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