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Electric Power-1 Minister, Zaw Min has seemingly thrown open the Myitsone dam debate by telling a seminar that the Ministry of Environmental Conservation should decide about the fate of the project.
Zaw Min drew criticisms last week after making a strongly worded statement about the dam stating that they would not back down, and that, “undesirable intentions to disrupt the projects would only harm our national interest.”
The minister made the move at a seminar in Naypyidaw, yesterday. In attendance was Ko Ko, editor of the Yangon Times, who told DVB that, “He [Zaw Min] said he will transfer this case to Environmental Conservation Department for the ministry to decide. He implied that country is now democratic and would accept a decision by the people.”
The idea of a rethink was also allegedly backed by Industrial 2 Minister and chairman of the Industrial Development Committee, Soe Thein.
“The minister [Zaw Min] said there was no minister specified for these issues when they initiated the [dam project] but now there is the Ministry of Environmental Conservation [and Forestry] and also an environmental law is being written,” said Ko Ko.
Ko Ko added that the Minister of Environmental Conservation and Forestry Win Tun pledged objectivity in making studies on the dam in the future.
He also said that Dr Htin Hla, director of Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) who conducted a joint-research with Chinese experts on the Myitsone Dam project, read out a thesis at the event and suggested that the government publicise the report the group had previously conducted.
“He explained about how the report was compiled and admitted it wasn’t a complete study on the project as there wasn’t enough time. He said the report should be publicised and showed to the clients [Chinese],” Ko Ko said.
He said the Industrial-2 Minister Soe Thein also suggested inclusion of third-party groups such as the Meekong River Commission when conducting further studies and should give a transparency for the people and experts on what they find.
“I think the whole process may take time and in the end the project might be cancelled but at least it’s not going to continue for now,” said Ko Ko.
The decision on the dam will likely form a test case for ministerial level over sight, with previous parliamentary votes resulting in conservative outcomes.
The Myitsone dam is being built at a major confluence of the Irrawaddy river, the country’s largest and most important river system.
Meanwhile, U Ohn, environmentalist and chairman of the Myanmar Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association (FREDA) said the ground underneath the confluence of Irrawaddy River is not stable as it is connected to Sagaing fault.
“As the ground where the dam would be built upon is not stable, there might be water leakage, formation of silt and earthquakes and the impact would reach as far as to the Irrawaddy Delta.”
The Sagaing fault is known to have caused a 7.3 Richter scale earthquake in 1930.
Ninety percent of the electricity output from the Myitsone Dam, when it is completed, will be sold to China. Whilst the Burmese government would it is estimated earn US$500 million per year from the project.