Questions Raised Over Thai-Backed Coal Power Plant in Mon State

By Lawi Weng 1 February 2016

RANGOON — A Thai cement factory in Mon State is allegedly building a coal-burning power plant on-site without informing locals or authorities, according to rights activists concerned about the project’s potential environmental effects.

The factory, situated near the Zami River—an important water source for at least five villages in the area—is owned by Mawlamyine Cement Limited (MCL), a subsidiary of Siam Cement Group (SCG).

The coal plant on MCL factory’s premises reportedly has a 20-megawatt generating capacity and will also rely on the Zami’s water for its operations.

“We need to investigate…to check if this could harm our local people,” said Nai Kethara, an ethnic Mon monk and a leading member of Protection Environment, an organization in Kyaikmayaw Township, where the factory is located.

Aung Naing Oo, a recently re-elected member of the Mon State parliament who has previously worked on environmental issues, said that SCG had only informed authorities of its intentions to build a cement factory in Kyaikmayaw; they did not mention plans to construct a coal-burning facility as well.

“They did not inform our parliament or our government about plans to build this coal power plant,” he said, pledging to investigate the situation further.

Nai Kethara said it was local security guards who told him of the construction of the power plant, which was reportedly kept secret even from MCL’s own employees.

“They did not inform the locals. We only knew about it once they were already done… they did not even let factory workers know that they built this coal power plant,” he added.

Protection Environment members have started educating people in the vicinity of the power plant and factory about the potential effects of the project. About 100 villagers attended the first meeting two weeks ago.

“Our local people do not understand how this power plant could affect their livelihoods,” said Nai Kethara. “If [the company] says this coal power plant will not harm us, then they need to give a guarantee or [show] how they will protect locals.”

SCG reportedly cooperated with Pacific Link Cement Industries to build the Kyaikmayaw cement factory in 2014. It was planned to be fully functional by March, and would boast a production capacity of 1.8 million tons of cement per year, the firm said.

According to an SCG report, the company—one of Thailand’s largest cement manufacturers—invested around $7 billion in expansion over the next five years. Fifty percent of the investment is designated toward the construction of more factories in ASEAN countries, including Burma.