President U Thein Sein last week announced the formation of a heavyweight committee tasked with guiding the implementation of the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative in Myanmar.
The notice was printed on the front page of the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Saturday, December 15.
Chaired by Myanmar Investment Commission chairman U Soe Thein, the committee is tasked with forming a working group to ensure that private and government parties cooperate to implement the initiative in Myanmar.
“The leading authority is meant to ensure better management for extractive industries of natural resources, develop good investment environment, create opportunity for a frank and transparent discussion between private investors and the people and join hands with the public-based societies of the private sector so as to be able to affectively deal with the tasks of extractive industry transparency initiative on behalf of the State,” the notice states.
Other members include the Union ministers for environmental conservation and forestry, energy, mines and finance and revenue. The notice said the committee has been given until December 31, 2013 to accomplish its goals.
David Allan, an advisor for Myanmar non-governmental organisation Spectrum, a group seeking to help provide public input to the process and a member of Myanmar Coalition for Transparency, said the timing of the president’s announcement was perfect.
“In the current extraordinarily busy time, they [the government] need to send the right signals as quickly as possible,” Mr Allan said. “This is a strong and positive signal.”
Mr Allan added that the extractives sector in Myanmar has been “controversial” in the recent past.
“Many wish to see more transparency for investors in the sector, covering contracting processes, allocation processes and reconciliation on revenue flows. Some could say it [the formation of an extractives committee] is a logic progression to the passage of the FIL (Foreign Investment Law).
“Others might say that foreign investors want to be able to demonstrate what due diligence processes and practices will ensure their sectoral investment will benefit the whole country and not just a few,” he said.
“Others may say that the Letpadaung copper project issues have required responses in addition to the commission that has been set up. Or it could be that this has been part of a longer term plan, and developing it has taken time. Many observers will say that this is a very good move of many required in the area and applaud it,” he said.