The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NAW BETTY HAN news­[email protected]­times.com

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.

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