“MYANMAR’S RESOURCE WEALTH:
Towards People Centered National Savings, Benefit Sharing, and Social Protection”
15 November 2016.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am immensely happy to be here today. We stand on a mountain of hope. We are from every race and religion, united in our search for peace and prosperity to this great nation. I am honored by the invitation to address a few words. Thank you Mr. David Allen and all the friends for this initiative and the invitation.
This to me this is an Armstrong moment. As he said on his first step on the moon : “A small step for us but a big leap for the people of Myanmar”. Today we have come to assert that this nation belongs to all, especially the poor and the marginalized whose welfare was long neglected. The longest journey my friends, starts with the first step. Today I see this as that historic first step.
Panglong pilgrimage is ongoing. Peace is it destination. In our Catholic tradition we always say ‘ If you want peace work for Justice”. The mile- stone to peace pilgrimage is measured by yardstick of justice. Without justice there is no peace.
The first Panglong process served as a foundation for building peace. General Aung San famously said: Bamar One Kyat, Kachin one Kyat. He implied equitable sharing of power and resources.
General Aung San could see that peace was possible. Unfortunately, his premature death sent our nation into disarray, and the following events brought an indescribable pain for our people.
Natural resources proved to be a curse. Myanmar is a rainbow nation. 20 percent of the people belong to ethnic communities of 7 major tribes and 135 tribes. In the 1950s this country was the richest and most peaceful country. What happened? God blessed this country with great resources above the ground and below the ground : teak, rivers, rubies, gold and world’s biggest Jade mines.
After 60 years, Myanmar become the richest country in East Asia where the poorest live. We are one of the poorest countries in the world with all our jade and gold looted by a handful of cronies. We are one of the poorest nations in the world and second poorest in Asia. Our agony continues : nearly 3 million migrant workers, second biggest producer of opium in the world, human trafficking with a three tier rank, thousands of IDPs, the list goes on. It is a miracle that the country once called the Suvarnabhumi ( Golden land) become in the world bank definition ‘ the least developed country!” what an achievement! We are the blind beggars begging with the golden plate from international community! Even Democracy did not bring justice to our people. From 2010 to 2015 one third of the forests disappeared. Who owns the natural resources?
But brothers and sisters, we have come to reverse that trend and reimagine a new Myanmar of Justice and peace. We demand justices from three Cs : Cronies, Companies and the countries that are nearby. Myanmar resources belong to the people of Myanmar. Stop looting our resources. I commend the organizers’ who have brought all of you together here with a robust theme:
Their aim is simple: Myanmar resource wealth belongs to Myanmar people. It does not belong to looters who save money in Singapore and Geneva. We have gathered here to bring the thieves and robbers to accountability. We have gathered to see how benefits could be shared among our people especially our vulnerable people.
Our people are modern day slaves my brothers. You have heard about Myanmar people chained to boats like slaves. You have heard about how our maids are killed and sent back in coffins from rich countries. On behalf 3 million of such people, and nearly 40 percent of the poor of this country we have come to ask for Justice. I am too glad that religious leaders, political leaders and civil society leaders have come together in this pilgrimage of environmental justice.
Resources were the main cause of 60 years of war. We fought 22 wars and made million displaced. Where justice is in short supply and peace is a distant dream. Peaceful solutions are possible my dear brothers and sisters and we have come to seek that path.
I come from Catholic religious tradition. For us God is justice. Pope Francis was instrumental in getting the Paris Agreement on Global warming through his path breaking encyclical ‘Laudato Si’. He is the prophet of modern era. He has mainstreaming two mutually impacting concept of justice. : Economic Justice and Environmental justice. Environmental problems have huge social consequences. In ‘Laudato Si’ he says:
There are not two separate crisis in the world today, an environmental and other social, but a single complex socio environmental crisis. The guidelines for the solution require an integrated approach to fight poverty, to restore dignity to the excluded and in the same time to take care of nature.
If you destroy natural wealth and loot and store your money in Swiss bank, you really invest in war here. You are stealing from the ethnic communities whose life and livelihood are sacredly connected to the nature. You steal from the future generation. The Pope talks of intergenerational justice:
What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal. … It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.””
This generation alone Myanmar lost huge forest coverage, last year 32 billion worth of jade was mined and sold with no benefit our poor children. Within ten years the Jade Mountains will disappear, filling the secret bank accounts of some companies. Are we a nation of Spiritual people if we allow the three Cs = companies, cronies and countries nearby loot the inheritance of our children.
So we come here for transparency and to turn this wealth into a yardstick for national ethics. This conference seeks ethical basis for sharing the natural wealth. The Pope says this world belongs to all. Not only for those who have arms and armies. Natural Wealth is an ethical wealth it is a shared heritage. Once again the Pope says in ‘Laudato Si’;
“Only when the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, can those actions be considered ethical”.
We cried for democracy for six decades. But Democracies are notorious for the elites capturing every thing and putting it at the service of global capitalism. Many in Myanmar believe in Global Capitalism. Companies are the only answers. Not the communities. Profit is the ultimate Golden Calf to be worshipped. I see this tendency being proposed every where. Myanmar resources are contracted to global capitalists. They say the poor of Myanmar will benefit through a trickle down policy. This was never true. Pope Francis in his letter “Joy of the Gospel” exposes the hypocrisy of global capital power :
“The promise was that when the glass was full it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger. Nothing ever comes out for the poor.” (Joy of the Gospel)
This is the reason this conference wishes to discuss people centered national savings. Poverty in this country is not a natural disaster. It is a man made disaster. Greed brought war, war brought poverty, poverty brought unsafe migration, and unsafe migration made Myanmar a slave nation to our neighbors. Resource has become a curse. We are fighting unwinnable wars. State and non -state actors with arms have contributed heavily to this resource curse.
A community based natural resource management is the answer to our conflicts. Federal set up favors greater transparency. This is a great Buddhist nation: Buddhism preaches Dana, Sila and Bhavana. I think the theme merges beautifully with these three Buddhist teaching. Dana: care for the poor, social protection, Sila for building up communities and bhavana is for compassion and sharing of benefits.
Gen Aung San in his wisdom worked for the freedom of this nation. Panglong was his dream. He spilled his blood for the unity of this nation. I appeal today, when his great Daughter leads the nation that this nation should fight for the second Independence from poverty and conflict. I am sure religious leaders, political leaders, armed groups, civil societies and the people of this nation could unite in peace to rebuild this great nation and let it become a beacon of peace and prosperity to all nations.
I declare this conference open and pray for its success. Thank you.
Charles Cardinal Bo
Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar