Creating dialogue in Myanmar through EITI

Hefty debates in Myanmar about who is benefitting from the country's natural resources.

EITI Chair Clare Short meets U Soe Thein, Minister of President’s Office and Myanmar’s EITI Champion in Oslo 26 February 2013.

Last week, the Letpadaung Parliamentary Commission released its report on the investigations of the Letpadaung copper mine conflict in Myanmar. This has sparked a hefty debate about who is benefitting from the mine as well as demands for increased transparency and dialogue between all actors involved.

There is widespread discontent over what local communities perceive as land grabbing, lack of compensation and environmental degradation. The project is a joint-venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding (UMEH) and the Chinese company Wanbao. Calls for a shutdown of the mine came to a head on 29 November last year when the police intervened to stop the protests, but has continued since then.

Appointed by President Thein Sein and chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Letpadaung Commission concluded that the project should be allowed to continue. Key to this conclusion was the need for appropriate compensation, respect for environmental standards and job creation, but also a concern that a unilateral decision to cancel the contract would deter much needed investment in the sector and complicate relations with China. Opponents of the projects are unsatisfied with the Commission’s conclusion.

Myanmar continues to open up

Myanmar is preparing to implement EITI. While EITI on its own will not be sufficient to resolve disputes like the one in Letpadaung, it can make some important contributions. First of all, it will enable dialogue about how Letpadaung and other extractive industry projects are governed. This weekend, it was reported that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met with local communities in Kanbauk to hear their views on the impacts of TOTAL’s oil and gas project. As Myanmar continues to open up and provide more space for civil society to voice their concerns, there appears to be a need for government, companies and civil society to come together to discuss the governance of the extractive sector. EITI can provide a platform for these conversations though its multi-stakeholder group, contribute to improved relationships and build awareness and trust between all parties involved.

Secondly, EITI will shed light on how much Wanbao/UMEH pays for the copper and how much the government receives. People are unhappy because they don’t yet see any benefits from the mine and the resources belonging to them. Wanbao claims that the project is profitable for Myanmar. According to them, the deal which was signed with the previous government in 2010 gives 17% of the profit to the government. Wanbao gets around 12 % and UMEH 13%. The EITI Report will give people reliable information about how much was actually received and enable them to hold the government and companies to account.

Thirdly, the Commission recommends that the contract is reviewed in favour of UHML and the government. Myanmar could decide to join the increasing number of EITI countries that are favouring contract transparency and allow the public to assess whether companies are paying what they ought to and whether Myanmar is getting a fair deal from its resources.

EITI implementation will not be easy. Following President Thein Sein’s commitment to implement EITI, reaffirmed by U Soe Thane, Minister of the President’s Office and Myanmar’s EITI Champion, when he was here in Oslo a couple of weeks ago, next steps will be to accelerate the consultations within and between each stakeholder group with a view to form a multi-stakeholder group in the autumn. It is important that we all in the international community now really are able to provide a helping hand.