Com­mis­sion hears griev­ances against dam

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - – With ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Lil­lian Kal­ish YE MON yeemon­tun@mm­times.com

Mem­bers tasked with re­view­ing hy­dropower pro­jects along the Aye­yarwady heard an over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus from Kachin lo­cals that they want the pro­jects scrapped, as China con­tin­ues lob­by­ing for a restart.

THE con­sen­sus is over­whelm­ing. Kachin lo­cals want the My­it­sone megadam to be scrapped, the com­mis­sion tasked with re­view­ing the cur­rently sus­pended project heard this week­end.

Com­mis­sion mem­bers un­der­took a field visit to Kachin State from Septem­ber 15 to 18, and sur­veyed res­i­dents and lo­cal civil so­ci­ety groups around My­itky­ina, the state cap­i­tal. The ca­coph­ony of dis­sent left lit­tle wig­gle room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion, not just over the My­it­sone dam but also about sev­eral other hy­dropower pro­jects slated for de­vel­op­ment along the Maykha and Ma­likha rivers, trib­u­taries to the Aye­yarwady.

“All peo­ple we spoke with de­manded we can­cel the seven hy­dropower pro­jects un­der re­view. We noted the peo­ple’s voices and will in­cor­po­rate their com­ments in our re­port,” said a com­mis­sion mem­ber, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Kachin CSOs slammed the vis­it­ing com­mis­sion, how­ever, as the mem­bers did not make time for the one-on-one meet­ing the lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions had re­quested. In­stead, the com­mis­sion for re­view­ing and scru­ti­n­is­ing hy­dropower pro­jects along the Aye­yarwady River held a town­hall-style dia­logue.

“Only 13 peo­ple were al­lowed to speak dur­ing the meet­ing. None of them were mem­bers of lo­cal CSOs, though they all also ob­jected to these pro­jects. All 653 at­ten­dees were there to voice their ob­jec­tion,” said Daw Nan Pu, a mem­ber of the Htoi Genda Foun­da­tion.

Yes­ter­day, the com­mis­sion re­leased a state­ment in state-owned me­dia say­ing that they are still in the process of scru­ti­n­is­ing doc­u­ments re­lated to the hy­dropower pro­jects along the Aye­yarwady River.

“The com­mis­sion will col­lab­o­rate not only with lo­cal ex­perts but also for­eign ex­perts, as nec­es­sary,” the state­ment said.

The state­ment added that com­mis­sion mem­bers have been briefed by the My­it­sone hy­dropower project’s devel­op­ers, China Power In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, on the power sup­ply ar­range­ment. Much of the con­tro­versy over the project, and the pub­lic re­sis­tance to it, stems from the fact that 90 per­cent of the elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated would be trans­mit­ted to China.

“CPI’s of­fi­cials want to con­tinue the project but we can­not give an an­swer to them yet,” a com­mis­sion mem­ber said.

The com­mis­sion has been tasked with re­view­ing project con­tracts and find­ing so­lu­tions that will bal­ance both the needs of the lo­cal peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment they de­pend on, and re­la­tions with for­eign in­vestors eager to cap­i­talise on un­tapped nat­u­ral re­sources.

The com­mis­sion must submit an ini­tial re­port to the pres­i­dent on Novem­ber 11, though mem­bers have in­di­cated that no ma­jor rec­om­men­da­tions will be in­cluded in the doc­u­ment due to the short timetable for the re­port’s re­lease.

China’s CPI Yun­nan In­ter­na­tional Power In­vest­ment Com­pany en­tered into an agree­ment to de­velop the US$3.6 bil­lion My­it­sone dam with a mil­i­tary-owned con­glom­er­ate and the govern­ment in 2006.

Then-pres­i­dent U Thein Sein sus­pended the 4600-megawatt project in 2011 amid wide­spread pub­lic outcry.

Daw Ja Hkaung, a mem­ber of the Mungchy­ing Rawt Jat or­gan­i­sa­tion in Kachin State and a vet­eran op­po­nent of the My­it­sone project, said the com­mis­sion should ac­cept the pub­lic con­sen­sus.

“If the com­mis­sion fails to lis­ten to the peo­ple’s voice, the govern­ment will be ac­cused of ig­nor­ing the wishes of the peo­ple,” she said.

Seem­ingly fear­ful of an im­pend­ing can­cel­la­tion, Chi­nese state-run me­dia yes­ter­day also ad­dressed the pub­lic back­lash against the My­it­sone dam.

Not­ing that sus­pen­sion of the project was a sore spot in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with Myan­mar, The Study Times, a news­pa­per run by the Com­mu­nist Party of China, said Myan­mar was pay­ing at­ten­tion to “re­solv­ing Sino-Myan­mar eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion dif­fi­cul­ties”, in­clud­ing “the prob­lem of the My­it­sone dam”.

The pa­per called on State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to avoid a “lose-lose” so­lu­tion in re­gard to My­it­sone, and took pains to note China’s costly in­vest­ments in the neigh­bour­ing coun­try.

“With re­gards to the My­it­sone dam in Kachin State, we are seek­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate so­lu­tion. This means the [Na­tional League for Democ­racy] will not agree with the pre­vi­ous govern­ment’s in­dif­fer­ence to­ward this is­sue,” the pa­per said. It added that dur­ing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to China last month, “ex­treme” voices in Myan­mar me­dia fo­mented pub­lic ob­jec­tions to the con­tin­u­a­tion of the My­it­sone project.

“The peo­ple’s ex­treme opin­ions flood Myan­mar’s pri­vately owned me­dia, caus­ing a huge surge in neg­a­tive opin­ion, which can greatly de­stroy the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Myan­mar and China,” it said.

Photo: Wa Lone/Staff

A man nav­i­gates a boat at the con­flu­ence of the Maykha and Ma­likha rivers in Kachin State, near the site of the My­it­sone megadam.

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