EARTH Thailand

Civil society steps up Dawei SEZ campaign

Myanmar Times 09 March 2016 | Aye Nyein Win, Su Phyo Win   

A civil society group has published a comprehensive report on mistakes made by the developers of a highly ambitious project in Dawei in the hope the new government will address their concerns before allowing the project to continue.

The report urges the project’s Thai and Japanese investors to resolve problems affecting local communities before they continue building the special economic zone and deep-sea port in Tanintharyi Region.

Published on March 7 it outlines a range of issues dating back to the zone’s inception in 2008. The recurrent theme is a lack of transparency, dialogue or compensation based on the developers’ lack of respect for local communities and its reluctance to engage.

“If the developers repeat former mistakes, which have already damaged communities, livelihoods and the environment, the losses will only increase,” said Ko Thant Zin, coordinator of the Dawei Development Association (DDA), during the report’s launch in Yangon earlier this week.

Findings will be sent to the government, parliament, political parties and other civil society groups, he said.

Dawei SEZ management committee secretary U Khin Maung Cho said yesterday he could not comment on the findings, as he had not been invited to the launch. Some of those opposed to the project hold one-sided views, he said.

Repeated attempts by The Myanmar Times to contact the project’s lead developer Italian Thai Development for this story, including a visit to the project site, were unsuccessful.

For Ko Thant Zin, Myanmar’s government has been unable to address or solve the mounting problems during its five-year term.

“The government hasn’t paid any attention. We hope the report will allow the next government to pay this matter proper consideration,” he said.

The report’s authors are not calling for the project to be cancelled altogether, he said, adding that Myanmar’s government may need to honour its agreements with international investors and their respective governments, but it can also investigate and tackle the issues.

A majority of households in the populated area located 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) north of Dawei depend on agriculture and natural resources including land, fish and forests, which provide food, income and employment to hundreds of families. DDA estimates that between 22,000 and 43,000 people from up to 36 villages will be impacted.

The report is based on research undertaken in 20 villages – nine within the official boundaries of the SEZ area which spans 204.51 square kilometres, eight in areas where new road links to Thailand are being built and three outside the project area that will be directly impacted.

Teams collected information from 201 households in villages where new roads will be built, 1303 households in the SEZ area and 79 households in Kalonehtar village – a total of 1583 households. Of those surveyed, 61pc expect to lose all of their farmland to the new project and 10pc expect to lose a portion of their land.

Only 7pc have been informed about the project by government authorities and 66pc have received no information at all either from the government or the company. In the area marked out for roads, 82pc of those who attended meetings hosted by the developer said they did not understand the purpose of the meeting and had no opportunity to express their wishes.

Director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Penchom Saetang, who spoke at the report’s launch, said its authors have submitted their demands to the government and plan to monitor the response.

“Our priority is to strengthen and empower the community in Dawei. Many people know very little about the SEZ,” she said.

“Distorted information has been passed to the community, about the industries that will be developed in the zone, and about compensation.”

Compensation has not been uniformly offered, she said.

Daw Win Cho of Wet Chaung village in Dawei’s Yephyu township said her family had been offered K90 million for 8 acres of land.

She was among the lucky ones – hers was one of just three households in her village to be compensated. Other villagers have been offered K500,000 per acre and some have received nothing for damage to their farmland.

U Khin Maung Cho said compensation for land damage had been negotiated with villagers at K3 million per acre. He said the figure was determined by a committee including community leaders and is much higher than the market price of K500,000 per acre.

For Ms Saetang, the key to moving forward is to ensure the local community has access to all the necessary information. “This will allow them to negotiate with the private sector from a position of strength,” she said.

If ITD was to build such a project in Thailand it would meet with much stronger opposition, she added. “They know what they are doing. They think they won’t meet with local resistance. They think only about investment. That is their mission and goal. They don’t think about human rights.”

A stronger campaign is needed, she said. “The project is just beginning, there’s a long way to go. We have to work with the government and with civil society to voice our concerns. International financial institutions should also take note to help prevent excessive damage to livelihoods and natural resources.”

The project has been discussed for almost a decade but is yet to gain much traction. In 2013 the original 60-year concession granted to ITD was cancelled. The company signed with the government again last year. Japan has since agreed to partly finance the project and China has also expressed interest.

Nirun Phitakwatchara, former National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand, said under the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration businesses must adhere to human rights obligations.

He pointed out that the Thai government is also directly involved in the project and recommended that ITD should consider providing compensation and rectifying its earlier mistakes, while including the local community at every stage and taking responsibility for damage caused by the project.

Relevant ministries and agencies should establish mechanisms and regulations to oversee the investment, he added.

U Han Thar Myint of the National League for Democracy’s economic committee told The Myanmar Times last week that it is too early to take a stance on the project’s future. The new government does not yet have detailed information about the zone in Dawei, as the relevant ministries have not handed over project documents, he said.

More than 10 people from the SEZ area attended the public forum held in Yangon on March 7.

“I think today’s forum covered all the concerns of our community and I am hopeful for more negotiations with the company in the future,” said U Soe Naing, a 47-year old villager from Cha Khan village, Dawei township.