BURMA Arakan Network Collects Signatures in Support of Resource Sharing

By Moe Myint 30 June 2016

RANGOON — The People’s Resource Network (PRN) is on a mission to collect 300,000 signatures in support of resource sharing in Arakan State, said Tun Kyi, secretary of the Kyaukpyu Rural Development Association, a PRN partner.

Khine Myo Htun, PRN committee member, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that they expect to collect 30,000 signatures from each town in Arakan State, with exceptions for Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships where Arakanese people—the target participants of the signature campaign—are the minority.

PRN is comprised of about 30 Arakanese civil society organizations (CSOs) from 17 townships throughout Arakan State. They started the signature campaign in early May and expect to finish in July.

During the collection process, PRN has used the slogan “Rakhine people own Rakhine resources” and has demanded that the government decentralize power and resources, said Tun Kyi, adding that they would deliver the signatures to Union Parliament.

In order to decentralize, articles in the military-drafted 2008 Constitution must be amended or replaced, specifically Article 37(a)—which states that the government is the owner of all lands and natural resources both above and below ground—and Article 37(b), which states that the government can enact necessary laws to supervise extraction and utilization of these state-owned resources.

Tun Kyi raised questions about whether the current National League for Democracy (NLD) government was keen to amend the law, since after assuming power in April the NLD denied the people’s demands by appointing a member of their own party, rather than the local Arakan National Party (ANP), in the role of Arakan State chief minister.

“Even if our efforts are not taken seriously by the Union Parliament and the law is not amended, we will continue to campaign on the issue,” he said.

Pe Than, Lower House representative for the ANP, said that resource sharing is determined by the 2008 Constitution and that without amending the law, current practices will not change. According to the Constitution, state and divisional governments lack the rights to supervise or tax natural resources, and management power is authorized only to the Union government.

“We need to amend or replace the law. Even though [CSOs] have demanded resource sharing, the government will continuing ignoring them until the law is amended,” said lawmaker Pe Than.

Replacing or amending the law will not be easy because 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for military appointees.

Pe Than said, “If the military opposes [an amendment] in Parliament, it will not succeed. So, it depends on the Army’s opinion.”

He added that the government should specify a percentage of resources for sharing—even 25 percent of the total resources. Even a small amount could become a base from which to extend the amount slowly, Pe Than explained, adding that the struggle for control over resources is linked to larger issues of conflict and unrest in the country.

“The peace process will be meaningless if the government fails to [decentralize power and resource management],” said Pe Than.

Khine Myo Htun said, “We expect success with Suu Kyi’s leadership.”

Pe Than urged the government to provide guarantees to ethnic armed groups regarding resource sharing, especially in changing the relevant laws. Currently all state and divisional governments are subsidiaries of the Union government, while they would prefer separate governance. Similarly, appointing the state and divisional chief ministers through a presidential order is not power sharing, he added.