KAYIN IN­SIGHT – In­ter­view with Kayin State Chief Min­is­ter Nang Khin Htwe Myint

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - By Aye Thet

Kayin State Chief Min­is­ter Nang Khin Htwe Myint is one of the few fe­male chief min­is­ters in the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led gov­ern­ment. Mizzima in­ter­vewed her in Hpa-an on the chal­lenges of a fe­male chief min­is­ter, the de­vel­op­ment work that she is do­ing, and how her state is far­ing.

What are the pri­or­i­ties of your gov­ern­ment for Kayin State?

The pol­icy adopted by our gov­ern­ment for Kayin State is elec­tri­fi­ca­tion for the first pri­or­ity, road con­nec­tiv­ity and road trans­port for the sec­ond pri­or­ity and the third pri­or­ity is agri­cul­ture and live­stock. Agri­cul­ture and live­stock are our tra­di­tional liveli­hoods so that they will for­ever ex­ist here. But only the rapid de­vel­op­ment by build­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­torin the State can give peo­ple jobs. Only by this way the mi­grant work­ers work­ing out­side our coun­try can come back home. No one will come back with­out jobs. Only th­ese big fac­to­ries can give th­ese mi­grant work­ers thou­sands of job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Our State has huge op­por­tu­ni­ties for build­ing th­ese big fac­to­ries. We can pro­vide them land, the eco­nomic cor­ri­dor crosses our State and we have Thanl­win River for cheap in­land wa­ter trans­port. We have nat­u­ral beauty and abun­dant labour. Cur­rently most of th­ese abun­dant labour force are in Thai­land. Overview­ing th­ese cir­cum­stances, for­eign in­vestors vis­ited our State on a study tour. They had in­ter­est to build fac­to­ries here but they did not come back again after see­ing we had no elec­tric­ity for th­ese fac­to­ries.

Re­cently the chief min­is­ter de­cided to go ahead with a coal-fired power plant project de­spite protests against it. What are the pros and cons of this project?

I’d like to say this is just a mis­un­der­stand­ing. Pre­vi­ously we did not have the En­vi­ron­ment Con­ser­va­tion Law and there were no manda­tory En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact As­sess­ment (EIA) and So­cial Im­pact As­sess­ment (SIA) sur­veys un­der statute law in our coun­try. And also there were no in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tions for th­ese im­pacts. The in­vestors could do what they liked. Now we are not do­ing like that. We give much pri­or­ity and pro­tec­tion to the peo­ple in this dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion. We place high value on peo­ple’s acceptance. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent from the past. And so is the tech­nol­ogy.

Our State is un­der­de­vel­oped on all fronts. Pre­vi­ously we were lag­ging be­hind even among other States in the coun­try be­cause of lack of peace. We must start from a zero point for de­vel­op­ment of our State. So we are plan­ning to build big fac­to­ries for rapid de­vel­op­ment in our State. The big fac­to­ries can give job op­por­tu­ni­ties to our peo­ple. For in­stance, if we have gar­ment fac­tory here, the mi­grant work­ers work­ing in Thai­land will come back and can work here in ac­cor­dance with their skill. In agri­cul­ture too, we have to start from a zero point as the agri tech­nol­ogy has been greatly changed so that we have to train them from zero point again too. So we con­sider what is the most im­por­tant thing for rapid de­vel­op­ment in the State? And then we can find out that elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is the most es­sen­tial one. Our State has only seven town­ships, even though all of them are not yet elec­tri­fied. Even so, I say only for do­mes­tic use not for in­dus­try use.

So we con­sid­ered all avail­able means for elec­tri­fi­ca­tion in terms of the cheap­est and quick­est for our State and then we have cho­sen the best and most prob­a­ble one for Kayin State. But we don’t mean we will use coal for­ever. We have no in­ten­tion to use coal for­ever. On the other hand, we are study­ing other en­ergy sources such as wind, hy­dro and so­lar. We must lay good foun­da­tions for our State dur­ing our ten­ure. We are do­ing this un­pop­u­lar project as it will ben­e­fit our State and our peo­ple. The most fun­da­men­tal de­vel­op­ment is hav­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. Even the ma­tric­u­la­tion pass per­cent­age de­pends on hav­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and not hav­ing it. This is the em­prir­i­cal re­sult.

What about the prospects of at­tract­ing for­eign and do­mes­tic in­vest­ment for heavy in­dus­try and projects in Kayin State? Have there been any com­mit­ments yet?

We have not yet re­ceived such big in­vest­ments and big projects. Some have come and stud­ied the sit­u­a­tion. They like the sit­u­a­tion here to some ex­tent. So we have a plan to in­vite in­ter­na­tional in­vestors in the com­ing Novem­ber to show them the po­ten­tial for their in­vest­ment. The num­ber of th­ese vis­i­tors will be at least 400. They will be in­vited by both the Union and State. We are not only invit­ing them but also we will ex­plain to them how much waste­land we have and what crops they can grow here. We will tell them how many acres of land we can give to them.

