China Backs Out of Project, Irrawaddy Irrigation Dept Steeped in Financial Woes   

By Salai Thant Zin 10 June 2016

RANGOON — Irrawaddy Division’s Department of Irrigation is 5.5 billion kyats (US$4.6 million) in debt after the Chinese government refused to give money to construct a tunnel across the Irrawaddy River—a project the Chinese leadership had previously agreed to fund.

The Department of Irrigation in Irrawaddy Division’s Hinthada Township constructed a tunnel across the Irrawaddy River in Zalun Township, with the knowledge that China would provide funds for the project. But China never delivered once the project was completed.

During a goodwill visit to China in September by former President Thein Sein, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to provide disaster prevention and relief funds to Burma. The national government, in turn, decided to start building the tunnel with the understanding that China’s proposed development aid would be delivered at a later time. In the meantime, 2 billion kyats ($1.67 million) were borrowed from the National Disaster Management Committee and were to be repaid to the committee once China’s aid was received.

However, the money never came, and Hinthada’s irrigation department has since been beleaguered by financial difficulties and an inability to repay contractors, Tharyar, the department’s assistant director, told The Irrawaddy.

“We implemented this project with the knowledge that China would assist us. They also inspected the project while it was already in the process of being implemented. [But then] China said, citing its policy, that it would not give [financial assistance] for ongoing and completed projects, only for new projects,” Tharyar said.

“We had no budget allotted for this project from the national budget or from funds [from the Disaster Management Central Committee]. We have no idea how to solve this,” he added.
The 5.25 mile-long tunnel was designed to divert the flow of the Irrawaddy River near Zalun Township to prevent bank erosion in a number of townships, including Zalun, Hinthada, Laymyatnar, Ingapu and Myanaung townships, according to the department.

Construction began in February of this year, and by April about 90 percent of the project had been completed. The total cost has amounted to 7.5 billion kyats ($6.26 million): 0.7 billion kyats ($585,074) in land compensation, 4.8 billion kyats ($40,119) in tunnel construction and 2 billion kyats ($1.67 million) in bank retainment and construction, the department said.

Hinthada’s irrigation department sought help from the director-general of Naypyidaw’s irrigation department and received 2 billion kyats in special funds, allowing the department to repay materials suppliers and subcontractors. However, the department still owes 3.5 billion kyats ($2.9 million) to contractors and companies.

“And we still have to pay back 2 billion kyats [borrowed from] the Natural Disaster Management Committee. So our debt is 5.5 billion kyats,” said Tharyar.

For the time being, contractors have not yet asked to be repaid, said Phyo Myint, director of Irrawaddy Division’s irrigation department.

“They understand us, that we can’t pay back the money. Higher-level authorities will have to take care of the situation,” Phyo Myint said.

Former President Thein Sein instructed that Hinthada’s embankments along the Ngawun River be raised by some five feet after the township experienced serious flooding last year.

“Union-level authorities should consider submitting a proposal to Parliament and allotting money from next year’s budget. Because if the Ngawun River dyke collapses, hundreds of thousands of people will be in trouble. That tunnel is meant to divert water flow to avoid collapse,” Tharyar said.

According to the irrigation department, the Ngawun River dyke runs for 17 miles in Hinthada, 19 miles in Laymyatnar, 22 miles in Yekyi and 15 miles in Thabaung, totaling over 73 miles. It prevents the flooding of over 300,000 acres of farmland.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko