Coal Power Study Trip Gets Poor Marks From Mon Villagers

By Yen Saning 12 October 2015

MOULMEIN, Mon State — Residents of Andin village in Mon State have accused the Toyo-Thai Corporation of using an overseas study trip it sponsored to manipulate locals and coax them into consenting to the company’s plan to build a coal-fired power plant in the area.

Despite opposition to the project from local residents in Ye Township’s Andin, Thailand-based Toya-Thai went ahead with securing a memorandum of agreement with Burma’s Ministry of Electrical Power in April 2015, bringing the plan one step closer to implementation.

Toyo-Thai arranged the study tour of coal-fired power plants in Thailand and Japan in December, with help from the Mon State government amid growing opposition to the Andin project.

But in a report and documentary released last week by Mon Multimedia Institute (M3I), residents criticized the manner in which Toya-Thai recruited participants for the trip, saying the process was not transparent and that only four Andin villagers were ultimately chosen. They were joined by members of the media, staffers from the company and a local real estate agency, and parliamentarians from both the regional legislature and Union Parliament.

Those who made the trip have since been accused by some villagers of favoring the company’s plans, sowing disunity within the community. However, none of the eight trip participants interviewed by M3I expressed explicit support for the project in the report. Opposition to the project has focused on the potential environmental and social impacts of a coal-fired power plant for the region, which is not supplied with electricity from the country’s main grid.

In addition to interviewing eight of the study trip’s 31 participants, M3I spoke to seven individuals who declined the tour invitation and a handful of academics, soliciting their opinions on the proposed power plant.

The Moulmein-based media house said its intention in releasing the report and accompanying documentary was to expose a flawed consultation process by presenting the views of those who joined the trip and others. Locals widely view the study trip as an attempt to win the support of participants, according to the report, an effort that has resulted in divisions within the community.

Nai Min Htaik, an Andin local also known as Nai Seik Rot who joined the trip abroad, said in the report: “If possible, please let our region grow naturally—until the world’s end. Let’s us be undeveloped and poor. Let be what will be. No need to give us anything, just don’t come destroy our region.”

The report also found that trip participants did not have enough time to learn about ultra-supercritical coal combustion (USC) technology, which is being touted as a more environmentally friendly means of burning the fossil fuel.

It claimed, furthermore, that Toyo-Thai lacked any prior experience in constructing and operating coal-fired power plants that use the USC technology.

Upon returning to Burma, trip participants submitted reports to the Mon State government as agreed with the company. A total of four reports by local residents, media and civil society representatives were submitted.

M3I said in its report that the institute had a chance to look at three of the reports, all of which pointed out that participants struggled to understand the technology being presented because they lacked the necessary scientific and technical expertise. All three reports also similarly suggested that although Japan has an admirable environmental record thanks to its strong regulatory framework and accountability mechanisms, no such system is yet in place in Burma, making the country ill-prepared to effectively police the operation of a coal-fired power plant.

Moreover, local residents have been kept in the dark about the reports that participants submitted to the regional legislature and are unaware of what recommendations, if any, they contained.

Aung Naing Oo, a sitting member of the Mon State parliament, said in the M3I report: “All they have explained is what was done is Japan. They don’t talk about their plan in Mon State. They just talk about the technical process in Japan.

“So I asked, what kind of social impacts have they considered for Andin village? How have they reviewed [the project’s] social impacts? An assessment was done once, as a pre-survey [feasibility study]. When I asked if they have collected people’s opinions and people’s voices, they couldn’t answer back. It’s cleared that they haven’t studied.”