If they are in­ter­ested in the min­ing business, we will show them the po­ten­tial of min­ing here, how many ar­eas we have and how many vol­umes (ore re­serves) we have and so forth. We will make com­plete and per­fect prepa­ra­tions in each sec­tor for en­abling for them easy study and anal­y­sis. We will present them with aca­demics in th­ese sec­tors. We want to ex­plore work which will give taxes to our coun­try and which will ben­e­fit our State. Our State alone can­not do th­ese huge projects with big in­vest­ments but there are po­ten­tial in­vestors who can do th­ese huge projects. And we will show them how we can pro­vide elec­tric­ity to their fac­to­ries from our coal-fired power plants that we will build here. We pre­pared to com­plete our elec­tri­fi­ca­tion project by the time they have com­pleted their prepa­ra­tions for their in­vest­ments.

What prepa­ra­tions you have made for the re­set­tle­ment of the refugees who will be repa­tri­ated from refugee camps over the bor­der?

They had their rel­a­tives here since when they left here. So we must check first the list of refugees. We must ver­ify if th­ese refugees once ac­tu­ally lived here. If we can prove they once lived here, it will be okay for us. This work is labou­ri­ous and painstak­ing. When 100 refugees want to come back, we must do this ver­i­fi­ca­tion work for each and ev­ery refugee by vis­it­ing each of their vil­lages. We warmly wel­come them if they are our real cit­i­zens. Please come back home. We pre­pare for them for trans­port­ing them to their vil­lages, giv­ing na­tional IDs to their chil­dren, and school­ing for their chil­dren, and for their health­care. Th­ese are our prepa­ra­tions for them. And then they make ar­gu­ments over what prepa­ra­tions we have made for them be­fore they were well set­tled down here. We replied to them we could pro­vide hous­ing for them when they came back but as for job cre­ation, we can­not find jobs for all of our peo­ple here. We are still try­ing to pro­vide jobs to all of them here. They must know they must try hard and they will face many dif­fi­cul­ties here as other peo­ple do when they come back to our coun­try which is still un­der­de­vel­oped and back­ward. They must do any work that is avail­able. They must have un­der­stand­ing on this. Any­way, we will do any­thing we can to give th­ese peo­ple de­cent work and mod­est liv­ing con­di­tions here. We have all prepa­ra­tions for that.

What is the pri­mary need for the de­vel­op­ment of the State?

The pri­mary need for the de­vel­op­ment of the State is restor­ing peace. We can do noth­ing un­less we have peace. We have wa­ter­falls and now we want to build hy­dro power plants. We have wa­ter­falls in Paiky­one. Pre­vi­ously we could not visit this place as there was no peace. We dare not take any re­spon­si­bil­ity for se­cu­rity in this area. Now the in­vestors can visit this place and they can do all nec­es­sary tests and study there. So peace is the most im­por­tant thing for the de­vel­op­ment of our State.

What work is needed after restor­ing peace?

We are okay in deal­ing with the higher ech­e­lons of the peace group here. Some­times I told them, you fought for Kayin peo­ple by eat­ing banana stems. And also we fought for democ­racy by eat­ing un­pol­ished rice (in pris­ons). So we must have un­der­stand­ing of each other. “If we don’t have un­der­stand­ing each other and don’t have co­or­di­na­tion among us, your ob­jec­tive will be lost and also our en­deavor for democ­racy will be lost in vain,” I told them. The vil­lagers are still fear­ful and still bear­ing arms. So we have to ex­plain to vil­lagers they do not need to fear them any­more. And on the other hand we per­suaded this armed group. We ful­filled their needs with our State bud­get which is in our hand. We me­di­ate be­tween this peace group and peo­ple in the work of main­tain­ing law and or­der in the State and liveli­hood of the peo­ple by liv­ing to­gether har­mo­niously. It is easy to say but dif­fi­cult to do.

As for the dem­i­ning works, the landmine clear­ing teams came and tested. The dem­i­ning work is so ex­pen­sive. The landmine clear­ing teams came to our State first held the aware­ness talk­show with the vil­lagers. They will do their work phase by phase. We made a de­mand to them for clear­ing the mines first as a pri­or­ity in the pil­grim­age sites and tourist at­trac­tion ar­eas be­cause there are many mines planted there. Th­ese peo­ple are un­aware of the dan­ger of land­mines and visit th­ese places. We have to worry about them. Th­ese ar­eas once had land­mines planted ev­ery­where like throw­ing snack peas in the air. Vil­lagers are aware of this dan­ger and they know in which places the mines might be planted. Some ar­gue why it is not pos­si­ble to visit th­ese place now that peace has been re­stored. Yes, we have peace now but we still have the rem­nants of fight­ing, rem­nants of un­ex­ploded de­vices. Even the mil­i­tary and armed groups do not know the ex­act lo­ca­tions of the mines they planted. Both sides don’t re­mem­ber the ex­act lo­ca­tions where they planted th­ese land­mines. Now we can do only pre­ven­tion and pre­cau­tion work be­fore we can do com­plete dem­i­ning work. The in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions do more than we can in this field of work.

