Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Minister says Myitsone Dam to continue in line with Parliament’s decisions

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burmese No. 1 Electrical Power Ministry Minister Zaw Min cited parliamentary decisions on Saturday as the authorization for moving ahead on the controversial Myitsone Dam project.

“The ministry will continue implementing power supply projects in line with the decisions of the Parliament, and the adopted policies of the government within the framework of law,” Minister Zaw Min told a group of MPs in a small workshop titled, “Impact of Hydropower Projects in the Irrawaddy basin on the Irrawaddy River and the natural environment,” according to an article in the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar on Sunday.

An artist's conception of the controversial Myitsone Dam project on the Irrawaddy River, which is the subject of increasing protests by environmental groups.
An artist's conception of the controversial Myitsone Dam project on the Irrawaddy River, which is the subject of increasing protests by environmental groups.

Minister Zaw Min said that changes in the environment would be studied while implementing the project and impact studies were already going on.

On the other hand, environmental activists have been urging the new government to review the possible adverse effects of the Myitsone Dam project and to stop construction during the review process. Opposition leaders have called for the government to hold a referendum on whether to continue the project.

“The decision by the Parliament is not enough. If they want more views, they can hold a referendum,” Myo Yan Naung Thein, an organizer of a signature campaign to oppose the Myitson project, told Mizzima.

If the Myitsone Dam, the largest dam on the Irrawaddy River, is completed, 6,000 megawatts of electricity will be generated, the vast majority dedicated to China, which is bankrolling the project. Construction plans call for five massive embankments to be built along the Maykha River and two embankments along the Malikha River. The project area, including the reservoir, covers 18,000 square miles.

Zaw Min told lawmakers that companies implementing the project would take responsibility for the impact on the upper and lower basin areas, and the obligation that adequate protection measures would have to be taken for the environmental impact was included in the joint venture contract.

The government would ensure that the environmental impact posed no danger, he said. The Ministry of Mines would control gold mining on the Irrawaddy River in line with environmental conservation, he said, and no more permits would be issued for gold mines after the current permits expire.

Zaw Min said that the nation had a total installed capacity of 3,360 megawatts, and more than 1,500 megawatts was being generated. In the five-year term of the current government, nine hydropower projects would be completed including Shwegyin, Kun, Pyu, Thaukyekhat (2), Nankhio, Upper Paunglaung, Belu Creek (3), Upper Belu Creek, Chipwenge, contributing an additional 655 megawatts to the national electrical grid, according to the newspaper.

Win Tin, a central committee member of the National League for Democracy, said that the government continues to move ahead while ignoring activists’ concerns. He said parliamentary decisions regarding the dam project are not acceptable because the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, which was created and backed by the former military regime, now dominates Parliament.

“We cannot accept that they will decide this issue in Parliament, because they, the USDP MPs, dominate the Parliament. If they put up a motion to continue the project, the Parliament will approve it. If the Parliament decides to continue the project, it will like granting an official license to continue the Myitsone Dam project,” Win Tin said.

The Saturday meeting included 17 invited lawmakers at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Zabu Thiri Township in Naypyitaw. Ten Upper House MPs and seven Lower House MPs were invited.

Those who spoke or presented papers included:  Aung Than Oo, deputy minister for Electric Power No.2; Khin Zaw, deputy minister for Agriculture and Irrigation; Kyee Soe, director-general of Hydropower Planning Department; Soe Thein, minister for Industry-1 and Industry-2 ; ex-vice admiral Soe Thein; Zaw Min, the minister for Burma's Ministry of Electric Power-1 (MEP-1); Dr Tin Hla, chairman of BANCA (Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association); and J Yaw Wu (Kachin State constituency 12, National Unity Party)

During the session of the Upper House on Friday, Speaker Khin Aung Myint told MPs that the project should be discussed seriously, and MPs should attend the discussion by the minister. But, that evening the parliamentary office invited only a few MPs, saying it had difficulty finding enough space for the discussion.

The dam has been the subject of widespread criticism by opposition party leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who cited concerns over damaging environmental effects.

MP Phone Myint Aung said there has been silence in Parliament about the Myitsone dam Project.

“According to the journals, the Minister said that the government would never give up the project, so we thought that his tone was very strong and that he had posed a challenge. We searched for relevant information, but we are not ready.”

Lower House MP Khaing Maung Yi said that he would like to oppose the project. Similarly, ethnic MPs and other small parties plan to make objections against the project.

In the Lower House, about 350 out of the 395 MPs are from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) or military-appointed MPs, giving them an overwhelming majority.

Khaing Maung Yi said, “I oppose it. Many ethnic MPs want to oppose it. But ethnic parties and other small parties are weak in Parliament, so whatever we do, we lose. Some people don’t want to take the risk; don’t want to oppose things because they don’t want to be hated.”

In the Upper House, there are about 190 USDP MPs and military-appointed MPs out of a total of 220, according to MPs.

The Myitsone Dam site is 27 miles from Myitkyina in Kachin State. The project, started in 2009, is a joint undertaking of the No. 1 Electrical Power Ministry and the China Power Investment Corporation.

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