Burma: Civil Society Makes Demands in Lead-up to Resource Transparency Conference

Date of publication: 
14 October 2014

RANGOON — Civil society representatives urged corporate and government stakeholders to take additional measures in preparation for implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a resource revenue reporting protocol.

Burma became a candidate for EITI membership in July 2014, and must now meet the initiative’s seven requirements in order to become fully compliant. The most fundamental requirement is a fully functioning tripartite “multi-stakeholder group” (MSG) comprising civil society, corporate and government representatives who share decision-making power about how the country will report on and regulate the extractive industries.

Burma’s civil society stakeholder group—led by a diverse, nine-member board of activists, academics and other figures—convened in Rangoon from Oct. 11-13 before a major EITI conference to be held in Naypyidaw this week. The civil society meetings concluded on Monday evening with a list of demands that the Burmese government must address before implementing the protocol and enjoying the benefits that come with it, such as legitimacy in the global marketplace.

A group of civil society stakeholders collectively known as the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA) issued a six-point ultimatum to their counterparts, claiming that Burma’s civil society does not yet have enough protections and therefore cannot participate freely in implementation of the protocol.

“A good comprehensive EITI report with public consensus can come out only when there is space for the people to participate freely,” read a statement issued by the group on Monday. MATA said that they plan to raise their concerns in Naypyidaw as the EITI board meets for the first time in Burma.

The biggest concern, they said, was a lack of protections for civil society at the regional level. MATA demanded that the government take immediate steps to establish regional awareness programs and stakeholder dialogue.

Some representatives claimed that individuals who carry out resource-related activities on the ground—such as workshops about free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), corporate social responsibility (CSR), and resource policy—often face harassment and restrictions on movement and assembly. These threats, some said, have come from local authorities and even employees of some corporate stakeholders.

MATA representatives said that most cases of harassment occurred in Mandalay Division and Shan State, and almost all of the reports were related to activities geared towards raising awareness about commercial mining.

Win Myo Thu, a member of Burma’s EITI civil society steering committee and director of an organization called EcoDev, said that harassment is on the rise as the population becomes more informed about natural resources.

“There are many mining activities in these areas [Mandalay Division and Shan State] and there are many civil society groups that are becoming more aware about what the EITI means, so there are more cases [of harassment] as people become more active on these issues,” he told The Irrawaddy.

MATA suggested that the best way to solve this problem is to focus on implementation at the regional level, demanding that the government commit resources to strengthening and properly training local multi-stakeholder groups to liaise about specific projects and issues on the ground in affected areas. While the main representatives on each stakeholder group have a nuanced grasp on transparency norms and international best practices, local stakeholders aren’t necessarily as aware of their rights and responsibilities.

“Because of restrictions on EITI awareness, regional authorities and companies don’t know exactly how to implement the EITI,” said Tun Myint Aung, also a member of the steering committee as well as the activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.

“If the government can organize tripartite representation in every region, each place can deal with its problems better and move forward on creating a successful work-plan,” he said.

Becoming EITI compliant is a crucial reform for Burma, which has long had a reputation for shady and corrupt business deals, particularly with regard to extractive projects in ethnic areas.

The EITI standard, which was last revised earlier this year, requires full and free civilian participation in overseeing revenues generated by extraction of resources like gas, oil and minerals. Some countries opt to include forest and fisheries in their reporting requirements. Members produce an annual revenue report that enables citizens to see how much money their government is making from extractive projects.

EITI is a Norway-based initiative established in 2002. It is a voluntary protocol that has been endorsed by the G-8 and currently has 29 fully compliant members. An additional 17 countries, including Burma and the United States, now have candidate status.