Locals Urge Japan to Rule Out Burma Coal Plant Funding

By Yen Saning 27 November 2015

RANGOON — Villagers have urged overseas development agencies and corporate investors in Japan not to underwrite three contentious coal power projects in southern Burma, each of which has been subject to sustained local opposition.

A delegation of locals from Irrawaddy Division, Mon State and Tenasserim Division are now in Tokyo in an attempt to meet with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), along with companies that have already committed to investing in the projects.

They are seeking guarantees that prospective Japanese investors will rule out funding any future coal project, in addition to the three already tied to Japanese financing and investment.

“International and national financial institutions, such as the World Bank, are moving away from financing coal,” said Thant Zin, coordinator of the Dawei Development Association (DDA), in a Friday statement from Tokyo.

“In this day and age, when there are clean and renewable energy options available, it is unacceptable that Japanese actors are promoting such polluting energy projects in other countries.”

In one project, centered on Nga Yoke Kaung village in Irrawaddy’s Ngapudaw Township, the Japanese firms Mitsubishi and J-Power are planning to build a 600 megawatt facility and adjoining deep sea port in partnership with the A1 Group of Companies, a local construction conglomerate. Both Mitsubishi and J-Power have claimed that JBIC will partially finance the scheme.

Villagers have opposed the project, despite Mitsubishi chaperoning a delegation of Ngapudaw villagers in April to showcase two coal power plants it operates in Japan. Over 8,000 signatures have been collected for a petition urging President Thein Sein to veto the Nga Yoke Kaung development.

Japan’s Marubeni Corporation is working with one local and three Thai partners to build an 1,800 megawatt coal-fired plant in the Tenasserim village tract of Thar Ra Bwin, near the famed Myeik archipelago.

The consortium signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Electric Power in October 2014, but local resident Saw Naing Than said that many villagers had only heard about the project recently.

“We have not seen any construction carried out yet, but locals reject this project,” he said in Rangoon on Friday. “Today, we are coming to refute the Japanese company who will invest in this project.”

Saw Naing Than was one of a number of villagers from across southern Burma who traveled to the Japanese Embassy on Friday, in order to file petitions against a number of coal plant projects to coincide with the overseas delegation.

In Mon State’s Inn Din village, the Toyo-Thai company is seeking loans from JBIC and the Sumitomo-Mitsui Bank (SMBC) bank for a 1280 MW coal plant, expected to cost upwards of US$2.8 billion. A 30-year construction and operating agreement was signed between Toyo-Thai and the Ministry of Electric Power in April.

“All villagers from Inn Din have rejected this transparency-lacking project and have no trust in it,” said Ye Township local Thiri Oo. “We don’t want these already developed places to be destroyed.”

The Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), a consortium of more than 400 local civil society organizations, also released a statement on Thursday calling on the government to review its existing policies on coal power, stating that the current projects posed “grave threats to the public health and are severely damaging the natural environment.”

“We note that the policy action plan to extract five million tons of natural coal by 2030, as outlined in the National Energy Policy, will definitely lead to the increased unjust exploitation of natural resources in civil war-affected ethnic areas,” the group added.

In an open letter addressed to JBIC chief executive Hiroshi Watanabe and JICA president Shinichi Kitaoka, 72 local civil society groups called on both agencies to take into account the views of locals before any funding is allocated to coal projects.

It added that JBIC’s funding of coal projects could be deemed a breach of that agency’s guidelines, which require “social acceptability” for foreign economic development grants.

Analysts and lawmakers expect that the Union Parliament will pass an update to Burma’s Foreign Investment Law before the end of January. If enacted in its current state, the law will mandate stronger social and human rights protections for potential investors.