JICA's Dawei SEZ plan under fire for excluding site-wide assessment
Myanmar Times 15 May 2018 | Thiha Ko Ko, Thompson Chau
Experts warn that implementation of the Japan-supported master plan for Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) without a legally-required site-wide assessment would be “unlawful” and that transparency and meaningful public participation are necessary to determine who benefits from those plans before moving ahead.
The master plan for Dawei SEZ, drafted by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), will be released towards the end of May.
U Myint San, vice president of Dawei SEZ management committee (DSMC), told The Myanmar Times that JICA has been drafting the master plan since 2017. The master plan will be finalised by late May and will cover all the phases of the zone. The plan will include three phases: now until 2030, 2030-40 and 2040-50.
Japan proposes prioritising infrastructure and connectivity for Phase 1, including roads, power supply projects and deep-sea port. The DSMC will deliberate JICA’s draft, make changes and submit the finalised blueprint to the national-level SEZ Central Committee, which is chaired by Vice President U Henry Van Thio.
“The master plan will be released at the end of May. We will then exactly know the master plan. We will discuss it and look at how we can implement the projects proposed by the plan,” U Myint San said.
The fact that there is no site-wide environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted before drafting the master plan has drawn severe criticisms from academics, civil society organisations and communities, all of whom urge that the project should not be greenlighted before such an assessment is commissioned.
It would be unlawful to proceed with land acquisition or infrastructure development now in the absence of a site-wide environmental impact assessment. Sean Bain, International Commission of Jurists
Site-wide assessment necessary
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told The Myanmar Times that proper consultations need to be “carried out on the master plan with affected communities and concerned stakeholders”, and that a site-wide assessment should be done to “ensure that cumulative impacts are captured”.
“WWF is deeply concerned about how poorly the Dawei SEZ has been planned, designed and consulted on to date and unless vast improvements are made, people and nature in this area stand to lose far more that what will be gained from the SEZ and related projects.
“Considering the people living in the area and the ecological value of the surrounding landscape, proper E/SIAs for each project must be carried out and measures to mitigate these impacts should also be included in the master plan,” Christy Williams, country director of WWF-Myanmar, stated.
Similarly, for the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), infrastructure development in Dawei without a site-wide assessment would be illegal.
“It would be unlawful to proceed with land acquisition or infrastructure development now in the absence of a site-wide environmental impact assessment,” said Sean Bain, legal adviser at the ICJ in Yangon.
“The health of a human body can’t be assessed by looking at specific organs in isolation. This principle also applies for large infrastructure projects - we need to look at how different components interact with each other and their cumulative impacts on the local population and environment. This is why Myanmar law requires a site-wide impact assessment for each SEZ. So far this hasn’t happened in for the Dawei SEZ,” he went on.
Mr Bain said Myanmar has an opportunity to avoid the past problems associated with this project, including human rights violations, by commissioning the required site-wide EIA.
“Moving forward without this would seriously undermine the government’s stated commitments to responsible investment and rule of law,” he warned.
Dr Charlie Thame from Thammasat University argued that transparency and genuine public participation are necessary to determine who benefits from JICA’s plans before the government greenlights the project.
“The Myanmar government is under pressure to attract foreign direct investment and boost GDP, while locals may be persuaded by promises of jobs. However, both should be deeply concerned by the potential consequences for Tanintharyi given experiences in Thailand’s eastern seaboard. Similar projects there resulted in serious threats to human and environmental health, including air and water pollution, abnormally high rates of cancer, and birth deformities. Industrialisation also led to undesirable socio-economic outcomes, including unequal income distribution, and disempowering locals vis-a-vis powerful industries and government agencies.
“Thailand eventually had to suspend 76 industrial projects because they were judged a threat to citizens’ constitutional rights to safety and good health. This is one reason for the push to build the SEZ in Dawei. Are people fully aware of the risks? Have they genuinely consented to them? Would they not prefer an alternative model for developing the region?” the academic responded.
Thailand eventually had to suspend 76 industrial projects because they were judged a threat to citizens’ constitutional rights to safety and good health. This is one reason for the push to build the SEZ in Dawei. Are people fully aware of the risks? Dr Charlie Thame, Thammasat University
U Thant Zin, director of Dawei Development Association (DDA), a civil society organisation in Tanintharyi, said that they haven’t received any “concrete information” regarding the master plan and the process of developing the plan to date isn’t “publicly accessible”.
“As we know so far, JICA kept explaining to Japanese NGOs that JICA is not doing any master plan, but only doing the review of the master plan.
“We are still confused by what JICA explained in Japan and what DSMC is saying here,” he commented, adding that communities deserve the have the right information and it’s imperative to know “who is giving the wrong message?”
“The transparency of the process is questionable. The most important thing is to disclose adequate information regarding the master plan and to conduct meaningful consultation with the people in project-affected areas and in Tanintharyi before the government makes any decision,” he went on.
In February, a total of 36 CSOs released a joint statement demanding the authorities pursue alternative strategies such as such as peasant farming, fishing, livestock rearing, and customary forest use “immediately and with serious intent”. Dawei society deserves “an open and honest reckoning” over who will benefit if the project resumes.
People in Tanintharyi have long been sceptical of the SEZ project as it has been engulfed in scandals of grave human rights violations including forced evictions, a lack of transparency and environmental disruption. The SEZ developer, Italian-Thai Development, caused further alarm among local communities as its president, Premchai Karnasuta, was arrested and charged by Thai authorities.
The two master plans will be finished soon, Ichiro Maruyama, Japan’s ambassador to Myanmar, said on April 30. Separately, JICA is also drafting the master plan for the entire Tanintharyi Region, complementing Dawei’s development, according to the DSMC.