Myanmar – Joining the Path to Resource Transparency

Emma Irwin shares her insight about the EITI process in Myanmar and its evolution in the past two years.

These are exciting times for the prospect of greater transparency in Myanmar’s extractive industries. After decades of tight military control, Myanmar is now opening up its extractive sector by joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Last week the EITI Board approved Myanmar’s application to become an EITI Candidate country at its Board meeting in Mexico. In the context of the broader political reform process underway and which only really began 2.5 years ago, this is a significant achievement.

Prior to the government’s interest in EITI, civil society organisations had started talking about EITI, holding workshops, and doing some initial research. Then, in 2012, President Thein Sein formally committed the government to implement EITI.  A coalition of national civil society organisations was established in late 2013, which is now an active, coherent umbrella organisation with around 500 members from all states and regions. A key milestone in the process was the establishment of the multi-stakeholder group (MSG) in February 2014. That the MSG was established and is now functioning is in itself a unique achievement given that never before in the recent history of Myanmar have representatives from these three different stakeholder groups sat around the same table together to discuss resource governance and transparency issues.

Now that Myanmar is officially an EITI Candidate the ‘real work’ of implementation begins. The timing could not be better. The recent awarding by the Ministry of Energy of 20 offshore oil and gas blocks in March 2014, and 16 onshore blocks in October 2013 has brought Myanmar back into the international oil and gas spotlight.  However, the lack of publicly available information about both bidding rounds has led to public criticism and speculation, and rumours of malpractice are increasing.

Recently, a few highly controversial and contentious projects have also fuelled public mistrust and concern, both nationally and internationally, due to lack of transparency, public consultation and information mechanisms, as well as a lack of credible social and environmental safeguards. These include the vast Shwe Gas pipeline, the Chinese state-owned copper mine in Sagaing Region, and a major hydropower project in Kachin State which is suspended until further notice.

Myanmar is also famous for its high quality jade and gemstones, which also contribute to public speculation and uncertainty given that very little is known about the mining of these gems and what then happens to them, and that gem exports are still subject to US sanctions.

The lack of transparency in Myanmar’s extractive industries to date is not surprising, given the relatively recent reform process underway and the legacy of the previous regime. However, although not surprisingly, it has led to increasing questioning about the transparency of licensing processes and procedures, who the real benefactors are from the exploitation of Myanmar’s natural resources and other key resource governance issues.

Myanmar EITI’s Workplan, which the MSG has committed to implement, includes several upcoming activities that will specifically address these issues. These include a study on ‘beneficial ownership’, and the disclosure of license allocation procedures (including for the latest offshore bidding round).  The MSG has also agreed to begin exploring the possibility of contract disclosure – all key resource governance issues which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The Workplan also outlines plans for extensive communications and outreach across the country, and for the institutionalisation of MEITI into government systems and procedures.

The hard work is really only just beginning. However, the good news is that as part of the EITI family, Myanmar now benefits from the support of a credible, multi-stakeholder platform for dialogue on resource transparency with an in-built monitoring system, and with on-going, continuous improvement for the benefit of all citizens at its heart.

For more information on the EITI process in Myanmar please visit the EITI country page or MEITI website

Emma Irwin is an EITI Technical Adviser in Myanmar and works for the World Bank as a consultant.