of disillusionment. But soldiers from Darfur, Chad and even Mauritania could soon strengthen Haftar and allow a new offensive towards Tripoli, also considering the presence of Syrian jihadists in the GNA, sent by the Turkish Intelligence Service.

 In the West, there is Tripoli and hence Fajez al-Sarraj’s government, often comically praised and hailed by Westerners.

In this case, however, there is another factor of structural weakness other than the LNA: the factionalism of the various katibe and their often completely interested and always partial relationship with the government in Tripoli.

 Therefore, the analytical pair with which to study the connections between Tripoli and Benghazi is Factionalism/Ovestretch. Here is the fundamental dialectic.

Again using the very useful terms of the Mafia jargon, Tripoli’s militias are a “cartel”, while in the East there is a monopoly of unlawful and illegitimate force which, however, struggles to make itself credible.

Moreover, factionalism is inherent in the Arab and, above all, Bedouin soul: “my brother and I against our cousin, my cousin, my brother and I against the stranger”.

 Thinking about the Middle East with the typically Western and European idea of the Nation-State is a mistake that will lead us to far greater disasters than those caused by the Sykes-Picot agreement, narrated in an old book with the now famous title, A Peace to end all Peaces.

Distribution of local gangs and oil wells, updated to May 2020, source

Then there is the powerful “stone guest” of the Libyan economy that we must never neglect, namely China.

It should be recalled that China abstained in the UN Security Council voting authorising military intervention in Libya against Gaddafi and also criticized NATO’s decision to create a no-fly zone. It even underlined the illegality of air strikes on the legitimate forces of Gaddafi’s regime. China was right.

 Even when Gaddafi was in power, China was very active in Libyan infrastructure, as Libya paid very well.

 At the time of Gaddafi’s fall, China had as many as 75 companies operating in Libya, with a turnover of 18.8 billion U.S. dollars.

 The workers concerned were mainly the 36,000 Chinese, but also the about 28,000 Libyan ones or even many immigrants (Egyptians, Tunisians and Algerians).

Until 2011 there were 50 Chinese projects in Libya and it should be noted that Libya alone produced 3% of all Chinese oil imports, equivalent to 150,000 barrels a day.

  At the time of West’s maximum manipulation against Gaddafi, China always tried to maintain all its business connections, obviously rejecting the NATO military mission in its entirety.

 Moreover, like the Russian Federation, China also rejected the theory – typically Western-style in its naivety and arrogance- of Responsibility to Protect, i.e. the universal rule – stuff for boy scouts or elegant socialites-whereby States can intervene directly and militarily in other States when the protection of “human rights” is needed.

However, who establishes and ascertains the violation of human rights? A French pseudo-philosopher, a former follower of Pol Pot, two articles in the New York Times or possibly the statements of an NGO invented at the moment (in this respect, the story of NGOs working for migrants from Libya to Syria would be very interesting) or the lamentation of some “intellectuals” who do not even know where Tripoli is on the map?

Obviously, with a view not to being relegated to play the role of the only protector of the vilain Gaddafi, China finally abstained in voting on the UN Security Council Resolution on Libya, but immediately recognized the National Transitional Council (NTC), as the only semblance of unitary Libyan government left.

 ENI also recognized it, well before others, exactly two days after the start of the insurgency against the Colonel, staged only by the East and by French submarines.

As early as the beginning of June 2011, China held its first meeting with Mohammed Jibril, the Head of the NTC. A few days later, the Head of the Department for West-Asian and Middle East Affairs of the Chinese government, Chen Xiaodong, visited Benghazi very carefully.

 Obviously China pursues a policy of careful neutrality between the two factions, namely the GNA and Haftar’s LNA.

 Officially China supports the GNA, which – in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in June 2018 -even accepted that Libya would be part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, albeit with some obvious twists in the map.

China, however, has also excellent relations with Haftar and, above all, with the Tobruk House of Representatives.

 As to the Covid-19 pandemic, which – for those who know how to use it-is an opportunity for hegemonic penetration into the so-called “third” countries, China has rapidly included Libya in its humanitarian and health aid programmes, which are currently envisaged for as many as 82 countries.

