RANGOON — Prospective investors to Mon State are being advised to ensure consultation with local civil society organizations and the dominant ethnic Mon rebel group before sinking money into the region.
Nai Win Hla, an executive committee member of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Mon armed group, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that it was not enough for investors to deal only with the central government or its state-level counterpart, and that local stakeholders including the NMSP expected to have a say in development.
“We found that there was a problem at the cement factory from MCL [Mawlamyine Cement Limited] in Kyaikmayaw, because the company did not inform our locals of the building of a coal power plant. This is why we asked any foreign investors who come to our region to talk to CSOs, and our group,” said Nai Win Hla, echoing an official statement issued by the NMSP over the weekend.
“MCL only took an agreement with the government when they built this company, this was a problem. They did not talk to CSOs or our group,” he added.
Nai Win Hla said the company inked a deal with the Mon State government to build the cement factory, and then built a coal-fired power plant inside the compound without local residents’ knowledge. It was only after the factory and power plant were up and running that locals realized the existence of the coal-fired power plant, a revelation that was upsetting to many who had learned of the negative environmental impacts of coal-fired power plants.
The cement factory is owned by Mawlamyine Cement Limited (MCL), a subsidiary of Siam Cement Group from Thailand.
Nai Win Zaw, director of the Jeepyah Civil Society Development Organization based in Moulmein, the Mon State capital, agreed that a lack of consultation with local stakeholders was the primary problem with the MCL project.
“MCL has been having problems with our locals because they have ignored the voices of the locals,” he said.
Since political and economic reforms kicked off in 2011, foreign investment in Burma has soared, though most of it has been directed toward the commercial capital Rangoon or other large cities. Elsewhere, concern over impacts to resident populations has been a stumbling block for investors, including in Mon State’s Ye Township, where plans for a coal-fired power plant in the village of An Din have run up against local opposition.
“Our area is not stable yet. We want foreign investment to come when we are able to find a political solution with the [central] government,” said Nai Win Hla, referring to the fact that the NMSP is one of about a dozen ethnic armed groups that refused or were denied the chance to sign a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government last year.