Sa­gaing com­mu­nity di­vided over sweet­en­ers from con­tro­ver­sial mil­i­tary-run sul­fu­ric acid fac­tory

The Myanmar Times - - News - KHIN SU WAI khin­suwai@mm­times.com

VILLAGERS and civil society are di­vided over what to do with com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment funds from a con­tro­ver­sial sul­phuric acid fac­tory op­er­a­tor, amid on­go­ing concerns about the po­ten­tial health risks posed by the fa­cil­ity.

The Moe Gyo Sul­phuric Acid Fac­tory, run by mil­i­tary-owned Union of Myan­mar Eco­nomic Hold­ings Lim­ited, con­tin­ues to op­er­ate af­ter hav­ing its li­cence re­newed for the 2016-17 pe­riod in Oc­to­ber.

The re­newal came amid on­go­ing op­po­si­tion from Kan Kone vil­lage, in Sa­gaing Re­gion’s Sal­ingyi township, as well as strongly worded state­ments from the UK-based lobby group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. They say the fa­cil­ity breaches in­ter­na­tional norms and poses se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal risks as well as be­ing detri­men­tal to the health of the area’s res­i­dents.

Moe Gyo Sul­phuric Acid Fac­tory was built in 2007 to serve two cop­per min­ing sites – at Let­padaung, and the Sa­betaung and Ky­is­in­taung mine. UMEHL op­er­ates these in part­ner­ship with Chi­nese sub­sidiary Myan­mar Wan­bao Min­ing Cop­per Lim­ited.

“The fac­tory has tried to give cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity [CSR] funds of K18 mil­lion [US$14,000] for the fis­cal year 2015-16, and K40 mil­lion for 2016-17 to sup­port so­cial and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment,” re­gional MP U Thein Naing (NLD; Sal­ingyi 1) told The Myan­mar Times.

He said many are hes­i­tant to take the as­sis­tance, lest it sig­nal their ac­cep­tance of the fac­tory’s pres­ence in the com­mu­nity. U Thein Naing said he has sought to dis­suade peo­ple from this way of think­ing.

“I told them it doesn’t mean [ac­cept­ing the fa­cil­ity]. If the fac­tory re­ally does pose an en­vi­ron­men­tal threat, the gov­ern­ment would stop it,” he said.

He added that health sur­vey­ing was car­ried out on villagers as re­cently as last week, but he con­ceded that the vil­lage lacks a mean­ing­ful way to mon­i­tor air pol­lu­tion lev­els.

“If the air pol­lu­tion is more than 20 parts per mil­lion [ppm], we can say that there is air pol­lu­tion. We don’t have any equip­ment to test the Kan Kone vil­lage air sit­u­a­tion. In the com­pound of the fac­tory, there is a tester show­ing 16ppm, which as­sumes this has lit­tle threat for the vil­lage. We should make sure of it,” he said.

One Kan Kone vil­lager told The Myan­mar Times on con­di­tion of anonymity that he and other lo­cals feel as though they have been placed in an awk­ward po­si­tion. He says they see few op­tions avail­able to them to protest the fac­tory’s op­er­a­tion, with rep­re­sen­ta­tives hav­ing told them talks be­tween the fa­cil­ity’s op­er­a­tors and gov­ern­ment are a done deal.

“As you know, we were al­ways against the fac­tory and al­ways ask­ing that the fac­tory close. If we still con­tinue to push for the fac­tory to be closed, that means we are against the gov­ern­ment,” the vil­lager said.

“The re­gional gov­ern­ment should have come to us first. Now they come to ne­go­ti­ate on ac­cept­ing the funds. Do we need to go on the road to protest again? We have no idea,” he said.

Sa­gaing Re­gion De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter U Myint Kyi told The Myan­mar Times that if villagers re­ject the CSR fund­ing, de­vel­op­ment will be stalled.

“We tried to ne­go­ti­ate be­tween the lo­cals and the com­pa­nies. Ev­ery year Wan­bao and Yang Tse gave $500,000 to 31 vil­lages,” he said, the lat­ter re­fer­ring to Myan­mar Yang Tse Cop­per Lim­ited, the name of the Wan­baobacked ven­ture op­er­at­ing the Sa­betaung and Ky­is­in­taung mine.

“We al­lo­cate the funds depend­ing on the land used and the num­ber of villagers. Last year, there were four vil­lages re­fus­ing to take the CSR funds.”

He said this year, the ma­jor­ity of villagers have taken up the of­fer.

U Thein Naing said there should be a re­view of CSR pol­icy, as money left over each year is cur­rently not put back into a fund – even if that is due to the villagers re­ject­ing the of­fer.

“Yang Tse gave K60 mil­lion for 2015-16 for the af­fected area, but the vil­lage didn’t take it. So the fund can’t be used for this year,” he said.

The con­tro­ver­sial cop­per projects’ prob­lems are seem­ingly im­proved through ne­go­ti­a­tions, U Thein Naing said. But, he con­ceded, there still need to be ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween lo­cals and the com­pa­nies for land com­pen­sa­tion.

“The villagers ask for land com­pen­sa­tion from Yang Tse for the Sa­betaung and Ky­is­in­taung mine. They want to get the com­pen­sa­tion like Let­padaung,” he said.

Photo: Sup­plied

Mil­i­tary-run Moe Gyo (Thun­der) Sul­phuric Acid Fac­tory in Sal­ingyi township, Sa­gaing Re­gion, has been in lo­cal res­i­dents’ crosshairs for years.

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