Safeguard natural resources: NGO
By Juliet Shwe Gaung
MYANMAR’S natural resources are finite and should be used for the country’s development, said Mr David Allan, the interim director of Spectrum, a non-government organisation, during a workshop on transparency on July 30.
The event at Chatrium Hotel was jointly organised by Spectrum and two civil society representatives from Indonesia and Timor Leste, who shared experiences in their nations’ efforts to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
EITI is based on the idea that companies disclose payments and governments disclose receipts for natural resources that ultimately belong to the country’s citizens. About 36 nations have signed up to EITI and the organisation’s international secretariat is based in Oslo, Norway.
Mr Allan said countries needed to be aware that their natural resources would eventually be depleted and needed to plan for such a contingency.
“The resources are finite. That means you need to use them very carefully,” he said.
Myanmar is in the process of making a public commitment to joining the EITI and must still make written commitments before it signs EITI.
Countries that sign up to the initiative agree to disclose the payments concerning the extraction of natural resources and prepare a report on those payments that is audited by an independent third party to ensure the figures match.
The whole process should be governed by a multi-stakeholder group that includes government, companies and civil society.
“Each of them have to be willingly involved and have to consider that they have the opportunity to express themselves properly or the process should be considered doubtful,” Mr David said.
He said Total and Chevron have international EITI experience but companies in other extractive industries such as mining and forestry, as well as the fisheries sector, could also join the initiative.
He added that civil society would also play their part.
“You might have a group called Myanmar coalition for transparency where all groups [in civil society] that are interested in transparency could form together and represent some of the issues,” he said.
He said groups working outside Myanmar, such as Publish What You Pay and the Shwe Gas Movement, were also interested in taking part in the initiative.
“I’d make a strong argument for groups that are particularly interested in gender equality issues and groups that represent children and youth issues in the country because the resources in your country are for the grandchildren,” he said.
Mr Allan said EITI was “just a small portion” of the country’s overall development.
Mr Fabby Tumiwa, executive director of Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), a group of NGOs conducting transparency and accountability advocacy in Indonesia’s energy sector, said civil society kept pressure on the government to stay accountable, adding that the media needs to closely monitor the government and other stakeholders too.
“The media should never stop pushing the government but other stakeholders. The future of the country is worth fighting for,” he said.
Indonesia submitted its application to join EITI in October 2009 and was preparing its first report for publication in early 2013, he said.
He said completing the process of signing up to EITI took about four years and the first report usually took about two years to prepare.
Mr Charles Scheiner from International Federation for East Timor, a civil society group that has helped to implement EITI in Timor Leste, said that as countries worked on their reports both governments and companies would try to hide bribes.
He said that bribery was a problem in Timor Leste and added that the work of the media and civil society in fighting the problem is important.
“We have an anti-corruption commission that was set up a couple of years ago that is trying to control corruption but it is hard,” he said.
“We had 24 years of an Indonesian occupation that was extremely corrupt [and as a result] there’s a tradition of corruption in the society and that is hard to undo,” he said.