Written by Published in Natural Resources

 A gold mining site in Tanai, Kachin State. Photo: Mizzima
Myanmar has been ranked as the worst country in the world in terms of resource governance, according to a report issued recently by US-based NGO Revenue Watch Institute.

The international watchdog says its 2013 index rates the governance of oil, gas and mining sectors among 58 resource-rich countries around the globe. It says that it concentrates exclusively on nations which are abundant in natural resources because “these are countries where poverty, corruption and armed conflict too often converge.”

Myanmar was ranked No. 58 out of 58 nations, sitting below Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea and Turkmenistan.

The highest ranking country on the index was Norway.

The New York-based group said that in ranking each country it regarded four specific criteria:

  •     Institutional and legal setting: laws and systems that facilitate open, accountable government;
  •     Reporting practices: the information governments actually share with the public;
  •     Safeguards and quality controls: checks and balances in place to follow the money;
  •     Enabling environment: broader policies and practices that support democracy, transparency, accountability and rule of law.

Myanmar failed miserably on every score. The report states: “Almost no information is available on the management of the extractive sector. Myanmar has no freedom of information law, and environmental and social impact assessments are not required … It is unclear which authority receives payments from extractive companies. It is widely assumed that corruption is rampant in the sector.”

Speaking at a press conference in northern Thailand on Thursday, Paul Donowitz, the campaign director of EarthRights International, called on the Myanmar government to adopt a Freedom of Information Law, as well as laws requiring firms to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments and Social Impact Assessments.

Related articles:
  1. Natural resources committee formed in Naypyitaw
Written by Published in Natural Resources

Myanmar could lose up to a third of its remaining natural forestry within the next two decades if current practices continue, according to a report released by WWF earlier this month.

The Greater Mekong Ecosystems Report drew information from satellite imagery and found an increase in loss of forest in Myanmar of about 15 percent—from 49 million hectares to around 42 million hectares—between 2002 and 2009.

“The Greater Mekong is at a crossroads,” said Peter Cutter, Landscape Conservation Manager with WWF-Greater Mekong. “One path leads to further declines in biodiversity and livelihoods, but if natural resources are managed responsibly, this region can pursue a course that will secure a healthy and prosperous future for its people.”

“Many protected areas exist in name only,” continued Cutter in a statement released with the report. “Even relatively secure protected areas are under intense pressure from poaching and timber theft, while others have been reduced in size by governments eager to cash in on land concessions to mining companies or plantation owners.”

The report states that across the region "poor governance and weak rule of law facilitates illegal timber harvesting on a large scale." It also cites issues such as land grabbing and badly managed and poorly planned economic land concessions as major obstacles in the maintenance of sustainable forestry.

A draft forestry law is currently being formulated by Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry which aims to tackle illegal logging, conserve forestry and develop the domestic processing sector. A major step in the legislation will see raw, unprocessed logs no longer permitted to be exported as of April 1, 2014.

This new law is intended to tackle deforestation and to encourage foreign investment in processing plants and mills. If effective, these new measures could be huge: timber is one of Myanmar's greatest natural resources and estimates range that forest coverage in Myanmar is from 24 to 48 percent.

According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2009, roughly 50-60 percent of the country's population of 60 million people depend on forestry for their basic needs and some 500,000 people are estimated to be directly employed in the industry.

Related articles:
  1. No hard sell on Myanmar timber
  2. Myanmar timber to be exported to EU soon, say exporters
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US-based Human Rights Watch on Saturday called for the Myanmar authorities to drop charges against 10 persons who took part in a demonstration on April 18 on Maday Island in Rakhine State to protest against the conditions being implemented for the oil and gas pipeline project which is based locally.

The Kyaunkpyu-to-Kumming Oil and Gas Pipeline Project under construction in Rakhine State. Photo: Shwe GasThe 10 are due to face criminal charges in court on May 13 under a 2011 law relating to ‘Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession,’ or de facto for holding a protest without an official permit.

“Peaceful protesters should not face prison time for exercising their basic rights,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By jailing peaceful protesters, the Burmese [Myanmar] government is creating a new class of political prisoners. No genuinely reformist leadership would oversee the prosecution of people who peacefully challenge the state’s development plans.”

Local sources told Human Rights Watch that the protesters twice applied for a permit and were denied each time. Authorities told the applicants that their application was denied because Maday Island is under a state of emergency.

However, in its April report titled “All You Can Do is Pray,” Human Rights Watch said they found no instances of violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya on Maday Island over the past year, and therefore no state of emergency should apply.

Those arrested for violating the Peaceful Assembly Law are listed as: Tun Kyi, 33, Aung Thein Tun, 44, Tun Khin Nu, 36, and Maung Phu Thee, 32, all from Ywama village; Maung Maung Sun, 32, and Maung Maung Soe, 30, from Prein village; Maung Maung Myint, 36, Maung Yin Hla, 38, and Maung Myo Naing, 32, from Kyauk Tann village; and Tin Oo Kyaw, 40, from Pann Tein Seay village.