However, what is the profound logic of Libya’s political and hence economic system? Unfortunately, we always see and interpret the non-Western world through the eyes of our often idiotic, fashionable ideologies. It is the biggest mistake we can currently make.

As seen above, the fact is that Libyan institutions have always been sectarian and biased in Libya, but not less powerful for this reason.

 The British Military Administration (1942-1951) built up a great deal of political-tribal mediations in Libya even equal, if not greater, than Gaddafi’s. They largely remained in place, even after the 1969 coup of the “Free Officers”, organised by the Italian intelligence services in a meeting at Abano Terme.

 Then there is the Senussi monarchy, originating from an Islamic esoteric sect, not from a specific family lineage of the monarch.

 The last King Idriss was ousted by the coup of the Nasserian and Third- World Socialist “Free Officers”, led at the time by Gaddafi, who had been selected for that purpose by the Italian intelligence Services, during a comfortable meeting – I still remember – at an excellent hotel in Abano Terme.

 The Senussi monarchy originated from a strange esoteric organization that started from a wide Islamic heterodoxy and finally shifted to a sort of quasi-Wahabi Koranic normativism, which is not at all contradictory, as it would appear in the poor minds of Westerners, who see only the servile adaptation to Western pluralism or simple “fanaticism”, old theme of the worst and naivest18thcentury Enlightenment.

As we all know, Gaddafi’s regime began in 1969, amidst counter-coup, attacks and adverse operations by the British intelligence services, which only thanks to Italy were wrecked. Revolutionary governments, however, choose only the faithful tribes, which are such because they are paid to be so.

In the case of the Senussi, the Cyrenaica Defence Forces operated – and King Idriss boasted he had never been to Tripoli – made up of agents and employees of the British Intelligence Services. Also the People’s Social Committee of Executives had military roles. Gaddafi had no mercy, of course.

 The Warfalla tribe made several unsuccessful attempts on Colonel’s life. Therefore, after the attempted coup against the Colonel in 1991 it accepted a negotiation with Gaddafi.

Nevertheless, it was precisely because of the Gaddafian Jamahiriya (1973-1979) that the Libyan economic networks became ever more informal and sometimes tribal, but paradoxically ever less controlled by the Colonel’s regime.

Exactly those networks killed him and hence ousted him from power, although the poor informal military economic networks believed in the Western promises of an economy integrated in the world market and in an opening of Libya to foreign investment.

 They wanted globalisation, without too many disasters, but the West gave them a useless failed state, even for Italy.

Hence within the Great Socialist Jamahiriya of the Libyan Arab People there still were popular committees that dealt with economy and business, often very seriously – but without any coordination and control by Gaddafi’s leadership, except for the NOC.

 There were GECOL (General Electricity Company of Libya), a separate committee, as well as LISCO (Libyan Iron and Steel Company), ESDEF (Economic and Social Development Fund) and ODAC (Office of Development of Administrative Complexes).

A great role was played by the free zone of the port of Misrata, and by an endless number of autonomous committees, even in the Security Services, which, however, were linked to the abstract and even scarcely “informative” structure of Jamahiriya.

 Generally speaking, the network of “people’s” Committees that managed the economy reported to the General People’s Congress, but everything was obviously in the hands of Gaddafi and his most trusted aides and collaborators – who, however, did not succeed in getting the news in time or let some operations slip away, given the level of informality of the Libyan economy, already pathological at the time.

 The only two organizations with some degree of autonomy were the Central Bank of Libya, established in 1956, well before Gaddafi’s coup – which, however, originated from a UN-established institution, namely the Libyan Currency Committee – and obviously the National Oil Corporation (NOC), created in 1970, immediately after Gaddafi’s coup.

 There is also the Libyan Investment Fund (LIA), the Libyan Sovereign Fund that supports 15 other apparently autonomous funds or financial initiatives.

 It was established in 2006. At the beginning, in the good years of oil revenues, LIA had an endowment of as many as 60 billion U.S. dollars.

