Kachin State chief minister Dr. Khet Aung recently sat down with The Irrawaddy’s Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint and talked about his government’s undertakings and plans for this term, as well as the controversial China-backed Myitsone Dam project.
What has the state government done for Kachin State over past 18 months since it took office?
Mainly, we concentrated on infrastructural development such as building bridges, roads, power stations and the electricity supply. We were able to electrify some 200 villages with the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. And we also upgraded the Sumprabum section of the Union Highway. Previously, the road was only accessible by foot, and even motorbikes could not drive on it in the rainy season. This year, cars can use it in the rainy season.
What are the top priorities of your government since it assumed office?
The State Counselor is organizing the 21st Century Panglong peace conference. Our top priority is to achieve peace. Our second priority is to fight drugs. It is critical that we fight drugs nationwide. I visited Bhamo Prison and asked the warden about the number of prisoners and their crimes. He said there were 1,493 prisoners and more than 1,200 were imprisoned on drug charges. This is not a good sign.
I also visited Myitkyina Prison. There were more than 3,200 prisoners with more than 2,800 imprisoned on drug charges. Recently, I also visited Mohnyin, and the township administrative department said that the prison was only recently built but already full of inmates, and 90 percent of them are imprisoned on drug charges.
Drugs are an acute problem not only in Kachin State but also across the entire country. It is a real cause for concern. We are fighting it the best we can. When I went to Mohnyin, we seized more than 300 million kyats worth of drugs.
In previous years, community-based anti-drug group Pat Jasan launched anti-narcotics campaigns in the state. But there was fierce resistance from poppy growers, and their activities ceased after growers started firing shots during their campaigns. What do you think of Pat Jasan?
Their intentions are good, but we want them to cooperate with us within the legal framework to combat drugs more effectively. We’ve invited them to cooperate. We’ve formed anti-drug committees at the district, township, ward and village levels. If they can work in close coordination, we’ll be able to overcome the drug problem.
In Special Region (1), militias have admitted to also growing poppies. How will the government handle this?
Frankly speaking, it is difficult to handle. Militias and border guard forces are controlled by the army. We cannot handle them directly and there are difficulties.
How is Myitsone Dam project going now?
The report on the dam has yet to be the submitted to the President. This is all I can say for the time being. The public will be informed after the report is submitted.
I heard that a Chinese government delegation met the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) and talked about resuming the dam project. Did China talk with the Kachin State government about the dam?
No, they didn’t.
People object to the project. What is the stance of the Kachin State government?
We share the same view as the people. They elect us and their wishes are of the utmost importance to us. If the people don’t want it, it won’t happen.
Why has it taken so long to submit the report [on the assessment of the possible impacts of the dam] to the President?
There is a lot to coordinate between different stakeholders. The process also included consultation with international experts, which takes a while.
I’ve talked to locals and they are concerned that the Myitsone Dam project will be resumed. What would you say to them?
I would say that it depends on their wishes.
Locals have borne the brunt of clashes between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who were fighting for their own reasons. What do you have to say about that?
As we’ve not yet achieved peace, problems such as displacement arise when the Tatmadaw [Myanmar Army] conducts clearance operations in areas that are not controlled by the government. What we can do is to minimize the troubles people are facing. We are different. The Tatmadaw carries out [operations] with a military outlook.
Speaking of clashes in Kachin State, it is the Tatmadaw that launched assaults, and local activists claim that it doesn’t want peace. What do you think?
As I’ve said, it acted with a military outlook. Its primary concern is state security and it acts based on that.
What are the challenges facing the Kachin State civilian government?
As peace is not yet achieved, there are some difficulties in the administrative system. I don’t want to go into detail.
Kachin people had great expectations for the National League for Democracy (NLD) government as well as your [state] government. But they have faced some frustrations. What would you say to your constituents?
We have only been in office for 18 months and we are seeing the problems that people face. We will try our best to mitigate these. We have a mission and a vision.
Our vision is a peaceful, modern, developed, drug-free state with the co-existence of Union brethren. Our mission is peace, smooth transportation, electricity supply for all towns and villages, drug elimination, and strengthening friendship between ethnicities, security and rule of law.
We’d also strive for the socio-economic development of local people by promoting agriculture, livestock breeding and tourism. And we are inviting foreign direct investment in agricultural and livestock sectors in our state.
We will also make sure there is reliable and speedy public service delivery as well as fight corruption. These are our goals for the five-year term.