THE head of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative said the outcome of his team’s visit to Myanmar last week was “well above expectations”.
The visit included meetings with nine government ministers, almost a dozen civil society organisations, foreign energy firms and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been vocal in her advocacy for greater transparency in Myanmar’s extractive industries.
Mr Jonas Moberg, head of the EITI International Secretariat, said at a press conference on July 17 he was “very encouraged” by the discussions he had during the two-day visit.
The government has on several occasions said it plans to sign up to EITI, which works on the principle that companies and governments should disclose payments for natural resources. While it has not yet submitted an application, Mr Moberg said Minister for Industry U Soe Thein had “very strongly” reaffirmed the government’s commitment to implementing EITI and to ensuring rapid progress in terms of implementation.
He also expressed a “willingness to work with all parties of the society to make sure that this is a good process”, Mr Moberg said.
If Myanmar follows the EITI standard, the payment figures will be made public through an EITI report, where the tax and royalty payments are independently verified and reconciled, and the people will be in a position to hold the government to account for the management of resources and revenues.
The process is overseen by a multi-stakeholder group of government, companies and civil society.
“The EITI is a tool to be able to better hold the government to account for how it is managing the sector,” said Mr Moberg.
He said transparency is not an end in itself but a means of improving accountability, fighting corruption, and building trust and confidence in how extractive industries are managed.
Thirty-six countries are implementing the EITI standard, including Indonesia, East Timor and Mongolia.
“Governments implement this standard and they then commit to work with civil society and the operating companies in ensuring transparency,” he said.
Dr Win Naing, a consultant geologist with Geotecminex Consultants in Singapore, said the government should be applauded for its efforts to foster transparency in the country’s extractive sectors.
He said joining EITI will increase public trust in the government and bring greater benefits for the country from resource extraction.
The EITI mission came just days after the US announced it would relax a ban on investment, including in the energy sector, and a visit by senior US officials and executives from 38 companies.
“Oil companies Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil participated in the Myanmar trip, along with companies in other sectors such as Dell, FedEx, Google, Procter & Gamble and Time Warner. All of them are aware of EITI,” said Dr Win Naing.
Mr Moberg said that the practices of larger international oil and gas and mining companies had improved quite drastically in the past decade. “I think there is a lot of progress made,” he said.
“But we have to continue to work for transparency and make sure everything is public and there are as little possibilities as possible for any black books.
“In many countries we’ve also seen how the EITI started with oil and gas and mining and can expand to other sectors.”
EITI Secretariat’s alternate policy adviser Ms Dyveke Rogan said allocation of revenue from natural resources was the government’s responsibility and not part of the standard EITI reporting requirements.
“There are countries where the reporting covers some sub-national transfers, such as revenue-sharing agreements between central and regional governments – but this is not part of the minimum requirements,” she said.
She also said that the EITI Secretariat required signatories to have a “free space” for civil society organisations to assess adherence to EITI principles.
“The EITI rules are quite clear on that there needs to be free space for civil society participation and that will be one of the issues the international board will look at when it considers [Myanmar’s] application,” he said.