Hydropower projects in Kachin to be reviewed
ON the eve of a visit to China by Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Htin Kyaw has announced the creation of a commission to look into the country’s hydropower projects, including the controversial Myitsone dam on the Ayeyarwady River in Kachin State.
According to the announcement released on August 12, the 20-member commission will review and scrutinise the projects to assess the likely benefits for Myanmar citizens, and to make recommendations on whether they should proceed.
The Myitsone dam, a major Chinese project, was suspended for the remainder of his term of office by then-president U Thein Sein in 2011. Though his decision was criticised in China, it was widely welcomed in Myanmar, including by local residents, who had complained of land grabs and the relocation of villages.
Deputy Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker U T Khun Myat will chair the commission, and the minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, U Kyaw Tint Swe, will serve as vice chair. The commission must consult citizens and civil society organisations in reviewing the contracts from the point of view of expected benefits for both Myanmar citizens and foreign investors. Its first report to the president is due on November 11.
Local residents have often vocally opposed hydropower plants on the Ayeyarwady River, and the Myitsone dam is a particular object of their anger.
The former military regime invited a Chinese company to build the 4600-megawatt Myitsone dam in 2006. China Power Investment, now renamed Upstream Ayeyarwady Confluence Basin Hydropower (ACHC), built a new village in 2009 to accommodate residents relocated from Tan Hpre, Pa Tan and Myitsone villages.
Daw Ja Hkaung, a member of the Mungchying Rawt Jat organisation in Kachin State, a veteran opponent of the Myitsone project, said they would monitor the commission’s work and advise it to recommend that the project should be abandoned.
“The situation will be bad if the commission recommends continuing the projects. We don’t want them. We will monitor the commission’s meetings with citizens and CSOs to make sure the results are not faked,” she said, echoing the content of an open letter the organisation had sent to the president in May.
Environmental specialist U Win Myo Thu, director of EcoDev Myanmar, told The Myanmar Times that the formation of the commission was a step in the right direction. He said he hoped it would result in changes for the hydropower projects.
“I also hope the commission advises against continuing the projects,” he said.
ACHC released a statement on August 13 welcoming the commission and saying that it would help the public learn the truth of the projects.
“During the implementation of the Ayeyarwady Hydropower Projects, the company conducted project construction activities strictly in accordance with Myanmar law and relevant contractual agreements,” said the statement.
The statement said the company would continue to abide by the laws and covenants, practise corporate social responsibility and offer the commission its full cooperation.
Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will visit China from August 17 to 20.
A man poles a bamboo raft near the Myitsone in Kachin State.