The commission tasked with reviewing and scrutinising hydropower projects along the Ayeyarwady River met for the first time this week, with the recently formed body planning to submit an interim report on its findings next month.
Irrigation expert U Cho Cho, a member of the commission, told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the commission has begun reviewing several reports on matters ranging from environmental impacts to dam designs. It has also requested that the government disclose agreements inked for the projects, including the deal struck between the former military government and a Chinese state-run firm for the controversial Myitsone mega-dam in Kachin State.
“The commission cannot rescind the agreements. We can only review the agreements on hydropower projects ... The commission began its duties on August 22,” U Cho Cho said.
The commission held two days of meetings this week with all 20 members in attendance.
State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese leaders discussed the Myitsone hydropower project during her visit to China last week.
Responding to questions from reporters following those meetings, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said her government had created the review commission to determine the best way to resolve the impasse over the fate of the Myitsone dam, which was suspended by then-president U Thein Sein in 2011 amid public uproar over the project. She added that she could not yet say what that solution might be and would await the commission’s findings.
“This is precisely the duty of the commission – to find out what the best solution is going to be,” said the state counsellor.
In its review, the commission has been instructed to determine whether hydropower projects along the country’s main waterway should go forward, bearing in mind costs and benefits to citizens. The commission is to submit its first full report to President U Htin Kyaw by November 11.
The commission must also assess contractual arrangements and seek solutions amenable to both Myanmar’s people and foreign investors, as well as collect the opinions of average citizens and civil society organisations.
U Cho Cho said the commission’s initial work would not include surveying locals and CSOs, and that this would come “later”.
Daw Ja Hkaung of the Kachin State-based Mungchying Rawt Jat organisation, a long-time opponent of the Myitsone project, said the commission needed to analyse all aspects of the dam, adding that the outcome of the review must be accepted by the public.
“The commission should be cautious of the people’s desire. If the commission reports that [the project] should continue, the people will be angry not only at the commission but also at the government,” she said.
U Aye Thar Aung (Arakan National Party; Rakhine 6), deputy Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw, highlighted the Ayeyarwady River’s value to the nation, while noting the difficult spot the government has been put in.
“The river is the lifeblood of our country and people don’t want it to be damaged. The people’s wish is to cancel the project. But we need to consider that China is a neighbouring country,” he said.
The former military junta and China Power Investment Corporation inked an agreement to construct the US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam in 2006.
A relocation program for locals who would be displaced by the dam’s reservoir began in 2009. Two years later the project was suspended, however, with U Thein Sein conceding to an opposition campaign that objected to potential negative environmental impacts and an arrangement that would have seen some 90 percent of the electricity generated sent across the border to power China’s Yunnan province.