The view of the sunset over Loikaw Town from Kayah State landmark: Loi Nan Pa Mountain (photo – KEAN)
Non-transparent and Non-accountable – Worthless Development
Written by Kayah Earthrights Action Network (KEAN)
“Currently, we don’t need projects like this; the time is not right. Just do another project that truly benefits the local people” said a local person facing threats for opposing a 4,000 ton a day cement factory project proposed in their area by Square Power Group Company.
Since 2011, the company, Square Power Group Co. Ltd comprised of Asia Square Power Co. Ltd, Golden Gate international Co. Ltd, Happy Cook Manufacturing Co. Ltd, New Step Services and TOM International Company Ltd has been attempting to implement a cement factory for the production of 4000 tonnes of cement, daily in PaGye region, Kayah State (Approximately 1 mile from Loikaw City). The background of the investors in the companies is a combination of families related with generals under the past government military. For the first steps of the project in early 2011, the investors got permission from the Myanmar Investment Commission to use 500 acres of land for the factory and a further 700 acres of mountain land for extracting limestone and raw materials.
Consultation for PaGye Cement Factory in August 2017 between local people, company staff and parliamentary representatives. (Photo – Aung Thu (KEG))
The company approached the regional government and relevant departments to implement the project. However, they faced opposition from local people, local political parties and civil society organizations. A local person observing the project from PaGye region said “ We don’t know exactly about the building process for the cement factory. This is not our desire and they did not consult us. They have not explained transparently about how it will impact us. They said they will create job opportunities or other community development. But, after they forced us to agree to the project. Once they arrived, the unity amongst our community weakened.We cannot accept a mega project like this that can have a lot of impact to our community and to our environment.”
Since its founding until the end of 2017, the project was not implemented. It has suffered from weak transparency, a lack on consent and undue pressure on the local people and it is still facing with opposition from the community. During that time, the local leaders opposing the project have faced pressure and lawsuits. The company provided compensation to people with registered land for 221 acres. Even though the people aren’t satisfied with the price of the compensation, they have to accept.
The local people in PaGye region oppose the building of a cement factory
However, in the early part of 2018, Square Power Group Co. Ltd again approached the state government for construction of the cement factory. Moreover, the company proposing the project requested the Kayah State government to move the project from PaGye region to Demawso Township, WaBawKo village tract and to acquire land in the area of 243 acres for the cement factory and 1604 acres for the limestone and raw materials. As well as requesting to move the project, they requested a permit for the company, Resources and Environmental Myanmar Ltd, to conduct an Investigation into the Environmental Effect. The company says that these lands are resting or vacant, virgin and fallow land; yet, according to the government records, these lands are not under the control of the government Department of Agricultural and Land Management Statistics or the Department of Environment and Natural Resource Conservation.
This proposed land is the home of many indigenous people and farmers dependent on using the farmland, water springs, limestone hills and forests. An indigenous local man said “We are indigenous people. This is our ancestor’s land. We own this land. Our livelihoods depend on this land. This place is the basis for everything; it is the source of our food and drink. This is not vacant, virgin and fallow land; it is not resting. They don’t accept when we say like this”
The investors said that they got the permission and agreement from the local people and also conducted a field investigation. Following this the state government also conducted a field investigation.The state’s field research group found that the local people did not support this project; this contradicted what the investors said. Moreover, the field research group’s report suggested greater transparency in the company’s working process and for the company to seek the local people’s agreement and proceed according to every relevant law.
One indigenous villager commented regarding the proposed project and the statement that villagers supported the implementation of the project in their region, “We are not simple. They called a meeting for the villagers in our village. They said the meeting was to measure that limestone. But later, they showed us a list of signatures of supporters of the project. Some of the names on the supporters list are not in our village; they have been working in the other country for three or four years. Other villages have villagers on the list of supporters that have died 3, 4, 5 years ago. We don’t know how they got these signatures. This list fraudulently imitates our signatures.”
Recently, Square Power Group Co. Ltd have changed their technique of approaching the community village leaders who are defending the local people’s rights are now facing threats and pressure to accept the project. Square Power Group Co.ltd is still not engaging with the local people or civil society organisations and are not considering the local people’s desire and agreement. Information on this process has not been widely distributed to the local people. They are only using corruption to force the local people to implement this process.
“Why are you opposing this cement factory? It is for this region’s development. If you continue to oppose, we cannot guarantee for your safety” One villager pressured regarding this project reported being told like this. Moreover, some of the local people are even facing death threats. Yet, these actions are only increasing the opposition among the villagers. Square Power Group Co.ltd, the state government and all of the others individuals involved in this project are not yet taking responsibility. It can be seen that in particular Square Power Group Co.ltd lack accountability and transparency in the implementation of this project.
Local people conduct Press Conference on the process of the cement factory in new WaBawKo village.
By permitting and implementing this kind of project with no transparency, accountability or responsibility, the current government allows not only the destruction of national reconciliation; national reciprocity; and sustainable economic development, but also the disintegration of the peace process that the government itself is implementing.
Moreover, as a member of the United Nations, the Myanmar government must protect indigenous people’s rights fully in accordance with the declaration on the rights of indigenous people. The government must not permit any project without taking accountability and responsibility for the impacts on indigenous people’s beliefs, socio-economics, natural environment and life security. In addition to this, the government must take responsibility for strict rules to ensure projects are transparent and accountable.
“We cannot accept this type of project that will have many impacts on our future situation. We cannot stand this. Therefore, we must oppose this project. We are not afraid even our lives are in danger. We will continue for the future: our next generation.” explained one of the villagers from a village within the proposed project area who had been threatened by the cement factory investors for protesting against the potential negative impacts of the project.