Developer brushes off concerns about Myotha Industrial Park

DEVELOPER Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development has brushed off human rights concerns and accusations in relation to the Myotha Industrial Park in Mandalay, while the International Federation for Human Rights argued that the process for the establishment of the park underscores the failure by the developer to conduct proper human rights due diligence.

Tensions and confrontations between police officers and farmers have begun to simmer down, regarding the cultivation on land confiscated three years ago for the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Park project, according to a local abbot.

“Why we are now calm and composed on this issue is because we’ve assumed that the new government would solve this by negotiating between the company and the farmers.

“If the farmers clamour on this issue, the acts of the farmers will be excessive while the government and the company are calm without conducting anything,” said U Vilatha, an abbot, from Ma-au Yoo monastery in Thanbo village.

According to the development and poverty alleviation plan in Ngazun township, Mandalay Region, a project – between the Mandalay Region government and Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development Public Co – has begun its implementation process back in 2013.

When the project began, protests and confrontations led by farmers took place due to land compensation problems. The company then blocked cultivation of land for which compensation had not been given and crops were levelled by bulldozers. There are farmers who have been sued and sentenced to prison during these confrontations. However, the situations have calmed down, although compensation issues have not been resolved yet.

“We had not been allowed to cultivate in 2014 and 2015; and could cultivate in 2016 and 2017. When I plough a field, they don’t stop my work now. Sometimes, they take photos,” a Thanbo villager U Kyaw Shwe said. U Kyaw Shwe’s 20-acre land had been acquired for the project.

Cultivated land from 14 villages had been involved in the industrial zone project area – there were farmers who took land compensation and also there are farmers who did not. Although farmers have demanded a compensation of K2 million per acre of land, the company specified a lower amount for some acres.

“Farmers will no longer cultivate in the industrial zone area, if they don’t get the compensation they have demanded,” said regional Hluttaw representative Daw Thae Su Wai, representing Ngazun 1.

She said that she have included the demand that farmers should be compensated with K2 million per acre of land and they should be given another piece of land as a compensation in a report which was submitted to the regional government.

“If the farmers get a plot of land, they will have a place to live when the industrial zone is finished. If they want to keep doing agriculture, they will have land to sell and with this money they can buy farmlands,” she added.

Despite the concerns, the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Park– which covers 12,000 acres – is now in operation with foreign investments or foreign joint investments.

Ngazun township is not well-developed. If investments are made there, there is seven-year, tax-free income chance there. With the permission from the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), several manufacturing plants – animal food from Indonesia and Denmark, plywood from Hong Kong, snacks from China, and concrete from Thailand – began operation since last year.

Moreover, an industrial zone project – 323 areas of Mandalay-Myotha industrial park project estimated at $US390 million – will begin soon from an investment by Tenchong Industrial Park Investment Development Co from Yunnan Province, China.

In operation

“Currently, we can create about 1,800 jobs. It can be improved further to 400 or 600 more jobs after six months,” said U Aung Win Khine, chair of Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development. The villagers want employment as the first priority for the farmers whose farmlands were seized.

“In the project, employment will first be given to farmers whose lands were seized, according to the administrators and the company. If so, everything will be conveniently sorted. The residents will no longer have grievances,” abbot U Vilatha said.

The land prices of Myanmar’s industrial zones are very expensive and yet power supply is not sufficient. Effective industrial zones should be implemented with the support of foreign investments, said U Ye Win Aung, joint secretary of Mandalay Industrial Management Committee.

“The Myotha Industrial Park was made with a master plan.

“Once the Myotha Industrial Park is implemented and developed, it carries many benefits not only for the Mandalay Region but also for the entire country,” he commented.

“We have nothing to say. The farmers have their rights. But rights must be done in the right way. If the government and the company are accused, the farmers are accountable.

“Currently, we do not know how the companies will operate and what they will say. We need to listen to them. The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation [IFC] are very grand and there is no organisation as grand as they are.

“Their main point [focus] is human rights and they are partners of the Myotha project. They have investigated the Myotha project for two years and there is no breaking facts about human rights.

“The first joint-venture in upper Myanmar with the IFC is our company. We do not understand the FIDH [International Federation for Human Rights] because we didn’t violate any human rights,” U Aung Win Khine said, in relation to the human rights concerns for the Myotha industrial project.

‘Potential land conflict epidemic’

Yesterday, Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH president, said that Myotha Industrial Park has gone wrong.

“The Myotha Industrial Park is a glaring example of industrial development gone wrong in Myanmar. Stronger checks and balances are urgently needed so that this model is not replicated and more communities are not rendered landless and destitute,” he said.

“In the Myotha Industrial Park development area, the combination of a flawed legal framework, unscrupulous authorities, and irresponsible investors produced a perfect storm in which more than 1,000 families from 14 villages lost their land – their sole source of livelihood – to make way for the project’s development.

“The process of land acquisition from residents was not inclusive, contravened national laws, and failed to meet international standards related to good practices of consultation with affected communities. The process by which compensation was offered to farmers was riddled with corruption, confusion, arbitrary compensation amounts, and intimidation.

“Many of the farmers reported that authorities significantly under-calculated their land area, with calculations that, in many cases, accounted for only between 10 percent and 25pc of the total amount of land farmers said they used.

Many farmers who reluctantly accepted compensation for some or all of their land only did so after authorities and the project developer warned them that they would still lose their land and receive nothing in return if they refused.

Farmers who refused to accept the compensation offered for their land reported that both the authorities and the project developer intimidated and threatened them with arrest and imprisonment.

“The process for the establishment of Myotha Industrial Park also underscores the failure by the project developer, MMID, to conduct proper human rights due diligence, as prescribed by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” FIDH said in its press release.

Source: Myanmar Times