Protesters in Dawei Demand Fair Energy Prices

By Yen Saning 23 January 2015

RANGOON — Crowds amassed for a peaceful demonstration against electricity prices in southeastern Burma on Friday, with some attendees estimating attendance at more than 1,000 people.

Villagers from Dawei, Tenasserim Division, demanded that the price of electricity be reduced from the current region-wide average of 550 kyats (US$0.55) to the nationwide average of 35 kyats per unit.

Tenasserim is Burma’s southernmost administrative division, with coastal access to large reserves of natural gas in the Andaman Sea. It is the only division in the country still unconnected to the national grid, according to data released by the Ministry of Electric Power in December 2014.

The ministry has stated a goal of connecting Dawei district to the grid within the next two years.

High prices have resulted from a near monopoly on energy services, which villagers said were almost solely supplied by Phoetheecho Company Plc. The company’s managing director, Win Htein, told The Irrawaddy that his company has advocated for better nationwide connectivity because the entire region’s development remains stifled by prohibitive costs.

“Right now, industrial development is slow because the price of energy is too high,” he said.

The divisional Minister of Electric Power and Industry Win Swe confirmed that the township is expected to join the grid soon, but declined to comment on when and how increased access to power would impact consumer prices.

“The Moulmein-Ye-Dawei grid will arrive in 2015 or 2016. Electricity distribution depends on arrangements made by the Union government,” said Win Swe, adding that the prices in three districts—Dawei, Myeik and Kawthaung—have already been recently adjusted to 380, 370 and 350 kyats per unit respectively.

While Tenasserim remains largely unconnected to most parts of Burma, it shares three pipelines with neighboring Thailand, through which it has been exporting natural gas since the late 1990s.

Htain Lwin, managing director of state-owned Myanma Electric Power Enterprise, told The Irrawaddy that an agreement has been reached to allocate resources from the gas fields off the Tenasserim coast to meet local needs.

“We are wiring from Kanbauk to Dawei. A company [has been selected] to rent gas engines and produce electricity through negotiation with the Tenasserim government,” said Htain Lwin. Preparations should be complete by May, after which point four engines can begin producing energy using a portion of the company’s resource quota.

Villagers welcomed the allocation of Union-owned resources to the local community but argued that it isn’t enough to solve the pricing problem.

“Our division has produced natural gas since 1996, but in Kanbauk village—close to the pipeline—is paying up to 1,500 kyats per unit,” said Thant Zin, coordinator of an advocacy group called Dawei Development Association (DDA). He said that DDA and other allied organizations have had several discussions with the divisional government that have largely ended with false promises.

Thant Zin said the divisional government initially vowed to bring down the average cost to 300 kyats per unit by December, but it failed to meet that goal.

“We don’t oppose what the government is doing, but we are pointing out some delays in their procedures,” he said. “When the pipeline project started in Kanbauk, the government promised that we would get electricity. We believed them and we waited, but it has been 17 years now.”