PISA was honored to host Mr. Win Myo Thu for his presentation on “Reform, Resource Governance and Civil Society in Myanmar.” As the Executive Director of Yangon-based ALARM, one of Myanmar’s leading environmental organizations, Win Myo Thu offered much insight into the various facets impacting the country’s sustainable development. You can check out the filmed talk here.
In 2011, Myanmar’s military government promised “change” and Mr. Win Myo Thu critically assessed how much reform has actually occurred. Political stalemate, disharmony among actors, bureaucratic resistance, decreasing trust, corrupted monopolistic capitalism and religious/racial extremism are among the largest challenges in the political status quo. Without transparent governance, Myanmar’s environmental degradation will only worsen. November’s elections will be paramount to future developments.
The illegal and unregulated timber industry and unaccounted for resource flows to China is one example Win Myo Thu described which highlights the dire circumstances for resource governance in Myanmar. Gross violations of forestry standards such as systematic overharvesting and extraction of undersized trees, occur daily under the military government’s oversight, and have been steadily increasing since 2006. Challenges for effective natural resource management are high: insufficient funding and capacity for the Forestry Departments, historical political revenue pressure, and domestic instability due to ethnic armed groups all contribute to ineffective resource policy making and oversight. With national instability, there are seemingly more urgent priorities that draw attention away from environmental concerns. While Mr. Win Myo Thu’s talk was focused on forest management, the political ecology issues in Myanmar are diverse from hydropower dam construction to copper mining.
Win Myo Thu’s evaluation of how much democratic reform has actually occurred is bleak. However, he remains optimistic that active civil society and better governance are developing for the better. At the same time, he cautioned the actions of international supporters who might invest or focus on ineffective projects. Although the government’s role is key in sustainable resource management, public policy alone does not account for good governance. Governance encompasses actors from civil society to the press reporters, actions such as establishing norms and transparency, and the societal landscape in which these players and actions are carried out. Win Myo Thu presented his “Theory of Change” for effective natural resource management, which is founded upon human capacity building. By strengthening and enhancing social capital, civil society will flourish, and people will act to protect natural resources through participatory democracy, anti-corruption pressures, civic-state engagement, open governance, diplomatic exchanges and partnerships.
Foreign assistance to Myanmar’s resource governance development is needed and appreciated by civil society leaders. However, Win Myo Thu recommends closer cooperation and revisiting priorities, in order to guarantee that actions ultimately go towards the people’s benefit.