Defense Ministry Rejects Relocation of Sulfuric Acid Factory

By Htet Naing Zaw 17 August 2017

NAYPYITAW — The Ministry of Defense has rejected a parliamentarian’s request to relocate a sulfuric acid factory in Sagaing Region’s Salingyi Township during the Lower House session on Wednesday.

Lawmaker U Win Thein Zaw of Salingyi Township raised a question about the military-owned factory operated under Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) near the village of Kan Kone in his constituency, citing locals’ concerns over their health and the environmental impact of the factory.

But Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Myint Nwe defended the factory, saying that it does not harm locals, and that it serves the interests of the country.

The factory provides sulfuric acid used in refining copper to the China-backed Letpadaung copper mines.

He claimed that the factory does not cause social or environmental impacts and has even received three ISO certificates because it employs advanced production technologies.

The Letpadaung mines have been an ongoing source of controversy and protest, with accusations of forced eviction, environmental destruction and the suppression of peaceful protests.

The Letpadaung Copper Mines Investigation Commission led by then-lawmaker Daw Aung San Suu Kyi inspected the factory around 2013, and recommended that MEHL register the factory as a private factory, according to the deputy minister.

“During the registration process, we sought approval from the Ministry of Industry annually to run the factory,” said Maj-Gen Myint Nwe.

Lawmaker U Win Thein Zaw said that the factory started operation on August 19, 2007 and operated illegally until the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led investigation commission inspected it in 2013. It then received permission for continued operation on a trial basis.

He called for the relocation of the factory away from residential areas, citing international practices that call for a buffer zone between residential areas and a facility manufacturing hazardous chemicals.

He said the factory is not in line with 2008 Constitution, citing Article 45 which states that the Union shall protect and conserve the natural environment, Article 390 that states that every citizen has the responsibility to conserve the environment, and Article 41 of the Myanmar Investment Law, which bans investments that could potentially cause harm to the people, the environment and ecosystem.

His presentation showed pictures of damaged crops plantations that he claimed were harmed by emissions.

The deputy defense minister stated that the factory would not be relocated, saying that it strictly followed the guidelines of the Letpadaung Copper Mines Investigation Commission, with two percent of the net profits from the factory being used for regional development and 51 percent of the profits from the Letpadaung copper mines going to state funds.

He said the Canada-based Green Environmental, Health, Safety & Social Consultancy Co had conducted an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) in 2014, and MEHL submitted the EISA report to the Ministry of Resources and Environmental Conservation and implemented the ministry’s 42 recommendations.

The sulfuric acid factory is a joint venture between MEHL and China North Industries Corporation commonly known as Norinco, which is involved in a wide range of businesses including automobiles, machinery, optical-electronic products, oil field equipment, chemicals, light industrial products, explosives and blast materials, civil and military firearms and ammunition and hi-tech defense products.

The two partners signed the contract on July 25, 2005 and constructed the factory on May 15, 2006. The US$5 million factory came into operation on April 20, 2007, and has a production capacity of 50 tons of sulfuric acid per day, according to the Defense Ministry.