Dawei SEZ may make local communities worse off: study

Research shows that the scaling up and regularisation of trade and investment through Dawei Special Economic Zone has a risk to narrow, restrict, or reduce economic spaces or practices in which women predominate, pushing women towards precarious positions in labour hierarchies.

Dawei Development Association (DDA), affected community members and EarthRights International launched a new report together titled “Communities in the Balance: Local Voices and Prospects for the Dawei Special Economic Zone Project” and a new video “Women of Dawei, Myanmar” in Myanmar language and English yesterday.

A decade has passed since the Myanmar and Thai governments agreed to create the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project. The report and accompanying video aim to lay out the facts and experiences of the people affected by one of the biggest industrial development projects in the country.

This report documents how villagers living in SEZ project areas understand the SEZ and what it might mean for their lives, livelihoods and families. Although research on villagers’ perspectives on the Dawei SEZ has been carried out before, no such research has taken place in the years since the project’s suspension.

“Villagers who participated in this research expressed a desire for the jobs, infrastructure, and financial compensation that they hope the project will bring, despite the poor track record that SEZs globally have for job creation for local communities,” the press statement from the NGOs said.

However, there are doubts about whether the SEZ will bring these benefits to community members. This report shows that what community members want is arguably not the SEZ itself but rather the benefits associated with it: employment, material progress, and economic security. “However, there is some evidence that the project may worsen the insecurity of community members’ lives and livelihoods and that it is possible, maybe even necessary, to achieve those things without the SEZ at all,” the statement continued.

As seen across the four key areas of research for this report – information access, livelihood, employment, and gender – villagers are calling for clear, systematic, and equal access to information; open, equitable, and fair compensation processes; no relocation without equal or better quality of life; investment in jobs and in infrastructure that benefits villagers themselves; and cooperation across lines of power, class, age, and gender.

“After 10 years, there are still a lot of problems unsolved and communities have been suffering from uncertainty and worries for a decade. These problems must be solved and remedies must be granted whether the project proceeds or not. Respecting local communities’ views, transparent and just process of compensation and relocation is vital,” said U Bo Bo Aung from EarthRights International during the event.

For U Thant Zin, Director of DDA, the key is for the NLD government not to make the same mistake as the previous regime.

“Exploring existing values of the region, understanding the potentials, thinking about sustainability, listening to what Dawei people want and making sure to create an enabling environment for inclusive development process” should be the priorities for the scheme, he added.

A farmer from Paradut village in Dawei said “For us local people, our villages, our homes, the places we’ve lived for such a long time – we can’t accept them moving them [sic]. Their relocation plan – I’m not sure which area, in their plan, will it be the same as our current life? Or different? And in their relocation site – I’m worried about whether we’ll be able to survive in the way that we’re used to as farmers.”

Mired in scandals

Initiated in 2008, the proposed Dawei SEZ covers 27 square kilometres in landmass for its initial phase and 197sq km for the entire project – ten times bigger than the existing Thilawa SEZ in southern Yangon. Nay Pyi Taw suspended the project in 2013 following funding deficits and widespread community opposition. This summer, however, the SEZ working body indicated that port construction and the establishment of an industrial zone will be facilitated by both the public sector and private businesses from Myanmar, Thailand and Japan.

People in Tanintharyi have long been sceptical of the SEZ project as it has been engulfed in allegations of human rights violations including forced evictions, lack of transparency and environmental disruption. ITD’s president, Premchai Karnasuta, was arrested and charged by Thai authorities this year after being caught with guns and animal carcasses in a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand. The scandal had further alarmed Tanintharyi communities. Last week, deputy commerce ministry U Aung Htoo told reporters that the government is planning to transfer the project to another company, as it feels ITD has been unable to deliver what it promised with regards to the SEZ.

Article 83 of the 2015 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Procedure under the Environmental Conservation Law states that an SEZ Permit or any permit regarding the implementation of the project can only be granted to a developer after the issuance of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) by the environment ministry. The Dawei SEZ proposal, encompassing the 156km highway, seaport, industrial zone and other economic activities, is categorised as a project which requires a site-wide EIA, which has not been conducted.

According to EarthRights International and DDA, when completed, Dawei SEZ will include a deep-sea port, an oil refinery, a steel mill, fertiliser and petrochemical plants, industrial factories and operations, a reservoir and a road connecting Dawei to Kanjanaburi, Thailand.

“Dawei SEZ would directly affect 43,000 residents, most of whom have not received enough information about the project, nor have they been properly consulted. Only eight percent of those affected consented to the project before it began and less than one-third of those affected received any information from the government or developers. Many of the communities in these SEZs are speaking out against what they see as land grabs, abuse and exploitation on the part of investors and project managers. Over 70 percent of those affected depend on their land for their livelihoods and most of these families will lose all or some of their land to the SEZ,” the NGOs warned.

Source: Myanmar Times

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