Decentralization of natural resource management key to ending conflict

23 March 2016
Decentralization of natural resource management key to ending conflict
A worker at Shwe Gas terminal in Kyauk Phyu, Rakhine state in May, 2013. Photo: Mizzima

In a report launched yesterday, Arakan Oil Watch urged the new government to devolve ownership and management of natural resources to the states and regions in order to achieve sustainable peace and prevent the negative impacts of resource extraction and export.
Drawing on a decade of work with communities affected by natural resource investments and experiences from resource-rich countries around the world, the report ‘Breaking the Curse’ identifies six critical components to fight what is commonly called the “resource curse.” Key among these is broadening participation and benefits through decentralization within a federal framework.
Decades of centralized ownership, control, and collection of revenues from high-value natural resources has destroyed local community livelihoods and the environment, widening inequality, fuelling civil wars, and depleting non-renewable resources.
“U Thein Sein government’s focus on revenue transparency alone is not enough to solve the problem of Myanmar’s natural resources management. It’s not just about the money,” said Jockai Khaing, director of Arakan Oil Watch. “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 forward toward a more stable society and prosperous economy.”
Despite its massive gas fields, coastal fisheries, and agriculture lands, Arakan is Myanmar’s second poorest state. While the Shwe gas is sold to China and more than one billion USD annually flows to the central government in Naypyidaw, Arakan state and local government cannot use the revenues to develop deprived social and economic sectors.
Tun Kyi, a secretary of the Kyauk Phyu Rural Development Association (KPRDA) said, “We local people have already suffered too much from China’s deep sea port project and Shwe gas and oil pipeline projects. Increasing investment in Arakan State without proper institutions and laws in place will just boost the destruction of our livelihoods and environment.”
The report comes amid continued conflict in the ethnic states, increasing investment in Myanmar’s oil and gas sector, and the recent discovery of more natural gas in blocks A6 and AD7 off the Arakan coast.