Buthidaung: The Burmese regime has suspended its main hydropower project that was planned to be constructed at the Saidin Waterfall in Buthidaung Township in northern Arakan State, shattering the long-held hope of electrical power in the region, report local residents and officials.
One local resident who had been following the power project told Narinjara that the project has had no progress and is currently suspended.
“We have heard so many big words about the proposed hydropower project at Saidin Waterfall from the successive Burmese regimes, but we have not found any progress being made for the project yet,” said the resident, adding, “When we inquired about the project, a responsible official told us that the project is currently stopped because the government is planning to build the project in partnership with a Chinese company and it will start again after the company has surveyed the proposed site.”
The resident said the official newspapers during the late reign of the SPDC regime had given extensive coverage on the hydropower project at Saidin, citing senior regime officials that the project was about to be implemented, but in reality it is far from practical implementation.
“The current president, U Thein Sein, visited and inspected the proposed site of the project when he was the prime minister of the by-gone military regime, and the other senior officials of the regime such as the minister of electrical power, U Zaw Min, and the minister of construction, U Khin Maung Myint, had also done the same on the project. Then we though that the project would really materialize, but nothing practical has come about and the project is still as it was before,” said the resident.
A junior government engineer from Buthidaung who is appointed to the project also confirmed that it is temporarily suspended due to a shortage of government funds. He declined to disclose his name publicly in the media.
According to local residents, the Saidin hydropower project has been their hope for sufficient electrical power in their region through the ages because they have been suffering from constant power shortages and rising costs for usage. Electricity is still being rationed for an average of two hours a day, and is only available in the main towns of their region. Residents have to pay 500 Kyat for one unit of electricity, a price twenty times higher than what is charged in the regions of central Burma.
This project was first proposed in 1954, but it was suspended in 1957 by the U Nu led Burmese parliamentary regime following an incident in which two foreign engineers were killed while surveying the proposed project site. There followed a back-and-forth of blame between the Burmese regime and the rebel forces of the Burmese communist party over the killing of those foreign engineers, but many Arakanese felt the incident was planned by the regime to provide an excuse to to suspend the project because it had no interest in developing Arakan State.
The Burmese military regime known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council also announced after taking power in 1988 that it would implement the long-abandoned project under the project name, “Saidin Hydropower Project, the Project to Illuminate the Whole of Arakan State with Electrical Lights”, but it later suspended the project without reason. The main office that had been opened for the project in Sittwe has finally become a pub.
After renaming the SLORC as the “State Peace and Development Council,” the Burmese regime spread propaganda about constructing the project again through its media mouthpieces, but now again the project has been suspended after power was handed over to the ostensibly civilian regime led by President U Thein Sein, who also served as the prime minister of the SPDC regime.
It has been 64 years already since Burma gained independence, but Arakan State in western Burma is still being neglected in development of the national power grid by successive Burmese regimes, and is still dependent on electricity generated by diesel and chaff generators. As a result the region is underdeveloped in all sectors. According to an official survey report, the Saidin is one of the largest waterfalls in Burma and has a capacity to produce 70 MW of electricity.