 Gaddafi’s son, Saif-al Islam, was actually its leader. But, after the anti-Gaddafi “revolution”, between 2005 and 2010, also the experts who seemed capable of privatizing anything arrived. Called by France, the United States, the Libyan elite itself, but not by Italy, of course.

 At that juncture, given the solidity of the old informal Gaddafian economies and of those following the destruction of the Libyan State, the new Agencies of Libyan liberals arrived. Hence the Economic Development Board and the Privatization and Investment Board were established, in addition to the Public Projects Authority.

You privatize when there is capital available, otherwise to whom do you sell in a failed state where those who have money are already out of Libya?

 As early as the phase in which the war between Eastern and Western Libya was starting to emerge, the local governments had to “enlist” technicians, experts, economists and business jurists to understand the intricacies of post-Gaddafi economic structures which, in any case, had developed – in their baroque and elaborate complexity – since the last years of Gaddafi’s life.

We could define Libya between Gaddafi and the two current governments as an overlap between the oil rentier States, the Socialist autocracies typical of the Third International and the chaotic and incoherent liberalization attempts that the Americans made in the old Socialist economies of the East after 1989.

This adds to the unpreparedness and factionalism of the new economic and political ruling classes that came to power after Gaddafis’ elimination.

 The Colonel’s technocracy was often better than the current ones.

 No economic unifying criteria were visible among the various factions that fought and then managed the 2011 insurgency, but all this remained even in the years 2013-2015, when the high oil barrel prices gave hope that fresh capital would right the wrongs of an authoritarian planning that added to the factionalism of the economy and the Stock Exchange short-sighted naivety of post-Soviet liberalisations.

 Meanwhile, the mass of wages and salaries, in addition to subsidies, increases every year regardless of the amount of oil revenues.

 There are therefore no quick fixes or effective solutions for a mechanism that is now so structured.

The World Bank predicts that oil rents will be 47% of GDP by the end of 2021, but wages and salaries will increase by up to 49%.

 Public subsidies for oil or food will be equally high, to the tune of 10.6% of GDP, but then how will debt be refinanced?

 In Tripoli – but the situation in Benghazi seems similar – the solution will be the cash advance from the Central Bank of Libya, in addition to the sale of Treasury Bonds, especially in Cyrenaica.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

Sustainable Agriculture in Modern Society

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Now everybody is seeing the world is changing fast in this 21st century and many industries and modern buildings are also developing all over the world. But the land areas for farming are becoming narrower and narrower. Moreover, the global population is increasing rapidly and the earth becomes a crowded planet. But the younger people who are interested in agriculture are becoming less and less. There might be some young people who even think that they get foods from grocery stores because the younger generation are used to buy many kinds of ready-made foods such as fruits and vegetables easily from supermarkets. Recently, in the developed countries, the average age of many farmers is over 50 years old and the numbers of young farmers are decreasing. The shortage of young farmers can become a crisis in the future of the developed world.

In modern days, most young adults cannot see the difficult lives of farmers beyond the curtain. The farmers have to pass their whole life through a tough living in farming and sell their products at very low profit to many profiteering companies because they don’t have much choices. It is a sad story for farmers but truly happening in these modern days.

Today I would like to point out that we should not forget the role of agriculture which is very fundamental and essential for building a nation. Farming is an age-old profession that supported the settlement of human beings for thousands of years to survive on this planet. Agriculture is very important for the development of a nation because it provides the trading and employment, supply the foods and textiles and that can lead to the rise in gross domestic product (GDP) of a nation. Agriculture plays a crucial role in economy of a developing nation where majority of population is in rural areas and agriculture is the main source of job in many underdeveloped areas. Many families in developing countries live depending on farming for their livelihood. So, it can be even said that developing agriculture is an important step to reduce poverty and hunger in many developing countries. Agriculture support nutrients rich foods that are essential requirements for our healthy life because nutrients rich foods provide energy for our body, essential nutrients for our vital organs such as brain and heart etc, and enhance our immune system. So, agriculture is necessary for a flourishing and joyful life of human being.

