Govt urged to come clean on Thanlwin dams

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13 June 2014 | Eleven Myanmar


Lower House speaker Thura Shwe Mann has urged the government to explain its plans to build six controversial hydro-power projects on the Thanlwin River.

He made the comment during a parliamentary session on June 11, in response to a request by MP Kyaw Ni Naing that the government explains the advantages and disadvantages of the six dams.

“The ministry concerned did not reply to this question. As the speaker, I myself would like to urge the government to clarify this matter in parliament, as it is a crucial matter. We will invite them to do so at a time when the parliament is in session,” said Thura Shwe Mann.

Despite calling for clarification, the speaker did not express opposition to the dams. “Electricity supply is the country’s overall affair,” Thura Shwe Mann said.

“It is assumed that people will be satisfied when the ministry of electric power makes clarifications about its projects. Some may get confused. Transparency and accountability is a must when the country is said to be exercising the democracy system,” he added.

Maw Thar Htway, deputy minister for electric power, previously said that electricity is essential for the socio-economic development of the country, noting that only 30 per cent of Myanmar’s population has access to electricity.

However, he failed to explain the details surrounding the actual projects, or respond to statements that most of the electricity generated by the dams will be sold to China and Thailand.

Chinese and Thai firms have planned to invest billions of US dollars for the construction of the dams in collaboration with military-connected companies: Shwe Taung, Asia World and IGE, according to media reports.

The Thanlwin River flows 2,820 kilometres from the Tibetan plateau to the Andaman Sea, making it the 26th longest river in the world. It passes through many of Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas, as well as China and Thailand.

The six projects vary in size (between 225 and 4000 megawatts) and are planned at Kwanlon, Naungpha, Mantung, Minetone, Ywarthit and Hatgyi.

Campaigners have decried what they describe as a lack of transparency about the projects, and stepped up their demands for the government to fully disclose its plans publicly. They raised fears that ethnic communities could suffer serious social and economic disadvantages, as well as environmental degradation should the dams go ahead. 

A petition against the Thanlwin Hydropower projects gathered more than 33,000 signatures and was submitted to President Thein Sein in March.

Campaigners also raised the issue with the World Bank and Asia Development Bank to mark the International Day Against Dams on March 14.

“Most of the firms are going to get investment loans from the banks like World Bank. They say that they are surveying the environmental and social impact assessments to avoid harming the locals. That’s why we must know exactly who is involved,” said Saw Thar Boe, from Karen Rivers Watch.