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Unpacking Decentralization: Improving How States and Regions in Myanmar Issue Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Permits

Recent reforms in Myanmar’s mining sector have given greater powers to states and regions. Following regulatory changes in 2018, the responsibility for issuing permits for artisanal and small-scale mines has shifted from the capital Nay Pyi Taw to state- and region-level boards. 

Decentralization could be an opportunity to improve governance of Myanmar’s mining sector. Most artisanal and small-scale miners currently operate without permits. By reducing the physical distance that they need to travel to get a permit, decentralization could make it easier to operate legally. Legal title could strengthen livelihoods while helping the government to monitor mining activities. Decentralization in mining is also part of a broader shift to empower subnational stakeholders. It is an important element of Myanmar’s political transition and attempts to end decades of civil conflict.

However, there are major challenges around how the government is implementing decentralization. States and regions have new responsibilities but not necessarily the experience and skills to fulfil them effectively. As a result, decentralization could drive mismanagement and corruption, exacerbate environmental and social impacts, and generate conflicts with large-scale mining. The authors of this report find that at present the potential benefits of decentralization could go unrealized.

The purpose of this report is to provide practical guidance to state/region officials and oversight actors to avoid these potential pitfalls and ensure that decentralization delivers real benefits to local communities and miners. This includes more clearly defining the procedures and criteria used to allocate permits; putting in place systems to manage and store permit information; promoting transparency; coordinating closely with the Union government; and implementing formalization strategies.

Section 1 of the report describes the current status of decentralization in Myanmar’s mining sector. Section 2 evaluates the potential opportunities and challenges that this presents. Section 3 sets out practical recommendations to help state/region officials better carry out their responsibilities. Section 4 provides high-level considerations for broader reforms.