Field trip report: learning about social spending in the Tanintharyi region.
The fifth and last day of the EITI Myanmar week began before sunrise as members of the EITI Board and local MEITI stakeholders made their way down south to Kanbauk village in Tanintharyi region. This is where the offshore pipelines from Yadana, Yetagun and Zawtika gas fields meet and continue a 63 km long onshore journey to the Thai border.
Yadana gas field is the largest producing gas field in Myanmar accounting for 50% of total gas production. The French oil company Total has operated the field since 1992, in consortium with Chevron, MOGE and PPT EP. Some 80% of the gas produced here is sold to Thailand, while the remaining amounts are used for domestic consumption.
While Total's history in Myanmar has not been straightforward, the company has over the past 20 years built a reputable socio-economic environment, benefitting 33 villages living around the onshore pipeline. The company also runs nation-wide developing programmes. We visited the Pipeline Centre in Kanbauk and projects in nearby villages, including an agriculture cooperative, a health clinic, a training centre and a high school to learn more about the impact of this social spending.
The projects have undoubtedly contributed to improving living standards. Thanks to awareness campaigns malaria prevalence has been drastically reduced. The agricultural cooperative has enabled farmers to access high quality fertilizers and farming equipment resulting in higher returns. Infrastructure such as roads and schools have also improved.
Over coffee with the local village administrator of Kanbauk, members of the Village Communication Committee, which is responsible for maintaining a good dialogue between the company and local communities, Village Bank Committee members and other local stakeholders, we discussed community concerns and future challenges. There was clearly a great appreciation for the contribution that the socio-economic projects have made to the development of local communities. There was also room for improvements in terms of raising awareness of environmental aspects of oil and gas operations, ensuring job opportunities when the day comes that the company is no longer there, collaboration with local governments as local public service institutions now start to be built, and ensuring fair compensation for any land lost to further expansion of oil and gas projects in the region.
As Myanmar's income from natural resources starts to increase and the transition to democracy continues, community members hoped that the government would give greater priority to raise the living standards of the rural population of Myanmar. In their view, there is no question that the country's natural resources belong to them and that the responsibility for ensuring that these resources are managed well is with each and every citizen.