It is one thing to allow citizens to voice their concerns. It is another for a government to respond to those concerns.
But new decisions about tin mines in Tanintharyi show that the gap between these may be closing. (see MM Times link below)
Communities near the Heinda and Bawapin mines have long complained about the companies polluting waterways and ruining farmland. A month ago the state-run No 2 Mining Enterprise ordered the two companies involved in these mines to stop work.
U Myint Maung, Tanintharyi Region minister for natural resources and environmental conservation said that the government had formed an inspection group after hearing the complaints and had then investigated the mines finding that they had broken the terms of their contracts and were damaging the environment.
This is a fascinating example of local citizen voices being heard and acted on by regional government. There may of course be underlying reasons why the Tanintharyi government took such swift and decisive action. But decision like these mean that the expectations of companies in Myanmar might be shifting.
A few years ago a Thai company like Pongpipat, who is involved in the Heinda mine, could be confident that the voices of local communities would be restricted by the government and that even if they did voice their concerns, it was unlikely that anything would happen to them.
Decisions like this in Tanintharyi might shift the expectations of foreign and local companies about how they can operate. Changes in the investment laws are crucial but the informal expectations about what can and can’t be done are just as important.
For every story like this there are probably many others where local communities feel as they have absolutely no say in what business activities are, and aren’t, allowed.
But it seems that Myanmar is taking two small steps forward. First, in allowing greater freedom of expression for citizens to voice their concerns, and second, in new examples where these concerns are being decisively acted on by government.