Commission Submits Myitsone Assessment Report

By Tin Htet Paing 11 November 2016

RANGOON — The commission tasked with evaluating hydropower projects on Burma’s Irrawaddy River has submitted its first assessment report to President U Htin Kyaw on Friday—meeting its projected deadline, a member of the commission told The Irrawaddy.

The commission was formed on August 12, a week before State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to China as Burma’s foreign minister. It was assigned to assess possible impacts of proposed projects on the environment, society, foreign investment, economy and water resources along the Irrawaddy River.

Deputy Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament U T Khun Myat chairs the 20-member commission and State Counselor’s Office Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe serves as vice-chairman.

While there has been no official statement released regarding the report, commission member U Cho Cho—who is also on the advisory board of the National Water Resources Committee—told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the commission is likely to hold a press conference on the report next week.

“This is just an initial report and there will be no details released yet,” he said, refusing to comment on the content of the report.

After formation of the commission in August, U Cho Cho told The Irrawaddy that the commission would carefully assess all proposed projects in line with international standards while consulting local communities regarding their concerns.

Since the National League for Democracy (NLD) government assumed office in April, China has lobbied to restart the multi-billion dollar Myitsone Dam, which was being constructed in Kachin State with Chinese backing just downriver from the confluence that forms the Irrawaddy. A government suspension order in September 2011 under former President U Thein Sein’s administration following widespread public protest stalled the project.

Protests against the dam were fueled by a variety of fears and misgivings: the majority of electrical power generated would go to China; the dam’s location near a seismic fault line posed a flood risk in the case of an earthquake; and a general lack of transparency or public consultation was undertaken before the project was awarded to China.

Environmental non-governmental organization Myanmar Green Network—comprised of several civil society groups—called for an immediate end to the project and urged the public to participate in the cause during the network’s fifth annual meeting at the end of October.

“We call for an end to all proposed mega hydropower projects including the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River,” said Daw Devi Thant Sin, a prominent environmentalist and leader of the Myanmar Green Network.

“In the meantime, we also don’t want any dams on the Mali Hka or the N’Mai Hka,” she added, referring to the two streams that form the Irrawaddy River.

The commission consists of experts from different fields and their recommendations are likely to vary, she said, adding that she hoped the commission would reflect the network’s concerns.

U Win Myo Thu, co-founder and managing director of environmental organization Ecodev, said the commission should carefully analyze advantages and disadvantages of the project for both the public and stakeholders.

He also stressed the importance of transparency regarding the Myitsone Dam contract between the Chinese and Burmese governments and said the commission should recommend resolutions for the current situation.

“If the government decides to resume the project, the public will definitely be against it,” he said. “The NLD government will suffer political disadvantages and a loss of public trust.”

Additional reporting by Htet Naing Zaw.