Summary: "In 2008, Myanmar’s military rulers ratified a new constitution that ensured their continued monopoly of the country’s natural resources. Section 37 (a) states:
“the Union is the ultimate owner ofall lands and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere”
Under this constitution, the central government in Naypyidaw is not only the owner of all natural resources in the country; it also controls and manages them, enacting “necessary laws for extraction.” This centralized control has had disastrous effects in widening inequality, fueling a cycle of conflict and violence, and depleting non-renewable resources that could be the basis of a sound economy for future generations.
Arakan State provides a perfect illustration of this and lies at the heart of one of Myanmar’s most sought after resources: natural gas. The Shwe project now produces 500 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, yet none of this is used to provide electricity in Arakan State. While local communities bear livelihood and environmental destruction, human rights abuses and land confiscation, the gas is sold to China and more than one billion USD annually flows to Naypyidaw. There, accounting of the revenues remains opaque and reinvestment in Arakan’s infrastructure, education, and health is practically non-existent. The state is the second poorest in the country
Until now, the military, the central government, and foreign investors have taken advantage of the centralized governance structure and a lack of protection mechanisms to make all the decisions around natural resources and reap most of the benefits. In contrast, devolving the powers to manage resources to lower levels of government will establish political, administrative, and fiscal structures so that decisions around the use of natural resources can be made at local levels with input from affected peoples. This distribution of powers makes natural resource management more accountable to the needs of local communities and will therefore ensure a more sustainable development.
Drawing on the Arakan Oil Watch’s decade-long work with communities affected by natural resource investments and experiences from resource-rich countries around the world, we find six critical components to achieve sustainable natural resource management in Myanmar. They are:
1. Build peace: A moratorium on high-value natural resource extraction until political agreements and new legislation have been finalized will reduce tensions and conflict and allow time for protection laws and institutions to be established. Peace
agreements that specify division of powers—such as the one in Papua New Guinea—will help prevent conflicts from re- emerging and enable subnational governments to proceed with establishing their own governance structures...
2. Broaden participation: Engaging people in the process of managing their own resources and ensuring that they receive benefits from their resources will prevent resentment and reduce conflicts. Strengthening formal participation, as is done in Latin America with community referendums, will provide immediate input from affected communities and community- based organizations on natural resource projects as well as on long-term planning decisions...
3. Decentralize governance: Transferring significant powers of authority from Naypyidaw to civilian-led state and regional governments through statutory and constitutional provisions will bring decision-making closer to affected people and make development processes more efficient and equitable.
4. Decentralize ownership of natural resources: Amending Section 37 (a) of the national constitution to enable states and regions to own their natural resources will address longstanding calls for more autonomy from ethnic organizations, contributing to long lasting peace...
5. Decentralize control and management of natural resources: Amending Section 37 (b) of the national constitution so that states and regions can control and manage their lands and natural resources, including the decision whether or not non-renewable resources should be extracted. State and regional governments will also then be able to establish appropriate laws and institutions for economic planning, regulation and monitoring of extractive industries, and rights protection for current and future generations...
6. Decentralize collection of natural resource revenues:
Providing legislative powers for states and regions to collect significant taxes will enable responsive local governments to manage their own budgets and allocate funds according to local plans and needs, reducing time consuming and costly bureaucracy at the national level, and better serving local populations.
Authors and Publishers
Arakan Oil Watch (AOW) is an independent non-governmental community based organization. AOW aims to protect and promote human rights and environmental abuses that result from multinational oil and gas companies in Arakan State and other parts of Burma.
The Online Burma/Myanmar Library (OBL) is a non-profit online research library mainly in English and Burmese serving academics, activists, diplomats, NGOs, CSOs, CBOs and other Burmese and international actors. It is also, of course, open to the general public.