The Wind of Change, How Burma Can Utilize The Opportunity, a Perspective From Natural Resource Management

After five decades of military rule, the wind of change is blowing in Burma. The releasing of the opposition politician and the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi has an inevitable sign of internal progress in Burma. The government has also released hundreds of other political prisoners.

This situation has raised speculation and excitement at the same time. Critics and civil society activist are split in analyzing the signals as a genuine sign of change or a mere camouflage by the Burmese government. But whatever the intention is, the world is celebrating this signals, especially the business sector.

Investors are eagerly seeking opportunity in the resource rich country. Burma is rich in precious mineral such as jade, germ and gold. The country is also blessed with energy sources such as oil and gas. In fact, the country is the first country in Southeast Asia who extracts their oil. The wind of change will give conducive environment for company to invest their money in Burma. By promoting democratic transition and political stability, Burma will be a very sexy country for business sector.  Without strong supervision by civil society there will be a critical impact of the openness of Burma in the near future.

In the previous time, the Burmese government has used natural resources to fund their army. Based on a report from Earth-rights international, How Total, Chevron, and PTTEP Contribute to Human Rights Violations, Financial Secrecy, and Nuclear Proliferation in Burma, Burmese regime receives over 62 percent of the net revenue from the Yadana pipeline, operated by Chevron and Total. The project does not only give contribution to human rights abuses in the project area, but it also fuelling the government’s nuclear ambitions. We can conclude that Burmese Government prefer to use the current revenue to buy weapon rather than to transform the wealth and prosperity of Burma People.

This is the reason why civil society and various activists should consider the idea that investment should be managed. But to have a comprehensive reform on the natural management issues is not as easy as turning the palm of hands. Realizing that, a short term and realistic goal should be set up to overcoming the changes. Implementing international standards which have wide recognition in the international level should be considered. One of them is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

EITI is a self developed standard that is very simple to promote transparency in the extractive industries. This initiative required the companies to transparently publish their payment in term of tax, royalty, profit share etc under the national law. Vice versa, the government should publicly report their revenue from the extractive companies. This whole process will be reconciled by an international auditor and overseen by a multi-stakeholder consist of government, business and civil society representatives. The standard will provide a bridge for the government interest to gain international reputation and to attract investment. While it also serve the interest of business to have a more conducive investment, it will provide a stronger position for civil society in the decision making process.

By agreeing to implement the EITI, a country has to acknowledge the position of civil society in the multi-stakeholder along with other stakeholders. Civil society has the chance to engage and to understand the policy formulation, to have voice and to raise their concern. It will give a constructive pressure and input for the current and future government regarding their natural resource management. The inclusion of civil society in the process will provide enabling environment for transparency and democracy to grow.

Without ensuring meaningful participation of people’s concern, the democratic process in Burma will go nowhere but chaos. And EITI provides an entry point for that meaningful participation. A lesson learned from Nigeria showed how EITI implementation could save the country from resource curse, a phenomenon where natural resource turns out into conflict and poverty.

As the momentum come, and considering the good signal from the current government, civil society should raise this concern to the government. Critical engagement should be built and the language should be chosen. Every single chance to transform the country should be used carefully.  Finally, may God bless the reform in Burma!

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