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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Foundations for a Modern Tibet (II)

August 4, 2009

By Tsewang Namgyal
July 30, 2009

Natural Resource Development

Understandably there is much concern among us
Tibetans and supporters on the development of
Tibet’s natural resources. This concern is beyond
a Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) attitude but because
we Tibetans do not have much say in its’
development. History has shown that human need
(and greed) tends to be more powerful than
justice (or environment). Based on this reality
while it is critical to put pressure on natural
resource developers in Tibet it is critical that
younger generation of Tibetans study and get more
experience on the subject. This is the best steps
we can take not only in having some influence in
the current development but better prepare for us
to take control of the projects in the future.
Since this is a subject that is relatively
sensitive to all of us and I have some experience
in the mining sector I would like to share further thoughts on it.

Firstly I would recommend the book The Prize: The
Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power by Daniel
Yergin that provides a comprehensive history of
the energy sector influence on the world. The
book will help provide a more comparative
understanding of how natural resources have
shaped many countries in the world and how we can learn from this experience.

Secondly, we should be mindful of the "resource
curse" and think of ways to mitigate the risks.
Resource curse refers to the fact that many
countries and regions that have an abundance of
natural resources do not necessarily fare better.
The reason is due to conflicts that natural
resources cause (both external and internal),
corruption it leads (allocating more to friends),
Dutch disease (increase in real exchange due to
resource exports decreases a country’s productive
economic sectors due to higher wages), revenue
volatility (for a better appreciation take a look
at copper prices within the last 5 years) and
increase in debt burden (due to tendency of
excessive borrowing during boom years).

Thirdly, we should support younger Tibetans who
want to attend specialized schools (such as
Colorado School of Mines
and develop work experience in reputed natural
resource firms (such as BP and BHP Billiton).
Without education and experience our efforts will be near ineffectual.

At a personal level I hope younger generation
would have to spend less time thinking and making
requests than actually enjoying the process of
developing and executing projects.

Fourthly, we should try to get a more indepth
understanding of the business. If we are not able
to work in such sector (whether as a blue or
white collar) a good way to gather information is
by buying small amount of shares in these
projects and attending shareholder meetings. For
those who live close to mine sites it would be
very informative to befriend individuals who work
in the mining sector and hear of their experience.

There is no doubt that mining has its problems
when it comes to the environment (such as erosion
and contamination of water due to chemicals from
mining process) during its construction,
operation and when the project is closed. In
addition, there are also safety issues. However,
the reality is we all know its numerous benefits
and use of metal products whether in building our
houses, transportation, religious artifacts and household consumables.

A zero tolerance is impractical and hypocritical
if/when we are able to have more control in the
development of the projects. For a future
development of a modern Tibet it is important we
have mining as part of our diversified economy.
We also should look at the large market of China
and India as opportunity rather than a threat.
Natural resources can be a curse but with a good
motivation, understanding and experience we can
use it to anchor Tibet’s economic.

Policy Change (by China)

Tibet’s economic development is important for
China’s economic growth and vice versa. It is
very difficult to develop Tibet’s economy until
there is change in China’s current economic
policies on Tibet. For starters China needs to
allow Tibetans in Tibet more say in the region’s
development and allow more flexibility in the use
of government funds. Without more local
participation and transparency this leads to waste and corruption.

Corruption is something not unique to Tibet.
Earlier this year, Mr. Stuart Bowen, the special
inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told
the House Armed Services Committee that the
United States had spent more than $50 billion on
nonmilitary aid for Iraq out of which about $5
billion of the reconstruction money was wasted on
dubious contracts

I believe if China is able to set up an
independent body comprised of international
professional auditors and development experts to
review the use of their Tibet development funds
and make recommendation this would not only help
bring grass root development in Tibet, increase
the region’s (and China’s) economic development
and reduce tensions in the region. It is in
Tibetans and Chinese interest to focus on our
mutual interest in the region’s economic
development and reduce corruption/waste.
Concerned Chinese people can play an instrumental
role in tactically influencing the Chinese
government to implement more practical policies.

Policy Change (from outside)

For illustration purpose I would like to share
few thoughts on the Tibet Policy Act (TPA) of
2002 to reflect the importance of having more
practical policies from outside. TPA is one of
our greatest success stories and is a reflection
of the hard work of many individuals and
organizations especially the International
Campaign for Tibet. TPA promotes Sino Tibet
dialogue, supports the set up of a U.S. consulate
in Lhasa, provide scholarships for Tibetans and
funds poverty alleviation projects in the Tibetan plateau to name a few.

Not to diminish its importance it would not be
prudent on my part if I did not highlight my
perceived weakness of the TPA on the economic
realm. TPA established guidelines for U.S.
backing of potential development projects in
Tibet through the U.S. Trade and Development
Agency (“USTDA”), the Export-Import Bank and
through support by international financial
institutions such as the World Bank. The
guidelines claims to reflect those released by
the Tibetan government in exile and calls for
"respect for Tibetan culture" and the "active
participation of Tibetans" in their own economic
development, which would "neither provide
incentive for, nor facilitate the migration and
settlement of, non-Tibetans into Tibet."”

This sounds good but I believe since 2002 no
Tibetan has been able to tap USTDA, EXIM Bank and
the financial institutions to give Tibetans a
competitive edge in business. Personally at a
request of a Tibetan entrepreneur to assist him
in one of his ventures I did check to see if his
organization can tap the USTDA. Through this
effort I realized it was not possible for
Tibetans in Tibet to tap agencies USTDA and I
feel the other agencies would be the same.
Clause 6 subjects on-site monitoring of projects
by the development agencies to ensure that the
intended target group benefits. Here I was told
that since USTDA does not have staff and
resources to monitor the project it will probably
not provide a grant if this is a requirement. One
of USTDA primary responsibility is to provide
feasibility grants and not to be involved during
the construction and operation phase of the project.

Clause 7 requires implementation by development
agencies to use Tibetan as the working language
of the projects. This also the USTDA staff
indicated would prevent their agencies and others
to be involved since they use English as a
working language. Imagine if Tibetans in Tibet
requested the United States government or other
governments to support the exile efforts only if
they used Tibetan as a working language?

Clause 8 indicates that the projects should not
provide incentive for, nor facilitate the
migration and settlement of, non-Tibetans into
Tibet.Here the USTDA staff indicted that since
economic projects in general will provide attract
labors it would be difficult to control who moves
into the region. In addition, they indicated that
local expertise may not be available.

Finally clause 9 indicated that projects should
neither provide incentive for, nor facilitate the
transfer of ownership of, Tibetan land or natural
resources to non-Tibetans. Here too he indicated
that it would be difficult to filter ownership
and occasionally investments may require
involvement of strategic investors who may not be non-Tibetan.

I believe in theory the mentioned clauses are
well motivated but unless we amend it where for
example the US Special Coordinator can make
exceptions to the above clauses on a project
basis the economic clause are near waste except
for making us in exile feel we did something
good. It is critical our leaders make some of
these tough choices because one cannot blame our
exile population since many have not been to Tibet.

It is important we from outside implement
practical policies that will help level the
playing field (for example giving Tibetan
financing sources since the Chinese have theirs)
and allow Tibetans to compete effectively
otherwise Tibetans in Tibet will continue to be
economically marginalized. A poor Tibetan
population will not be able to protect their
language, culture and have no ownership of their
own resources. If this makes sense, I would
encourage every Tibetan to research this further
and if it does make sense to lobby the
appropriate organizations to make the changes. An
economically empowered Tibetan population is
paramount towards creating a modern Tibet and
this starts with practical policies.
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