Especially let’s see my home country, as data from Food and agriculture organization (FAO) of the United Nations, “The agriculture supports 37.8 % of gross domestic product of Myanmar, contributed to 25-30% of total export earnings and employs 70 % of the labour force”. Humans cannot survive without agriculture. When there is no more agriculture, it will end with starvation and collapse in economy. It will cause a serious failure in modern civilization.

Nowadays, modern farming is largely evolved into industrial agriculture where many kinds of chemical fertilizers are being used to induce massive production. Industrial agriculture is beneficial to economic development because it can cause the crops growing faster than in the traditional agriculture. The industrial agriculture can provide more enough foods for growing population in modern civilization. However, it is not sustainable because it cannot protect the benefits of the society and our green planet in the long run. Chemicals used in agriculture are destroying the soil where is left with damaged soil fertility and this area can’t be reused in the future. This is a huge affect to sustainability of our green environment.

Modern agriculture has many issues related to water scarcity, soil erosion, climate changes and etc. To be sustainable in agriculture, we must focus on solutions of these issues. The sustainable agriculture will focus on three bottom lines that is environmental, economical and social.

The sustainable agriculture involves many practices such as using the organic fertilizers in farming, growing drought resistant crops, breeding biodiversity in farms, modified irrigation systems and others. Sustainable agriculture is more suitable to practice for the future of the green earth than industrial agriculture. It is very important to promote awareness of sustainable agriculture and issues related to environmentally toxic practices in agricultures among local farmers. And I believe that it can cause many advantages for economic development if farmers can work systematically with sustainable practices in their farming and the local authority can provide farmers with more technological skills and lending some funding to practice sustainable ways in agriculture. With the willingness to participate for environmental heath at the enough profit for incomes of daily living life, I hope famers will become socially responsible persons.

And another one more point, in this digitalization era, we should certainly apply digital technologies in sustainable agriculture. By developing digital farming, it will help farmers to get easier access to source of many information related to agricultural practices. Government in developing countries should support to develop digital farming as rapidly as possible for the poor farmers to get proper profits and to work in environmentally friendly practices. Since poor countries already have enough labour force, they just need many financial aid and technology supports to grow into sustainable agriculture.

I believe that it is a responsibility for our humans that we should not forget something that had supported our existence on this earth. We should work out for development of traditional agriculture into modern agriculture with the best sustainable ways. As being a part of this society, we must help each other, we must protect the sustainability of this green earth, Biodiversity and this is also beneficial for long-term existence of our human beings on this earth. Let me end this talk by suggesting everyone to promote sustainable agriculture in your surrounding local farming.

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Economy

The Blazing Revival of Bitcoin: BITO ETF Debuts as the Second-Highest Traded Fund

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It seems like bitcoin is as resilient as a relentless pandemic: persistent and refusing to stay down. Not long ago, the crypto-giant lost more than half of its valuation in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown by China. Coupled with pessimism reflected by influencers like Elon Musk, the bitcoin plummeted from the all-time high valuation of $64,888.99 to flirt around the $30,000 mark in mere weeks. However, over the course of the last four months, the behemoth of the crypto-market gradually climbed to reclaim its supremacy. Today, weaving through national acceptance to market recognition, bitcoin could be the gateway to normalizing the elusive crypto-world in the traditional global markets: particularly the United States.

The recent bullish development is the launch of the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF – the first Bitcoin-linked exchange-traded fund – on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading under the ticker BITO, the Bitcoin ETF welcomed a robust trading day: rising 4.9% to $41.94. According to the data compiled by Bloomberg, BITO’s debut marked it as the second-highest traded fund, behind BlackRock’s Carbon fund, for the first day of trading. With a turnover of almost $1 billion, the listing of BITO highlighted the demand for reliable investment in bitcoin in the US market. According to estimates on Tuesday, More than 24 million shares changed hands while BITO was one of the most-bought assets on Fidelity’s platform with more than 8,800 buy orders.

