An anti-corruption Group has found ties between wealthy families and the country's lucrative jade trade. While elites profit, ordinary people continue to suffer, a study published by the group says.
Myanmar's ruling elite is reaping gains from the country's bountiful jade supply, while the local people who mine the precious gems face miserable working conditions and little hope for a financially secure future, according to anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness.
The report found the Southeast Asian country's jade supply, which is mostly mined in Kachin state, was worth an estimated $31 billion (28 billion euros) in 2014 -- about half the company's official gross domestic product (GDP). Yet most of that money is going not into development funds but rather into the pockets of those with connections to the highest rungs of Myanmar society.
Global Witness found that many high-ranking individuals are tied to the "elaborate extortion racket," including relatives of former dictator Than Shwe, current government officials and various business groups with connections to the military and the abolished junta government.
Dozens of companies overseeing the jade mines are run by a small group of powerful individuals, the study said.
Meanwhile, those who work in the mines suffer from "fatally dangerous" working conditions, Global Witness said. The group also said prostitution and drug addiciton are endemic in Kachin state, which has seen years of conflict between military forces and separatist fighters.
Myanmar has seen its international standing improve since the end of the ruling junta government several years ago. Now a nominal democracy, the country will hold general elections in November.
Global Witness urged the international community to use the upcoming elections as an opportunity to demand reform for the country's jade industry.
blc/rc (AP, dpa)