“51 million people must understand how much money Myanmar gets from natural resources and how this money is spent. That is democracy. That is my dream.”
With these words HE U So e Thane, Minister of the President’s Office in Myanmar, set the scene for the conference on Natural Resource Governance taking place in Naypyidaw today. During the first panel, members of the multi-stakeholder group (MSG) took stock of progress so far and challenges ahead. Vice Minister of Finance and Chair of the MSG, Dr Maung Maung Thein, highlighted the recent progress with the preparations for the first EITI Report, but also noted the many challenges ahead including the need to identify a reporting framework fitting Myanmar’s fiscal regime, awareness raising at regional levels, and establishing data collection systems. Other panelists commented on the need for a strong dialogue between all parties, an improved legal framework for the extractive sector, and an enabling environment for civil society. Clare Short applauded Myanmar EITI's (MEITI) work so far, including the plans for disclosing beneficial ownership, exploring contract transparency and establishing regional EITI units. She stressed the need for transparency in oil, gas and mining, with gradual expansion to other sectors such as forestry and hydropower if desirable and relevant. Clare also urged the government to use the EITI to build open and reliable government systems disclosing information on the extractive sector at all levels of government.
Myanmar has 41 state-owned enterprises, several engaged in oil, gas and mining activities. During the panel on the reform of state-owned enterprises, we learnt about different roles and models of national oil companies as well as the economic importance of Myanmar’s state-owned enterprises, which all together generate more than half of Myanmar’s revenue and account for more than 40% of the country’s expenditure. HE Zeyar Aung, Minister of Energy, set out the government’s plans to privatise Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) within the next ten years, with the ultimate goal of turning MOGE into an independent operator in oil and gas exploration and production.
Myanmar expects considerable windfalls from the extractive sector over the next decades. The session on natural resource funds was a rich discussion about the issues that Myanmar should take into account when considering whether to establish a fund as one of many tools to better manage oil and gas revenues. Panellists shared experience from Norway and Timor Leste on the time needed to establish a fund, governance principles, oversight and spending policies. There was clearly a desire both from the Government of Myanmar and the participants at the conference to create a framework for the establishment of a fund as quickly as possible.
The conference ended with some reflections from Dr Zaw Oo, MEITI National Coordinator, on the way forward. The EITI is already closely linked to a number of Myanmar’s broader reform efforts including: economic reforms such as public financial management reforms, SOE reforms and infrastructure development; governance reforms including decentralisation and local government institution building; and political reform including issues such as equitable revenue sharing and the peace process.
Myanmar has embarked on a remarkable journey of transformation, but has a daunting task ahead. However, as U Soe Thane said, a journey of thousand steps begins with a single step.