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Calls to legalise wildcat oil-well operators

There is a need to legalise the activities of the wildcat prospectors whose hand-dug oil wells dot the land in Magwe Region, in central Myanmar. These illegal activities are a source of corrupt practices and loss of revenue to the regional government.

These wells, a source of income and jobs for many in the surrounding countryside despite the volatility of global oil prices, have also become a source for corrupt practices in recent years. Early last month, the Anti-Corruption Commission arrested a number of local-government officials and police officers from Pauk township alleged to have received bribes worth K90 million connected to these hand-dug wells.

Magwe has been a source of oil for more than a century and revenue from these wells in modern times have been used to run the regional government. As an indication, the regional government of the previous administration received K7.5 billion over the five-year period to mid-2016 as tax from the oil industry. From then until mid-June this year, revenue collected have nearly doubled to K14 billion.

The Hluttaw member of parliament for Pauk township, U Ye Win Tun, said legalising these wildcatters would bring in much needed revenue. According to him, such wells, which has been dug to a depth below the permissible 1,000-feet, can be found between Pauk and Myaing townships.

“If action is taken to curb their illegal activities, many will be unemployed as there are about 150,000 people who depend on these wells for jobs,” he said. Last August, the regional government shutdown 78 illegal wells.

“There is corruption also because the law is not enforced properly and there is a gap between the law and realities on the ground,” U Ye Tun Win said.

Government data showed that in the 2017-18 fiscal year, licenses were given to 12 new blocks for producing oil while 20 others were renewed. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, 11 blocks received their licences while another 45 were renewed.

Oils produced from wells, which can range from a gallon an hour to hundreds of gallons an hour, usually get refined elsewhere, with an average of 50 to 100 trucks daily transporting between 80 to 200 barrels each. The regional government charges K5000 per truck for a permit to transport oil.

While some their illegal wells to be legalised, others, like U Pyone Cho, a driller working 10 wells with 50 workers, just want to be left alone. “We’ll be satisfied to be allowed to work peacefully as it’s a risky business,” he said.

Thayet Kan resident Ko Min Naingsaid despite the crackdown on local government officials and police officers, corruption will continue due to failure to recognize wildcatters.

“These illegal hand-dug operators just want to operate peacefully and want their activities legalised, which will also mean more revenue for the government,” he said. – Translated

Source: Myanmar Times

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