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TOTAL Shareholder GA/Euro-Burmanet
At the May 11 Total General Assembly shareholders meeting, Dawn Star put
forward the following question to Total CEO Thierry Desmarest. (Total
remains Total in name, until the issue of the Public Exchange Offering
on the shares of PetroFina not yet held whereupon Total becomes TOTAL
This is the third time Dawn Star came before Thierry Desmarest at the
annual shareholders meeting, and now, fifteen feet and eye to eye with
M. Desmarest, and with shareholders already raving mad about the Burma
investment, it seemed wise and good to stay close to the accountability
line, since these meetings are very much about figures. Mostly figures.
And we know well the official TOTAL line on forced labor, its dealings
with the naro regime and its relations with the French state diplomatic
line on Burma. Therefore, the question put to TOTAL and its shareholders
was one of accountability and as we say in France, "la rentabilité" of
the pipeline, and current problems over delivery of gas to Thailand in
view of the Thai problem. Again, as the issue here is transparence and
openness, the question was essentially as follows.
"Mr. Desmarest.Here shareholders are concerned with rentability (re
profitability)and transparence (financial accountability) and there
appears to be neither here on the Burma pipeline. Furthermore, in your
presentation, you did not speak about Burma. But the Burma investment is
important. And this question now about Burma is not about politics so I
do not want to politicize the question. It is about the bottom line.
(What I was getting at is that the Yadana pipeline deal is bad business
and a bad investment and bad for shareholders) What we need here is
transparence. And you know very well as is reported in the Financial
Times and the Wall Street Journal that over 50% of the capital in TOTAL
is now held by American financial investment institutions and investing
retirement funds. And these investors also require transparence. (Here,
I must correct InfoBirmanie which said yesterday that Desmarest
interrupted saying not to believe the french press. on the contrary, i
believe, that he interrupted uttering something about this not being a
press conference. About the Nouvel Obs Total Burma Army connection I
will come to later) You say in the 1998 annual report (distributed to
shareholders) and I quote it for you now, (and remember this question
comes after a brillant rendition of Total's profitability, after nine
consecutive years of augmenting its reservesk, with 40% of its reserves
gaz reserves, re Burma, Thailand, Indonesia etc): "In Myanamar, the work
of development of the Yadana gaz field (TOTAL 31,2% operateur) was
completed early July as scheduled. Delivery of gas to Thailand was able
to begin in August but at a very weak level because the construction of
the electricity plant in Ratchaburi (Thailand) has been delayed and does
not allow for significant gas deliveries until mid-1999." So you see
readers, TOTAL tells its shareholders of Burma-Thai gas problems in the
report but the CEO skips it over. Of course Thierry Desmarest is a pro
at shrugging off
standard recycled questions about Burma atrocities and another question
on the same subject only gives him more of a platform to speal of the
standard official TOTAL line, affirming its investment and investment
logic. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to drill home the issue of bad
investment and lack of transparency. The questioning then continued.
"Mr Desmarest, the Thais evidently are renegotiating the contract. Are
they renegotiating the contract. What is the problem here with this
investment with the Thais. Evidently the Thais do not need or do not
want the gas. There are only receiving 8 to 10 percent of the gas, and
it is not clear if they are willing to even pay for this gas. (Remember
some 125 billion cubic feet of gas is scheduled to be delivered from
this giant gas field.) Further, the generators, General Electric
generators are said not to be functioning for this 2800 megawatt plant.
So what is the problem."
As he began to interup the questioning, whereas he had given other
shareholder questions more time to deliver their question, it was
necessary to hurry the question about the Nouvel Obs report
"Six weeks ago in the French press, the French magazine Nouvel
Observator reported that TOTAL was financing Burmese army security on
the pipeline. Is this true? Is TOTAL financing the pipeline security but
paying the Burmese army?"
To the question on Thai gas delivery, he basically gave a long
dipolomatic response confirming delays and problems with the Thais, not
going into delails but refering to the special Total-Thai relationship
assuring share holders that the problem would soon be settle. (Though he
did not specify the nature of the problems)
About the Nouvel Observator allegations, Desmarest responded as follows
"TOTAL absolutely does not finance the Burmese army."
Let me say that regarding the questioning, the shareholders room was
remarkably less hostile to the question of good investment bad
investment concerning the pipeline and Thai problems. Of course these
oil companies relish doing business with dictators for cheap resources,
which is another reason why TOTAL proudly boasts of giving the Burmese
"free gas". Incredible, isnt it. Giving the Burmese their own gas free?
What utter nonsense.
And his answer