Ethnic Arakanese activists have begun a signature campaign calling on the government to share more benefits from their state’s bountiful natural resources with the people of Arakan State.
In a statement from the campaign, which launched on Sunday, its organizers said revenue from the state’s natural resources must be shared with Arakan residents to go toward local development.
“It is crucial to allocate our rightful benefits from the revenues of Rakhine [Arakan] resources into Rakhine State’s budget so that the economic, social, health, education and transportation sectors of the Arakanese people’s lives can be improved in short order,” the statement said.
Arakanese activists have formed the Committee for Obtaining the Benefits of Rakhine Resources in an effort spearheaded by the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), which holds 34 seats in Parliament.
Signatures will be collected for two months, said Khaing Pyi Soe, who heads the committee in addition to serving as the RNDP’s spokesman. He said more than 400 signatures in each of Arakan State’s 17 townships and in Rangoon had been collected since Sunday.
“When we receive 300,000 signatures, we will submit it,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday. The petition will be sent to President Thein Sein and both houses of Parliament, he said, adding that the issue would be shared with Arakanese legislators to encourage them to bring up the proposal during parliamentary meetings.
The activists say their campaign for greater revenue sharing refers to more than just natural gas production, such as money derived from the high-profile Shwe gas project. The petition also pertains to other resources acquired from Arakan State’s lands and adjacent seas, including the Nayputaung mine project in Taungup, and forestry and fisheries products.
Arakan State has been an economically important one for Burma, but projects involving natural resource extraction have also had significant impacts on local communities. The Shwe gas project, which began piping gas to China’s Yunnan province from the Kyaukphyu port in Arakan State last month, traverses the western state before crossing over into central Burma and onward to Shan State in the country’s north. During the dual oil and gas pipelines’ construction, accusations of forced evictions and insufficient compensation for land confiscations were frequent.
The campaign launched Sunday also calls on the government to ensure that electricity is supplied to the whole of Arakan State.
Although Arakan State and its offshore territory possesses substantial energy reserves that could go toward the state’s development, those resources have largely been exported, with profits not benefitting local residents. Though the Shwe gas project has to date uncovered more than 200 billion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves—most of which will be exported to China—electricity costs remain high in Arakan State. A unit of electricity, which costs 35 kyats (less than 4 US cents) in Rangoon, costs between 450-850 kyats in Arakan Sate, according to Kyaukphyu residents.
Many local residents claim that their way of life before development projects were initiated has been jeopardized due to land confiscations and a loss of traditional livelihoods, leaving residents without employment or forced to migrate in search of better job opportunities.
A Kyaukphyu resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, said “the projects have caused our lives to deteriorate. Our lives were peaceful before these projects. We had plenty of land for farming or fishing.”
“The move [petition] is not only for the Arakanese, but for other ethnic groups to start campaigning for their local resources to be shared with their people,” added Khaing Pyi Soe, the petition committee’s leader.