The bitcoin continued to rally, cruising over the lucrative launch of BITO. The digital currency rose to $64,309.33 on Tuesday: less than 1% below the all-time high valuation. In hindsight, the recovery seems commendable. The growing acceptance, albeit, has far more consequential attributes. The cardinal benefit is apparent: evidence of gradual acceptance by regulators. “The launch of ProShares’ bitcoin ETF on the NYSE provides the validation that some investors need to consider adding BTC to their portfolio,” stated Hong Fang, CEO of Okcoin. In simpler terms, not only would the listing allow relief to the crypto loyalists (solidifying their belief in the currency), but it would also embolden investors on the sidelines who have long been deterred by regulatory uncertainty. Thus, bringing larger, more rooted institutional investors into the crypto market: along with a surge of capital.

However, the surging acceptance may be diluting the rudimentary phenomenon of bitcoin. While retail investors would continue to participate in the notorious game of speculation via trading bitcoin, the opportunity to gain indirect exposure to bitcoin could divert the risk-averse investors. It means many loyalists could retract and direct towards BITO and other imminent bitcoin-linked ETFs instead of setting up a digital custodianship. Ultimately, it boils down to Bitcoin ETFs being managed by third parties instead of the investor: relenting control to a centralized figure. Moreover, with growing scrutiny under the eye of SECP, the steps vaguely intimate a transition to harness the market instead of liberalizing it: quiet oxymoronic to the entire decentralized model of cryptocurrencies.

Nonetheless, the listing of BITO is an optimistic development that would draw skeptics to at least observe the rampant popularity of the asset class. While the options on BITO are expected to begin trading on the NYSE Arca Options and NYSE American Options exchanges on Wednesday, other futures-based Bitcoin ETFs are on the cards. The surging popularity (and reluctant acceptance) amid tightening regulation could prove a turn of an era for the US capital markets. However, as some critics have cited, BITO is not a spot-based ETF and is instead linked to futures contracts. Thus, the restrain is still present as the regulators do not want a repeat of the financial crisis. Nevertheless, bitcoin has proved its deterrence in the face of skepticism. And if the BITO launch is to be marveled at, then the regulations are bound to adapt to the revolution that is unraveling in the modern financial reality.

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Economy

Is Myanmar an ethical minefield for multinational corporations?

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Business at a crossroads

Political reforms in Myanmar started in November 2010 followed by the release of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and ended by the coup d’état in February 2021. Business empire run by the military generals thanks to the fruitful benefits of democratic transition during the last decade will come to an end with the return of trade and diplomatic sanctions from the western countries – United States (US) and members of European Union (EU).  US and EU align with other major international partners quickly responded and imposed sanctions over the military’s takeover and subsequent repression in Myanmar. These measures targeted not only the conglomerates of the military generals  but also the individuals who have been appointed in the authority positions and supporting the military regime.

However, the generals and their cronies own the majority of economic power both in strategic sectors ranging from telecommunication to oil & gas and in non-strategic commodity sectors such as food and beverages, construction materials, and the list goes on. It is a tall order for the investors to do business by avoiding this lucrative network of the military across the country. After the coup, it raises the most puzzling issue to investors and corporate giants in this natural resource-rich country, “Should I stay or Should I go?”

Crimes against humanity

For most of the people in the country, war crimes and atrocities committed by the military are nothing new. For instances, in 1988, student activists led a political movement and tried to bring an end to the military regime of the general Ne Win. This movement sparked a fire and grew into a nationwide uprising in a very short period but the military used lethal force and slaughtered thousands of civilian protestors including medical doctors, religious figures, student leaders, etc. A few months later, the public had no better options than being silenced under barbaric torture and lawless killings of the regime.

In 2007, there was another major protest called ‘Saffron Uprising’ against the military regime led by the Buddhist monks. It was actually the biggest pro-democracy movement since 1988 and the atmosphere of the demonstration was rather peaceful and non-violent before the military opened live ammunitions towards the crowd full of monks. Everything was in chaos for a couple of months but it ended as usual.

