Hy­dropower com­mis­sion be­gins work

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - YE MON yeemon­tun@mm­times.com

A com­mis­sion tasked with re­view­ing and scru­ti­n­is­ing dam projects along the Aye­yarwady River met for the first time this week, aim­ing to re­lease an interim re­port next month.

‘The com­mis­sion can­not re­scind the agree­ments. We can only re­view the agree­ments.’

U Cho Cho

THE com­mis­sion tasked with re­view­ing and scru­ti­n­is­ing hy­dropower projects along the Aye­yarwady River met for the first time this week, with the re­cently formed body plan­ning to sub­mit an interim re­port on its find­ings next month.

Ir­ri­ga­tion ex­pert U Cho Cho, a mem­ber of the com­mis­sion, told The Myan­mar Times yes­ter­day that the com­mis­sion has be­gun re­view­ing sev­eral re­ports on mat­ters rang­ing from en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts to dam

Aye­yarwady re­view com­mis­sion

de­signs. It has also re­quested that the gov­ern­ment dis­close agree­ments inked for the projects, in­clud­ing the deal struck be­tween the for­mer mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment and a Chi­nese staterun firm for the con­tro­ver­sial My­it­sone mega-dam in Kachin State.

“The com­mis­sion can­not re­scind the agree­ments. We can only re­view the agree­ments on hy­dropower projects ... The com­mis­sion be­gan its du­ties on Au­gust 22,” U Cho Cho said.

The com­mis­sion held two days of meet­ings this week with all 20 mem­bers in at­ten­dance.

State Coun­sel­lor and For­eign Min­is­ter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Chi­nese lead­ers dis­cussed the My­it­sone hy­dropower pro­ject dur­ing her visit to China last week.

Re­spond­ing to ques­tions from re­porters fol­low­ing those meet­ings, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said her gov­ern­ment had cre­ated the re­view com­mis­sion to de­ter­mine the best way to re­solve the im­passe over the fate of the My­it­sone dam, which was sus­pended by then­pres­i­dent U Thein Sein in 2011 amid pub­lic up­roar over the pro­ject. She added that she could not yet say what that so­lu­tion might be and would await the com­mis­sion’s find­ings.

“This is pre­cisely the duty of the com­mis­sion – to find out what the best so­lu­tion is go­ing to be,” said the state coun­sel­lor.

In its re­view, the com­mis­sion has been in­structed to de­ter­mine whether hy­dropower projects along the coun­try’s main wa­ter­way should go for­ward, bear­ing in mind costs and ben­e­fits to cit­i­zens. The com­mis­sion is to sub­mit its first full re­port to Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw by Novem­ber 11.

The com­mis­sion must also as­sess con­trac­tual ar­range­ments and seek so­lu­tions amenable to both Myan­mar’s peo­ple and for­eign in­vestors, as well as col­lect the opin­ions of av­er­age cit­i­zens and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions.

U Cho Cho said the com­mis­sion’s ini­tial work would not in­clude sur­vey­ing lo­cals and CSOs, and that this would come “later”.

Daw Ja Hkaung of the Kachin State-based Mungchy­ing Rawt Jat or­gan­i­sa­tion, a long-time op­po­nent of the My­it­sone pro­ject, said the com­mis­sion needed to an­a­lyse all as­pects of the dam, adding that the out­come of the re­view must be ac­cepted by the pub­lic.

“The com­mis­sion should be cau­tious of the peo­ple’s de­sire. If the com­mis­sion re­ports that [the pro­ject] should con­tinue, the peo­ple will be an­gry not only at the com­mis­sion but also at the gov­ern­ment,” she said.

U Aye Thar Aung (Arakan Na­tional Party; Rakhine 6), deputy Speaker of the Amyotha Hlut­taw, high­lighted the Aye­yarwady River’s value to the na­tion, while not­ing the dif­fi­cult spot the gov­ern­ment has been put in.

“The river is the lifeblood of our coun­try and peo­ple don’t want it to be dam­aged. The peo­ple’s wish is to can­cel the pro­ject. But we need to con­sider that China is a neigh­bour­ing coun­try,” he said.

The for­mer mil­i­tary junta and China Power In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion inked an agree­ment to con­struct the US$3.6 bil­lion My­it­sone dam in 2006.

A re­lo­ca­tion pro­gram for lo­cals who would be dis­placed by the dam’s reser­voir be­gan in 2009. Two years later the pro­ject was sus­pended, how­ever, with U Thein Sein con­ced­ing to an op­po­si­tion cam­paign that ob­jected to po­ten­tial neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts and an ar­range­ment that would have seen some 90 per­cent of the elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated sent across the bor­der to power China’s Yun­nan prov­ince.

Photo: EPA

A mo­tor­cy­clist rides past the en­trance to the My­it­sone dam pro­ject in Kachin State in Oc­to­ber 2013.

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