Local Observers Welcome Jade Industry Exposé, Call for Reform

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 23 October 2015

RANGOON — Locals involved in the gem trade have called for reform to the sector after an explosive new report into Burma’s jade industry.

Friday’s report, published by Global Witness, estimates the value of the country’s jade trade at US$31 billion in 2014—nearly half of the country’s gross domestic product. It claimed that most of the wealth from jade production flowed directly into the coffers of military conglomerates, well-connected firms and former junta figures, including the family of Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association secretary Tun Hla Aung said that the report was a stark reminder of the massive amounts of wealth that had been stripped from the country as a result of black market trade.

“There has been and there is still jade smuggling, for which the country has lost a lot in tax revenue,” he said.

Aung Thein, chairman of the Myanmar Yadanar Aung Zabu Gems and Jade Company, said that existing legal restrictions on the jade industry were exacerbating the problem.

“(The cronies and the government) have power and money and they can do anything they please,” he said. “There is no regular jade market in Myanmar and we have to rely on jade and gems exhibitions which are held twice a year. If there is a market for dealing outside these exhibitions, there will no longer be smuggling.”

However, Aung Thein said he was pessimistic that the report’s publication would lead to substantial reform of the industry.

“We don’t bother complaining, because we have complained again and again and nothing has happened,” he said.

Nyo Nyo Thin, a Rangoon Division lawmaker and independent candidate for the Lower House township of Bahan, said that the report was a timely reminder of the massive amounts of wealth and control wielded by members of the former military regime and its allies.

“Such reports showcase how much the dictatorship has inflicted losses upon the country,” she said. “I welcome such report and would like to ask local people to reveal similar cases so that the government can be kept under check. It is a reminder to the next government, and it makes clear how much the previous government owes to the people.”

Win Myo Thu, the director of Eco-Dev Myanmar, said that environmental campaigners had long sought to increase accountability in the jade industry by advocating Burma’s inclusion in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) protocol, but he added that the government seemed reluctant to participate.

“We must try to put all benefit sharing, ownership arrangements and contract details into the EITI report to achieve transparency,” he said, adding that he felt great sadness that the environment around Kachin State’s Hpakant Township, home to the vast majority of Burma’s jade deposits, had been destroyed from unchecked mining.