By KHINE KYAW
Asia News Network
Bernard Sheahan, the IFC’s director for infrastructure and natural resources management, said in an exclusive interview that Myanmar had tremendous potential thanks to its abundant resources.
Myanmar’s waterways are a very valuable natural resource, while the nation needs to provide 34 million people with access to electricity by 2030.
“Myanmar’s vast waterways are part of its energy solution, but water resources need to be managed sustainably and stakeholders need to be engaged for this to work,” he said.
About 2.82 gigawatts of Myanmar’s 100GW hydroelectric potential is tapped.
The IFC is helping the government draft the first countrywide strategic environmental assessment of its hydropower sector. More studies like this are needed across sectors to understand the environmental and social risks development poses, he said.
“One way Myanmar can protect and sustainably manage its natural resources is by attracting and selecting high-quality investors that adhere to international environmental and social standards.
“Secondly, Myanmar can protect its natural resources by better engaging stakeholders and bringing them into the development planning process early,” he said.
The private and public sectors should work closely together to ensure policies and regulations encourage sustainable development, promoting economic growth while also prioritising good international practices, Sheahan said.
The IFC is helping the government through the hydropower developers’ working group.
The best way to attract responsible investors is to strengthen environmental and social standards across sectors that carry high risk and demonstrate to companies the business case for achieving international good practices, regardless of the policies and regulations in place at the country level, Sheahan said.
“However, interventions by the government to achieve environmental and social sustainability could unlock sector-specific bottlenecks, creating new markets that lead to better, more responsible private investment.
“These interventions are taking place in Myanmar and include country- and sector-driven reforms that demonstrate the government’s interest to improve the quality of investors,” he said.
“It is possible to develop policies and regulations that are environmentally and socially responsible, while meeting the needs of the private sector.
“In the hydropower sector, we aim to help attract higher-quality private-sector investments through improved policies and government capacity.”
The IFC’s mission in Myanmar is to help the government and private sector create new markets that are environmentally and socially sustainable, he said.
However, as in many emerging economies, infrastructure is developing faster than policies and reforms can be put into place.
Last week, the IFC launched its performance standards for environmental and social sustainability in the Burmese language.
To access financing from IFC and Equator Principles signatories, companies need to comply with the standards.
The government is building officials’ knowledge of the standards and using the standards as a foundation in sectors including hydropower. On April 27, the World Bank approved a US$200-million (Bt6.9 billion) credit line to help the government promote macroeconomic stability and fiscal resilience.
The line will come from the International Development Association, the bank’s fund for low-income countries. The credit terms include maturity of 38 years, grace period of six years and zero interest rate.
“As IFC begins to invest more in Myanmar, all companies receiving financing will be environmentally and socially assessed,” Sheahan said.
“If one of the standards is triggered, we have in-house environmental and social sustainability experts who work directly with clients.”
Companies uncertain of how to implement the standards can reach out to the IFC so that its teams can support them, he said.
The IFC is providing substantial training to the government, environmental- and social-impact-assessment practitioners, and the private sector on elements of the standards.
Engaging people affected by project development and working together with stakeholders are key to the success of any project in Myanmar, Sheahan said.