Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has slammed President Thein Sein for leaving the future of a controversial Chinese-backed dam unresolved, accusing him of passing the buck to the country’s next leaders by suspending the project until the end of his term.
Chinese investors in the Myitsone dam, located on the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, are eager to see the project restarted when a new government comes to power after the 2015 elections, which Thein Sein is not expected to contest.
Construction on the 6,000 megawatt dam, located on the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, has been suspended since September 2011, when Thein Sein pledged months after taking office that it would be halted for the duration of his five-year term.
Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy is expected to be a key contender in the upcoming polls, accused Thein Sein’s government of ducking responsibility for the issue by leaving a decision on the $3.6 billion project up to the next government.
“By … postponing the project by five years, this means the next government will have to take care of it,” she said in an interview with RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“It is as if they are saying, ‘It is not our duty. We are not responsible for this,’” she said.
She said the country’s next government would be saddled with responsibility for deciding on the project because of the failure of Thein Sein’s government to settle its future for good.
If her party wins the 2015 polls, it will have “no other choice” but to deal with Chinese investors to resolve the issue “because the current government has left it hanging,” she said.
“I don’t like this idea because a government should be brave enough to take responsibility.”
She added that because many members of the current government also served in the previous regime, "they are the same members as those who agreed to the Myitsone project, and they can’t say now that they have nothing to do with the previous government's actions.”
Thein Sein said in a monthly radio address last week that since the day he took office he has “not avoided responsibility” and has “tried to act correctly.”
The former military general had earned widespread praise for his suspending the dam as part of a series of reforms carried out as Myanmar began emerging from decades under military rule.
The dam project, which would provide most of its electricity to China, had provoked massive public outcry over the widespread flooding and deforestation it would cause, as well as the displacement of 10,000 ethnic minority Kachin villagers.
The project’s investor China Power Investment Co. (CPI) has said it is interested in restarting the project, raising concerns among local residents.
Pushing late last month for a restart of the project, Li Guanghua, a top official of the Myanmar subsidiary of CPI promised to work transparently with Myanmar if it is resumed.
“We will inform the people about everything we do on this project,” Li told reporters at a press conference.
He said he hoped “the government that was elected by the people will make the right decision” on whether to resume with the dam.
Aung San Suu Kyi has said she wants to run for president in the next election, but provisions in the constitution bar her from taking up the post on the grounds that her sons hold British citizenship.
Her party has pushed for those provisions, which some analysts believe were written specifically to target her, to be amended ahead of the polls, as well as for sweeping changes to the charter.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who joined parliament two years ago after landmark by-elections, faced strong criticism from local residents last year after a committee she headed recommended the resumption of a Chinese-backed copper mine that had been suspended amid mass protests.
Her committee had said the expansion of the Letpadaung copper mine should be allowed to continue so as not to discourage future foreign investment and provoke tensions with China, triggering outrage from activists who called for a complete halt to the project.
Reported and translated by Khin Maung Soe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.