In 2017, the entire world witnessed one of the most tragic events in Myanmar – Again!. The reports published by the UN stated that hundreds of civilians were killed, dozens of villages were burnt down, and over 700,000 people including the majority of Rohingya were displaced to neighboring countries because of the atrocities committed by the military in the western border of the country. After four years passed, the repatriation process and the safety return of these refugees to their places of origin are yet unknown. Most importantly, there is no legal punishment for those who committed and there is no transitional justice for those who suffered in the aforementioned examples of brutalities.

The vicious circle repeated in 2021. With the economy in free fall and the deadliest virus at doorsteps, the people are still unbowed by the oppression of the junta and continue demanding the restoration of democracy and justice. To date, Assistant Association for Political Prisoner (AAPP) reported that due to practicing the rights to expression, 1178 civilians were killed and 7355 were arrested, charged or sentenced by the military junta. Unfortunately, the numbers are still increasing.

Call for economic disengagement

In 2019, the economic interests of the military were disclosed by the report of UN Fact-Finding Mission in which Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) were described as the prominent entities controlled by the military profitable through the almost-monopoly market in real estate, insurance, health care, manufacturing, extractive industry and telecommunication. It also mentioned the list of foreign businesses in partnership with the military-linked activities which includes Adani (India), Kirin Holdings (Japan), Posco Steel (South Korea), Infosys (India) and Universal Apparel (Hong Kong).

Moreover, Justice for Myanmar, a non-profit watchdog organization, revealed the specific facts and figures on how the billions of revenues has been pouring into the pockets of the high-ranked officers in the military in 2021. Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), an another military-controlled authority body, is the key player handling the financial transactions, profit sharing, and contractual agreements with the international counterparts including Total (France), Chevron (US), PTTEP (Thailand), Petronas (Malaysia), and Posco (South Korea) in natural gas projects. It is also estimated that the military will enjoy 1.5 billion USD from these energy giants in 2022.

Additionally, data shows that the corporate businesses currently operating in Myanmar has been enriching the conglomerates of the generals and their cronies as a proof to the ongoing debate among the public and scholars, “Do sanctions actually work?” Some critics stressed that sanctions alone might be difficult to pressure the junta without any collaborative actions from Moscow and Beijing, the longstanding allies of the military. Recent bilateral visits and arm deals between Nay Pyi Taw and Moscow dimmed the hope of the people in Myanmar. It is now crystal clear that the Burmese military never had an intention to use the money from multinational corporations for benefits of its citizens, but instead for buying weapons, building up military academies, and sending scholars to Russia to learn about military technology. In March 2021, the International Fact Finding Mission to Myanmar reiterated its recommendation for the complete economic disengagement as a response to the coup, “No business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading with or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw [the military], or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members…”

Blood money and ethical dilemma

In the previous military regime until 2009, the US, UK and other democratic champion countries imposed strict economic and diplomatic sanctions on Myanmar while maintaining ‘carrot and stick’ approach against the geopolitical dominance of China. Even so, energy giants such as Total (France) and Chevron (US), and other ‘low-profile’ companies from ASEAN succeeded in running their operations in Myanmar, let alone the nakedly abuses of its natural resources by China. Doing business in this country at the time of injustice is an ethical question to corporate businesses but most of them seems to prefer maximizing the wealth of their shareholders to the freedom of its bottom millions in poverty.

But there are also companies not hesitating to do something right by showing their willingness not to be a part of human right violations of the regime. For example, Australian mining company, Woodside, decided not to proceed further operations, and ‘get off the fence’ on Myanmar by mentioning that the possibility of complete economical disengagement has been under review. A breaking news in July, 2021  that surprised everyone was the exit of Telenor Myanmar – one of four current telecom operators in the country. The CEO of the Norwegian company announced that the business had been sold to M1 Group, a Lebanese investment firm, due to the declining sales and ongoing political situations compromising its basic principles of human rights and workplace safety.

In fact, cutting off the economic ties with the junta and introducing a unified, complete economic disengagement become a matter of necessity to end the consistent suffering of the people of Myanmar. Otherwise, no one can blame the people for presuming that international community is just taking a moral high ground without any genuine desire to support the fight for freedom and pro-democracy movement.

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