The last day for local residents to seek compensation for confiscated lands in the Letpadaung mining area came and went on Sept. 30, but a local official insists he is still happy to process additional claims despite the deadline having passed.
The Irrawaddy reporter Zarni Mann traveled to Sagaing Division, where the controversial mine is located, and met with Than Htike, the divisional forestry, minerals and energy minister, who is currently in charge of compensation distribution at the Letpadaung project’s liaison office in the village of New Hse Tae and Zee Taw. The regional minister said that with nearly half of the owed compensation still to be handed out, he is available to “hear what the farmers have to say.”
Question: What stage are you at in the process of distributing compensation for confiscated lands?
Answer: There are about 6490.88 acres of confiscated lands that we must provide compensation for. Through the end of September, we’ve provided compensation for 3348.29 acres. That means compensation has been given for 51.58 percent of the total lands confiscated.
Q: And what about those farmers who have refused to accept compensation?
A: That’s why I’m here at the liaison office; to hear what the farmers have to say. Will they request to extend the date for compensation or not? Or will they have anything to request? I’m here waiting for them [the farmers], to hear from them and to report back to [Union Minister] U Hla Tun, president of the implementation committee for the report issued by the [government’s] Letpadaung investigation commission, and to Sagaing Division Chief Minister U Thar Aye.
Some farmers are willing to be compensated, but they have been urged not to take the compensation, so they are afraid and dare not come here. For some others, they have problems with [proving legal] ownership of their lands so they have not had a chance to accept the compensation yet. For those kinds of farmers, we are helping them by presenting their cases to the court and discussing with lawyers to find a solution.
The money that remains in our hands, because some farmers are refusing to accept the compensation, will be in the bank. We’ve opened an account to save it and it will be later used for the development of the region.
Some farmers might be holding out hope that the compensation will increase. The compensation rate currently given was already decided by the implementing committee, according to the report of the investigation commission. So, we do not have any plan to increase the amount further.
On the other hand, if the production process begins, we will get 2 percent of the profits and our minister is thinking about development projects for this region with some funds from that 2 percent of profits.
Moreover, the committee is in discussions with the mining company [Wanbao Mining] about undertaking development projects in the region, including in the education, health, transportation and water sectors, which will cost around US$1 million over a one-year implementation period.
Q: Can you tell me the current operational status of the mine?
A: To my knowledge, the mining company is starting work in areas that have less impact. They are not working yet in areas where there are still problems with farmers.
Q: But there are many farmers who did not accept compensation and are still working on their lands, which are within the mining zone. With the resumption of activities by Wanbao, what will happen to them?
A: We’ve discussed that with UMEHL [Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd], Wanbao and the border affairs minister. From the side of our minister, we understand the farmers so we’ve urged UMEHL and Wanbao to let them work on their lands until the project begins in that area. However, we [the implementation committee] do not have the authority to order them, and can only make suggestions. On the other hand, the farmers should know that they shouldn’t work on their lands if the project has begun in the area.
Business firms and the international community are watching this Letpadaung mining project as a template for further investment in the country. The profits earned from this project are important for the country, and also indicate an understanding of the suffering of the locals.
The locals need to understand how the project will bring regional development as well. We’ve tried hard to explain this to the farmers, but it is very difficult for us because we are not so welcome to their village.
From this project, 51 percent of the profit will go to the country, 19 percent to UMEHL and 30 percent to Wanbao. Since our country will get 51 percent of profit from this project, we want to encourage the locals to understand that this project will provide a good future for all of us.