The Kachin Anti-Drug Committee, a community-based organisation in the jade-mining town of Hpakant in Kachin State, turned up a ledger containing evidence of half a million dollars’ worth of payments to Kachin State officials, following the arrest of a drug dealer in June. Those that received payments included “an army commander, top police officials, anti-drug officers, township officials and others,” an investigation by the Associated Press has discovered.
The committee did not provide the AP with line-by-line details of specific amounts or to whom the payments were made to because community leaders seek to use the information they have acquired as “leverage” over officials to encourage a response from the authorities.
The AP report said the committee claims the arrest that turned up the ledger also turned up US$3 million in cash and a “huge amount” of drugs.
The AP report says the committee was founded last year to fight “the surge in drug use in Kachin,” where use of illicit drugs – particularly heroin and methamphetamine – has skyrocketed in recent years.
Hpakant – closed off to foreigners – is the principal jade mining centre in Myanmar, a shadowy but lucrative trade estimated this week by transparency watchdog Global Witness to be worth a staggering $31 billion in 2014.
Practically none of this wealth has trickled down. Among workers in the jade mines, drug abuse has become endemic, and rates of HIV infection are sky-high. Workers congregate in open-air ‘shooting galleries’ near the mines to get their fix, and reports indicate that some workers receive drugs in lieu of money for their labour.