Amid increasing investment in Myanmar, the oil and gas (O&G) exploration and extraction industry continues to be plagued by land issues that pose major challenges to operations, according to an O&G sector-wide impact assessment (SWIA).
The assessment, conducted by UK-based Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), used internationally recognised systematic research methods – adding legitimacy to the results. The two groups jointly founded the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business (MCRB).
During the past 12 months, the Myanmar government awarded tenders for oil and gas exploration and extraction in 16 inland and 20 offshore blocks.
“The major challenge is the issue of land. Land is the most tangible asset for rural households. Locals must try to understand the law and the government should inspect the projects of businesses in advance. Projects do not have sufficient funds to meet adequate compensation requirements for land. Rules and regulations are still anemic, said Ma Thida Thein who is conducting sector-based assessments on the impacts of business operations.
MCRB’s director, Vicky Bowman, pointed out the lack of environmental laws and an acceptable standard regarding land and suggested companies investing during Myanmar’s transitional period uphold international standards.
“The oil and gas sector has a wide impact as well as numerous standards. In this sector, which is very important for Myanmar, land issues are a serious concern along with disputes in resource sharing,” she said.
Throughout history, there has been almost no engagement between businesses and local stakeholders, which continues to be a black cloud that will surely continue to impact business development in Myanmar. Additionally, the sector is plagued by the inevitable correlation between conflict and resource extraction, land rights and the need to fill the gap in Myanmar’s law enforcement framework, the SWIA reported.
“The Myanmar government has signed most of the new contracts but it is falling behind in conducting environmental and social impact assessments,” said Bowman, adding that a shortage of manpower at relevant ministries to ensure compliance of regulations is also an obstacle.