Locals’ Fear of Losing Livelihoods Forces Cancellation of Meeting on Oil and Gas Supply Base Project

By Lawi Weng 20 November 2019

Forever Thanlwin Company Limited was forced to cancel a public consultation last Thursday regarding a planned offshore supply base for oil and gas fields, as local ethnic Mon people in Ye Township continue to oppose the project.

The Mon State-based company chose to cancel the event in Ann Din Da Min Seik Village as many local people planned to protest and the company voiced concerns that they would have to confront local residents. This was their third attempt to hold a public consultation regarding the project.

“We arrived in Ye Town at 9 a.m. and we planned to do a consultation at 10 a.m. But we had to cancel it as we heard some locals were waiting to oppose us,” said U Zaw Min Aung, a manager for Forever Thanlwin Company who organized the public consultation.

“For our company, we wanted to explain in detail to the local people about our project. But we were worried that we would face unnecessary problems from locals before we were able to explain it to them. Therefore, we stayed away from them as we did not want to have bad consequences for our project come from them,” he said.

The company attempted to hold a public consultation in Ann Din Da Min Seik Village in 2017, but were forced to cancel the event due to local opposition to the project, according to local sources.

“We were trying to create an opportunity to give them an explanation. We are now waiting to find a situation where we could do so,” U Zaw Min Aung said.

Mi Seik Sorn, a leading local rights activist and member of Youth From Ann Din Village, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the local community was preparing to protest if the consultation went ahead.

“Our local people submitted a letter to the township authority office in Ye opposing the consultation plan. They even issued a statement and posted it on Facebook, saying local people will protest if the company holds a consultation regarding the project with locals,” she said.

“We even planned to distribute pamphlets against the project to local residents too on the same day if they came for a consultation. But they did not come to the village,” she said. “Our local people understood that if [the company] builds an offshore supply base, we will have many problems. Therefore, we did not have to meet them for negotiation as we disagree with their project and plan to come and settle in our area. We will oppose the project totally as their project will harm our local livelihoods,” she said.

The company has already bought land in the area, but when they purchased it, they didn’t tell local residents about their plans to build an offshore supply base.

“They should have consulted with local people about their project first before they bought that land,” said Mi Seik Sorn. “Because of this, we say this project isn’t transparent. They think they can do whatever they want, that’s why we do not like this project.”

The offshore supply base project would supply fuel for companies extracting oil and gas from undersea deposits. The project would cover 68 acres on the land already purchased by the company in Ann Din Da Min Seik Village.

The project will include bridges, buildings and roads, and will include construction both on land and on water. According to U Zaw Min Aung, the company plans to spend US$63 million (95.5 billion kyats) on the construction of the project.

“We will build the project using Myanmar methods and Myanmar style…For example, we will not use a coal power plant or nuclear power plant. There is no technology used in building our project that local people aren’t able to understand. It will be very basic construction,” said U Zaw Min Aung.

The company says they want local people to see how the project is built, and if the project damages the environment, then the company will work to protect it.

“After we have done an environmental impact assessment, we will find the best method to protect the environment. If we cannot find a good method at first, we will find another method. We will show our method to the local people about how to protect the environment. We will even hire academics if it is necessary to protect the environment,” he said.

The company has never officially met with local residents for consultation, though the firm has attempted to hold consultations since May 2017, and in October 2018.

“While we were prepared to meet them, they told us our project was not transparent, so we had to cancel the meeting with them,” said U Zaw Min Aung.

The Forever Thanlwin manager said that the construction will bring benefits but there will be costs as well, and that local people will have to see this from the company’s perspective.

“If the area will experience negative impacts, we have full facilities to protect the environment. We will benefit from the project: we will train local people for long-term work on the project. Our local people will have opportunities for jobs,” said U Zaw Min Aung.

The company also claims the project will support local development including education, but local residents have said that they already have their own businesses and they don’t want jobs from the company.

Most people from Ann Din Da Min Seik Village are fishermen and rely on the sea for their livelihoods. According to the statement issued by local residents opposed to the project, the construction would harm local fisheries.

According to a letter from Forever Thanlwin Company to the township authority office, the company plans to build a barrier wall in the ocean to protect the project. The residents say that the wall, if built, would change the currents and hurt the local environment and fishing businesses.

The statement also claims that because many boats will moor in the area after the construction is finished, local people will be unable to fish. Local residents also say that if the project is built, farmland will be destroyed, harming local livelihoods.

The company will also allegedly store fuel at the base to supply undersea extraction projects, which local residents claim will harm the environment. The local residents also say that if workers from outside the community come to work for the company, it will create social problems and destroy the customs of local people.