KAYIN STATE MINISTER OUTLINES CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS
THIS reporter visited Kayin State last week to see what is going on, how the state is developing, and the people’s living conditions. In the course the stay, I had a chance to speak with Kayin Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint about the current challenges and opportunities in Kayin.
In this first part of the interview, Nan Khin Htwe Myint discussed the biggest challenges her government faces as well as the controversy over power and coal-fired power plants. Here are excerpts:
What have been the biggest challenges or issues facing Kayin’s government since you took office in 2016?
The biggest challenge is the land issue. Before the 2015 elections, we promised to try to recover confiscated lands. The president and state counsellor want us to do it. We have been cooperating and coordinating with the relevant land departments and parliamentary committees.
We have faced many difficulties, as the disputes have been going on for decades. Only a small percentage has been settled quickly.
When we took office, there were only a few land cases; but with our efforts to settle them, we now have cases involving over 500 acres. Land disputes centre around confiscation, selling secretly for private gain as well as disputes with companies.
It took time to review all this, so people protested. Despite our best efforts, we haven’t got a good public image. We are not the ones who confiscated the land; we are just trying our best to return them like mediators. It is a very, very big challenge.
Another big problem is electricity. Out of seven townships in Kayin, only three have access to power. We want to give power to our people. Electricity is needed for economic development, so it led us to consider coal, which costs less and has an affordable tariff.
But people didn’t accept it. We tried other ways, but they were expensive,
‘Out of seven townships in Kayin, only three have access to power. We want to give power to our people.’
Nan Khin Htwe Myint Chief minister, Kayin State
so people didn’t like them either. Investors in the electricity business have their own problems, but people protested against them because they didn’t reduce the price. Businesses are not charities; they need to make a profit. The public should understand that if investors leave our state, it will be a big problem.
There are gambling houses in border areas of Kayin, especially in Myawady. Some Thais come to Myanmar to gamble. How are you dealing with these border issues?
When we find them, we arrest them. They are punished in court, sometimes with imprisonment. We are addressing border trespassing.
What is the status of the plan by Thailand-based TTCL Public Co Ltd to generate power using coal in in the state by 2021?
We wanted to have it on stream by 2021. The firm also wanted to invest more in Kayin. The price is cheap, and clean coal technology is even being used in rich countries.
The location, which I have to work on, would be more convenient if it were in somewhere like Tanintharyi Region. But because it is located deep in the mainland, it is going to be difficult. For a state, the approved limit is up to 30 megawatts. The current amount of electricity to be generated is 1200MW, so Myanmar has to decide. We have not been issued instructions yet.
So work on a coal-powered electricity plant in Kayin has not started?
Studies are being done by the company, such as soil tests, to determine whether it can accommodate bulk carriers. But the main work on the project has not yet started.
There have been reports of coal substitution at a cement factory in Myaing Kalay. Does the state government know of this and has approval been granted?
From what I know, this was implemented by the previous government. The government was already experimenting on production using coal. I heard that now it will be produced. No official approval was asked from our government, but most of the decisions related to these large factories are done by the central government.
What is the status of the Shwe Kokko new city development project being built by the Kayin Border Guard Force and the state government? The Myanmar Investment Commission gave approval to portions of the project. To what extent will this project benefit the Kayin people?
The site of this project is desolate and a border town. It will include schools and buildings for people in the area. Peace organisations asked permission to implement the projects in their areas, so we agreed. This site is suitable for development in their region.
Will the project include casinos?
This was not part of their application. We will block the project if it includes casinos. However, the project does contain entertainment such as karaoke bars.
The cement factory in Hpa-an township that plans to start using coal power.
Kayin State Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint.
A scale model of the proposed coal-powered plant that residents oppose.