“The activists staged a protest to voice concerns about loss of land, environmental risks associated with oil and gas exploration and production, and other grievances in response to the Shwe gas project and related off-shore and on-shore components,” Human Rights Watch said in a report on Saturday. “The protest organizers released a public statement on May 2 with 12 demands to the project operators and the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, calling for the project to be postponed until their demands were met. The demands were agreed upon at consultations conducted by three community-based organizations with the residents of 17 villages in the area, accounting for an estimated 20,000 people.”

The report said numerous villagers on Maday Island and throughout the pipeline corridor to China have reportedly lost their land due to the project and have received either inadequate or no compensation, raising concerns about their long-term livelihoods.

The New York-based organization said that most residents of Maday Island rely on farming and fishing for their livelihoods and have voiced concerns over potential environmental degradation associated with the industrial development projects.

For more background:
  1. Maday protesters released on bail
  2. CNPC denies firing workers on Maday Island
  3. Conflict in Shan State could disrupt gas flow
Written by Published in Natural Resources

Photo: Shan State Army (SSA)
The continued conflict in northern Shan State will likely delay the first shipments of natural gas from the Bay of Bengal through the Shwe Gas pipeline to China, according to a report in industry website Upstream quoting a Myanmar official.

Although construction of the almost 500-mile trans-Myanmar pipeline is on track to be completed by the end of May, renewed clashes between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army South threaten to derail the transfer of firstly natural gas from Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State through northern Shan State to Kunming, followed by the piping of oil on the same route scheduled for later this year.

A senior Energy Ministry official is quoted by Reuters as saying that despite the completion of the pipeline, Naypyitaw was still unsure when the situation along the route will allow it to operate.

The statement, which was made by an anonymous official, contrasts with comments made by the vice-governor of Yunnan Province last week when he said that the natural gas pipeline would begin pumping natural gas in the first half of this year.

For more background:
  1. Chinese predict June opening for Burma pipeline
  2. No hasty ceasefire, says KIO
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The Shwe Gas pipeline—which extends 771km from western Myanmar’s Kyaukphyu on the coast of the Bay of Bengal to China’s southwestern city of Kunming— is on schedule to begin pumping this year, Gao Shuxun, the vice-governor of Yunnan province, said on Tuesday in Beijing, according to a report on the CRI website.

map-gas-pipelineGao is reported saying that construction had gone well in China and was now speeding up its “overseas sections”. He confirmed that the natural gas pipeline—which will extend beyond Kunming as far as Guizhou and Guangxi, a total pipeline length of 2,806km—will begin operating in the first half of this year, while the oil pipeline will be functional by either the end of the year or the beginning of next year.

Speaking at a press briefing at the 1st China-South Asia Expo, Gao is quoted as saying that the construction of the China-Myanmar pipelines will ease the energy shortage in China and play an important role in promoting the national economy, especially as the channels will significantly increase energy supplies to the country's underdeveloped southwestern regions.

CRI said the oil pipeline has an annual transport capacity of 22 million tonnes, while the natural gas pipeline will have an annual transport capacity of 12 billion cubic meters.

For more background:
  1. 10 Maday islanders charged following pipeline protest 
  2. Chinese predict June opening for Burma pipeline 
  3. Shan farmers urge gas pipeline project to be moved
Written by Published in Natural Resources

Ten residents of Maday Island, who were charged on April 19 for protesting against the island’s pipeline project without official permission, were released on bail on Monday following a hearing at Kyaukphyu Township Court, according to the Malay Island Development Committee.

Some 800 protesters march to the CNPC office on Maday Island on Thursday to issue a list of residents' demands. PHOTO: Thein Hlaing / Mizzima
 Some 800 protesters march to the CNPC office on Maday Island on Thursday to issue a list of residents' demands. PHOTO: Thein Hlaing / Mizzima
Speaking to Mizzima on Tuesday, committee chairperson Tun Kyi said, “All of them were released on bail. The next hearing will be on May 16.”

He said that hundreds of Maday islanders had sailed across to the mainland to support the 10 protesters in court. Many had taken part in the original rally when some 800 Maday residents marched and voiced their concerns about the benefits of the pipeline.

“The residents organized the protest because their rights had been ignored,” said Tun Kyi. “Maday islanders respect the law, so they applied for official permission to protest. In fact, their application was rejected without any good reason. That’s why the march was held.”

The Maday Islanders’ group has submitted a list of demands to the government authorities and to pipeline-backers China National Petroleum Corporation demanding that the Chinese company promotes development of the island, as well as jobs and compensation for its residents.

Speaking in an interview with Voice of America, Shwe Gas Movement activist Wong Aung said “Too much is at stake to remain silent”, and he criticized CNPC for “exploiting the workers”.

For more background:
  1. 10 Maday islanders charged following pipeline protest 
  2. CNPC denies firing workers on Maday Island 
  3. NGO urges halt to Shwe natural gas project