Official statement on controversial mining project takes heat

The committee tasked with implementing the recommendations of the report piled by a previous investigation commission over the Letpadaungtaung copper mining project released a statement on January 5 stating that over Ks 10 billion (US$10 million) in compensation has been distributed to farmers who were dispossessed by the project, and each of the farmers has received an amount of that matches the value of the lands they lost.

However, residents, parliamentarians and members of civic organisations in the Letpadaungtaung area argue that the claims of the committee’s statement fail to take into account the full scope of the damage done to the famers’ livelihoods.

Lower House MP Khin San Hlaing from Pearl Township, near the project area said: “The project’s operation period is 30 years. The copper yielded will be worth millions of dollars, as calculated by the current market price. If the mines are found to contain gold and uranium, as some assumptions suggest, the profits will be greater than expected. So the compensation given to the farmers is petty compared to the profits.”

According to their contract, the Myanmar government will receive 51 per cent of the profits, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd will receive 19 per cent, and Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Co Ltd (MWMCCL) will receive 30 per cent.

MP Khin San Hlaing continued that the locals lost the lands and livelihoods they inherited from their ancestors and now face unemployment, as the mine project will produce few job opportunities for the locals.

“Their main profession is agriculture. All members of a household are employed if they have arable lands. The new jobs can’t employ more than one or two members of a family. Agribusiness was the most beneficial job for them,” Khin San Hlaing said.

MWMCCL provided some job opportunities to locals, but these have not compensated for the incomes the farmers lost.
Lawyer Thein Than Oo weighed in: “What do they mean by ‘reasonable compensation’? Did the farmers really enjoy the compensation as the government has said? Did experts assess the values of the lands? A paper report produced through under-the-table compromises won’t work in this case. If the compensation was really sufficient, the residents would not bother to stage such intense demonstrations. What is missing in this compensation process is transparency.”
Thein Than Oo is also a member of the Lawyers’ Network tasked with investigating the murder case of Khin Win, who was shot dead in December during clashes with the police.

He continued: “The market price per acre is more than Ks 3 million in Letpadaungtaung area alone. The government based its compensation values on a Ks 1.5 million [per acre] figure. Thus, the lives of farmers remain insecure. According to 1894 Land Acquisition Act, the government has the right to seize land only if they can satisfy the needs of the landowners. But the government is now failing to do so. It even brought charges against over 70 farmers for assault and trespassing. The Chinese were able to file cases against the locals, while Myanmar citizens had to struggle to open a case for the death of Daw Khin Win. There were about 700 Chinese men accompanying police when they cracked down on the demonstration. There’s just a tonne of injustice beyond expression.”
Thwe Thwe Win, a local from Wethmay Village, remarked on the committee’s announcement: “I’ve found the announcement that was shared online by the Presidential spokesman U Ye Htut’s Facebook account. What I want to ask U Ye Htut is for how many times has he been in Letpadaungtaung? It only mentioned that the farmers have received compensation, but it did not mention those who refused compensation or the one shot dead. The [the death of Khin Win] occurred because not every farmer has received the compensation.”

Win Htay, a local from Setel Village, echoed: “It’s wrong to say everyone has received compensation. About 1,113.17 acres of land have been compensated, but they are all fenced up now. The demonstrations are taking place to retain our lands. Ward and village administrators have obtained compensation to which they have no rights. Some families been broken up due to the intimidation of the authorities.”

The announcement on January 5 contained 20 provisions, but it did not mention the death of Khin Win or the matter of compensation for ruined plantations.