RANGOON — A coalition of Arakanese environmental groups and political parties are hoping to collect 300,000 signatures to petition the national government to decentralize natural resource sharing.
Several natural resource projects have been pursued in Arakan State, including titanium and marble mining, offshore gas projects and the construction of deep-sea ports. But civil society groups and activists have criticized many such projects as lacking transparency and creating problems for locals, including through land confiscation and environmental degradation.
Last month, Arakan Oil Watch (AOW) urged the incoming government to amend two constitutional articles: 37(a) and (b). The former states that the national government owns all lands and natural resources above and below ground and water, while the latter states that the government can enact necessary laws to supervise the extraction and utilization of state-owned resources. AOW, in a report, said that resource sharing could help to ease ongoing tensions between the national government and ethnic armed groups.
Tun Tun, an organizer for the Arakan Resources and Environmental Network, said the campaign—gathering signatures to bring to the Union Parliament—will run for two months in April and June and will rely on Arakanese people living throughout Burma as well as in neighboring Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
The goal of the initiative is to cooperate with civil society groups and other parties, including the Arakan National Party (ANP) and local Arakan State chapters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), to craft a broad agreement on natural resource sharing.
“We hope Aung San Suu Kyi’s party [the NLD], because it leads the Ministry of Resources and Environmental Conservation, will keep in mind the Arakanese people’s suffering from poverty while living in a natural gas-rich state,” Tun Tun told The Irrawaddy, adding that this could bring attention to all ethnic groups beleaguered by gross resource sharing disparity.
Ba Shein, a Lower House lawmaker for the ANP, welcomed the work of activists, saying that only the national government has the power to generate a durable solution to the issue.
“That’s why we’re calling for power-sharing with the national government—to help us access and manage the natural resources of our ancestral state,” Ba Shein said.