Thursday, October 6, 2011

Myitsone Dam agreement must be made public if CPI sues

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese government should make public the terms and conditions in the agreement with China Power Investment (CPI) Corporation if a suit is filed over the suspension of the Myitsone Dam project.

Advocate Yan Naung who has served as a legal officer in the Supreme Court with more than 25 years experience said that the facts of the contract are essential.
Construction work was underway at the Myitsone Dam site, which was suspended this week by the Burmese government. Photo: Seng Aung
Construction work was underway at the Myitsone Dam site, which was suspended this week by the Burmese government. Photo: Seng Aung
“We can help them and give our suggestions only if they let us know about the agreement. Only after this can we help our nation when another party makes claims for a breach of contract,” Yan Naung told Mizzima.

CPI, the main investor in the dam project, said on Monday that the suspension of Myitsone Dam during the tenure of President Thein Sein could lead to a series of legal issues.

The Burmese government has said officially that 10 per cent of the US$ 3.6 billion dam project had been completed, and CIP had almost completed the work of resettling displaced persons and villages from the dam site and flooded areas, in addition to building roads in the project areas, handling the distribution of water and electrification to the dam project and communication work. It had begun work on building a bridge near the dam site and building fuel storage tanks.

CPI and the Burmese No. 1 Electric Power Ministry signed a MoU in December 2006 and signed an electric power generation agreement in March 2009.

The CPI chairman said on Monday that the costs of the project would be escalated and over budget if it had to halt the ongoing construction work. Moreover, he said that it could affect the repayment by Burma of the loan, which was taken out under the agreement reached with China in early 2011, and was scheduled to be paid back by the income generated from the project.

No. Electric Power Ministry Minister Zaw Min told reporters in Naypyitaw in September that the facts of the dam project were kept as a “trade secret.”

Lawyer Yan Naung also said that since the agreement was made between the Burmese government and a Chinese company, the disclosure of the facts could infringe on the the Official Secrets Act if the government didn’t agree to the information’s release.

“If the minister will pay all the damages himself he does not need to disclose these facts. If he pays damages with the taxpayers’ money, he must disclose these facts. He must take all responsibility if there are misuses of funds and financial irregularities in the project,” he said.

A critic of the dam project, advocate Yan Naung said that the dispute should be resolved through negotiations rather than a legal suit, because it could affect the friendship between the two countries.

Similarly, a former Burmese ambassador to China and veteran politician Thakin Chan Tun said that the two governments should resolve the issue through negotiations since both parties need to cooperate with each other on other matters.

Political and economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Western countries pushed the Burmese government to greater reliance on the Chinese government. China is looking for new economic and military channels to the Indian Ocean from Yunnan Province in China through Sittwe in Rakhine State, he pointed out.

“I don’t think China will dare take strict actions against Burma because there are rival forces of the U.S. and India in the region.  I assume they will negotiate to find a solution,” he told Mizzima.

Besides the ecological, environmental and social impacts, there were serious concerns over a possible earthquake in the dam area due to the Sagaing fault line, which is located about 30 miles west from the Myitsone Dam site, said Tint Lwin Swe, seismologist and a former secretary of the Burma seismic committee.

In an interview given to the Xinhua news agency this week, CPI chairman Lu Qizhou said that the Zipingbu hydropower plant built in Sichuan Province was designed to withstand a magnitude 7 (Richter scale) earthquake and it remained intact after the Sichuan earthquake, but the Myitsone Dam was designed to withstand up to magnitude 9 on the Richter scale.

However, seismologist Tint Lwin Swe said that he didn’t know how CPI calculated its figures. The intensity of an earthquake depends on the distance from the epicentre but a magnitude is the same regardless of the distance from the epicentre. The magnitude of an earthquake detected by seismic stations across the world would be the same, he said.

“The nearer the epicentre, the more the intensity,” he said.

Tint Lwin Swe served on the seismic committee from 2004 to 2008, and he jointly studied and drew the seismic map of Burma along with noted geologist Dr. U Thein.

The active Sagaing fault line stretches from Thongwa in Rangoon Region in the south to Inndawgyi Lake in Kachin State in the north of Burma through Sagaing and east of the Bago Range. The four sub-fault lines stretch east, and one of them crosses east of the Kumon range and runs parallel to the Maykha River before finally reaching Putao town. It touches the India plate and Tibet plate. Inndawgyi Lake is the result of past movements of the Sagaing fault line, seismologists said.

There are many more active fault lines on the border of Yunnan and Burma, and on the upper reaches of the Salween (Thanlwin) River in China. Tint Lwin Swe said that he was not sure if CPI considered and calculated the seismic zones at the joining of the Tibet and India plates in their dam design.

According to their estimates and calculations, if an earthquake hit along the Sagaing fault line near Inndawgyi Lake with a magnitude 9, the dam site just 30 miles from the epicentre would be hit by more than 9 on the intensity scale so it was potentially very dangerous.

A mild earthquake struck at a location 20 kilometers below Myitkyina in 1994, and there were similar mild earthquakes on the Maykha River upstream of Myitsone. Seismologist Tint Lwin said Swe he assumes that the Maykha area is also an active fault line.
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