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