Karen State Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint met for the first time with local residents opposing a coal-fired power plant at a public consultation on October 14.
Around 1,500 people attended the discussion, which was held in Hpa An township’s Sasana Rama Wut Gyi monastery, including state government officials, experts, and residents from Ta Dar U, Kyauk Ta Lone, Win Da Yei, Mi Kayin, Kyon Ma Thwe, Ei Hei, Ta Kaung Boe, and Wut Gyi villages.
“The local residents should tell me what they want to be done. I will try to do it in whatever way possible,” the chief minister said, adding a warning not to “speak with your eyes closed without knowing anything. Negotiate with us to make it work and talk to us about the situation. I will do my best to stand by the public’s side,” the chief minister said to the local residents.”
During the meeting, residents questioned the government’s land management, as well as raising concerns about the project’s impact on local health. Residents also complained about the plant’s ownership digging wells in Thone Ein village, without informing landowners.
“I want to tell [the Karen State government] to treat us warmly and recognize us. They have come to explain the issue to us. In the past, they also brought experts. But we don’t understand Burmese that well – if they brought interpreters, they could understand the views of local residents,” said Saw Sa Htoo, a resident of Htone Taung village, adding that consultations shouldn’t be “one-sided”.
The chief minister pledged that incidents such as the well construction, which was within the project area, would not happen again.
“[The company] will have to inform the respective village administrator and landowner next time before they come to work on land owned by the village residents,” she said. “I don’t support such acts – I can’t accept it. I will try to prevent it from happening again. I will take action if threats have been made [against the local residents],” she told residents present.
Government officials also held a separate meeting with residents who allege to have lost property due to the project to discuss compensation negotiations.
“We will compensate [the landowners] after calculating the market price and arranging with them to receive more than the government rate,” said U Aung Myat Win, deputy director of the Kayin State Environmental Conservation Department, who estimated the number of aggrieved landowners at 75.
“But other homes, schools, and cemeteries have not been included yet,” he added. “We also discussed giving compensation to the farmers who are working on the lands without a Form 7 [land-use document].”
Despite those assurances, local residents submitted a petition, signed by 3,985 people from 19 villages, to the state chief minister and government officials, demanding greater transparency from the project’s development and threatening future protests.