Today in Rangoon, Arakanese activists launched a report that calls for a broad restructuring of the government’s natural resource management. Titled “Breaking the Curse” and written by the advocacy group Arakan Oil Watch, the report argues that decision-making power and profits should be shared by the local communities affected by extraction projects.
“People need to own, decide and manage their land and natural resources at a subnational level. We need to break the resource curse and move toward a more stable society and prosperous economy,” the report said.
Since natural gas deposits were discovered off the Arakan coast in 2004, the impoverished state has been the site of large-scale drilling operations from the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise as well as foreign firms like Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, and the China National Petroleum Corporation.
Much the natural gas extracted at these sites is fed into the controversial Shwe Gas pipeline bound for western China.
In 2015, two more large natural gas deposits were discovered in the Bay of Bengal. Some experts have speculated that they may be the largest of all deposits in the area.
While these drilling sites have generated billions of dollars in revenue for Naypyidaw, and promise billions more to come, the communities immediately affected by the projects have seen no share of the profits.
The report includes interviews with many local Arakanese people who have lost their lands and livelihoods to the Shwe Gas pipeline, whether by having them confiscated outright or having their farms damaged by waste water and other pollution.
Arakan is among the poorest states in the nation. A survey by the World Bank estimated the state has a 78 percent poverty rate, compared to 38 percent for the rest of the country.
The report calls for the government to give state and township governments greater authority in the planning and execution of large-scale extraction projects, and calls for amending section 37 (a) of the constitution, which states that “the Union is the ultimate owner of all lands and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere.”
Speaking in Rangoon, Tun Kyi, a secretary of the Kyauk Phyu Rural Development Association, said his group has been raising many of these issues for years, but officials from Naypyidaw and the military were often hostile to any challenges to their policy and made efforts to silence or intimidate critics.
“I think the new government will listen to the people” he said. “[They will] reevaluate the existing projects.”