My next ques­tion is on rich­ness of nat­u­ral re­sources in Kayin State. Some pointed out that some moun­tains have dis­ap­peared after the ex­trac­tion work has been com­pleted. So what are you do­ing in man­age­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources, hav­ing taken the role over after your pre­de­ces­sor?

Yes, many vil­lagers here asked for roads. They re­al­ized now that good road con­nec­tiv­ity will ben­e­fit their vil­lages and will be ef­fi­cient for their liveli­hood. If we pro­vide them only earth roads, they will be muddy and dam­aged next year. So there will be no dif­fer­ence. We must give them stone roads. For the ston­ing of the roads, we need a quarry to ex­tract stones for road build­ing. We can­not get re­quired stones with­out dy­na­mit­ing this and that moun­tain. If you want some­thing, you must give up another thing. But we never do to­tal de­struc­tion of our na­ture and en­vi­ron­ment. We told road build­ing com­pa­nies to ex­tract the re­quired amount of stones only and to ex­tract stones from the same quarry for all road build­ing projects. We know well we can­not get back th­ese moun­tains after dam­ag­ing them for quar­ries. We feel very sorry for los­ing them. But on the other hand we need to do it. So we told th­ese com­pa­nies to do their best in con­ser­va­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment and na­ture. We told them to build quar­ries in re­mote places only.

Un­der the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, the Kayin State can en­joy the fruits of peace and on the other hand there is still some fight­ing and con­flict here. So what dif­fi­cul­ties do you have as a chief min­is­ter in shap­ing poli­cies and im­ple­ment­ing them?

Yes, we have many dif­fi­cul­ties. First and fore­most I’d like to say is hav­ing dif­fer­ent poli­cies in the peace group and the gov­ern­ment. They have their own pol­icy and we have our own. Pre­vi­ously they stood with their pol­icy in

their con­trolled ar­eas. Now after sign­ing peace, the gov­ern­ment has en­tered in the ar­eas of law and or­der and ad­min­is­tra­tion in vil­lages and wards. The top ech­e­lon of them can ac­cept this change but the grass­roots level can­not ac­cept it. They thought this was their con­trolled area and they could man­age it in ac­cor­dance with their pol­icy. They in­ter­vened even in the ju­di­ciary. The NCA (Na­tion­wide Cease­fire Agree­ment) does not give the au­thor­ity to them. But they used th­ese pow­ers. So we have to co­or­di­nate and me­di­ate them. This is just a mi­nor is­sue. There are more is­sues con­cern­ing land and crimes. In this tran­si­tion pe­riod, th­ese seem to be tiny is­sues from an ad­min­is­tra­tive per­spec­tive. But we have to set­tle many is­sues in many places. And our gov­ern­ment had to is­sue ob­jec­tion state­ments time and again on th­ese is­sues.

How do you view prospects for Kayin State in the fu­ture?

See­ing Kayin Sate as a pros­per­ous and peace­ful place is my long cher­ished dream. The peo­ple in Kayin State are de­vel­oped and pros­per­ous, they live in peace and can go ev­ery­where they want peace­fully, this is my dream. In the places like Myawady, not only hu­man be­ings, even the dogs know well to take cover in a bomb­shel­ter when they hear ex­plo­sions. I want to see my chil­dren can live and grow peace­fully like the chil­dren of oth­ers do. I want to see them earn­ing their liveli­hood peace­fully. I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to lay the foun­da­tion for them to live peace­fully. Even if I can­not do more, I want to have laid a good foun­da­tion for them. And then my suc­ces­sor can do eas­ily in the fu­ture. Our pri­mary need is restor­ing peace in the re­gion. We can do other work con­tin­u­ously after restor­ing peace. We can’t do any­thing with­out ob­tain­ing peace.

Would you like to say any­thing more?

I’d like to say to our peo­ple - please do have un­der­stand­ing of us. We need their un­der­stand­ing and en­cour­age­ment while we are strug­gling amid all sorts of dif­fi­cul­ties. We will be en­cour­aged if the peo­ple show their un­der­stand­ing of us. So I’d like to say to them to please wait pa­tiently for five years.

Kayin State Chief Min­is­ter Nang Khin Htwe Myint. Photo: Mizzima

On the streets of Kayin State. Photo: EPA

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