Govt accused of blocking debate over MP's coal-fired plant

ASEAN+ September 25, 2014 18:01

By Aung Kyaw Myo
Myanmar Eleven

Hintada, Aeyeywady Region - MPs from different parties in the Aeyeywady Region parliament are uniting in their effort to urge the regional government to discuss its plans to build two coal-fired power plants, but say it will be an uphill battle as their g

Hla Myat Thwe, the sole regional MP from the National League for Democracy, is urging residents and environmentalists to make their opposition to the plants public so that he and other MPs can convey their stance to the parliament – where one MP from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party owns the company that the government says will build one of the plants.
A1 Group is owned by Yan Win, the USDP MP who represents Maubin constituency in the regional parliament. The tycoon-politician is also a sports enthusiast. He owns the Ayeywady United football club and is chairperson of the Myanmar Traditional Boxing Federation. 
Hla Myat Thwe said the battle against the coal-fired plants would have to be fought inside and outside the regional parliament. MPs will use questions inside parliament and cooperate with the public and environmentalists to publicly oppose the projects outside the legislature, he said. “We will invite environmental and civic organisations as well as local residents and other political parties to cooperate.”
This may not be enough. USDP MP Aye Kyi, who represents Ngaputaw Township – where the plants will be built in the coastal area of Ngayoke Kaung – said he had not even been invited to the September 14 public forum on the issue. The government shocked attendees by announcing that a second coal-fired plant would be built by A1 Group, which has never built one before.
“I heard from the media that a plant will be built by Tata [Power] and now another will be built by A1 Company. The plants were not discussed in parliament and I think they should not proceed if the public opposes them,” Aye Kyi said.
National Unity Party MP Zaw Win said it would be difficult to stop the projects in the parliament as it was controlled by the USDP. The 72 MPs comprise 48 USDP members, 17 representatives of the military, six members of the National Unity Party and one from the NLD. “Nine of 10 ministers are from the USDP so it is not easy to win a vote. However, we will persuade and urge MPs to abide by the people’s wishes,” Zaw Win said.
He said a motion he submitted with Aye Kyi urging the government to ask the people what they thought about the coal-fired plants was shot down before it even reached the discussion stage.
The government thinks the plants are projects it can build without the need for discussion, Zaw Win said, adding that this approach was a source of contention between some MPs and the government. He said all representatives of the military supported the proposal to ask the public what they think, and that he hoped to build more support. “We are trying to win the support of more MPs for our motion for a debate in parliament.”
Tata Power, a unit of Indian conglomerate Tata Group, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Union government in April 2013 to build a coal-fired power plant. Reports in Indian media say that the plant will be the conglomerate’s first foray into Myanmar, and that it will begin operating in 2019 or 2020, using imported coal to generate electricity. According to Tata Power’s website it has never constructed a coal-fired power plant before.
Local residents and MPs say they had been kept in the dark about the MoU and the details of the plant. They were expecting to learn more at the public forum on September 14, but were surprised when the executives who showed up were from A1 Group rather than Tata Power. Many of the about 1,000 people who attended stormed out of the meeting.
The locals were informed earlier this month about the second coal-fired power plant. They learnt about the first plant more than one year after the government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with an Indian conglomerate to build it.
A1 Group has four divisions, according to its website: construction and plantations, hotels and resorts, industry, and mining, oil and gas. The first is its largest. In Yangon it has built Sakura Tower, Sakura Residence, MiCasa Hotel, Hotel Chatrium and the International School of Yangon. Its eight projects in the capital include the office of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Electrical Power (2) building, as well as a bowling alley and the Central Post Office. In Mandalay it has built a nursing university and the Myanma Industrial Development Bank. It operates teak and rubber plantations, a textile factory and three hotels: the Panorama Hotel in Yangon, Hotel Mount Pleasant in Nay Pyi Taw and Myanmar Andaman Resort in Kawthoung. A1 Group also has interests in mining – granite, tin and tungsten – as well as one onshore oil and gas block through a joint venture with Swiss-based Geopetrol International Holdings Inc. 
Yan Win sums up his company as one that strives to “attain quality, meeting national and international codes of standard”, according to his introduction to it on its website, which says its motto is: “With A1, You’re Number One!”

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