Will the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone become a responsible and accountable project?

A feature article by U Hayman Oo, ICJ Legal Researcher in Yangon, Myanmar.

In a recent meeting with Chinese ambassador to Myanmar and villagers, organized in Kyauk Phyu, a villager from Gone Shein Village asked the ambassador to help address the damages caused to their farmland by the Shwe Gas Pipeline Project that began five years ago.

She also expressed doubts that the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone (Kyauk Phyu SEZ) would benefit villagers amid all the unresolved disputes.

Given such disputes, local people are not optimistic about the upcoming development of the Kyauk Phyu SEZ.

They perceive that the project will be a ‘loss’ rather than a ‘gain’ for them.

Most of the local population of farmers fear that the project will be a disaster to their livelihood along with massive land losses.

On a recent trip to Kyauk Phyu by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), community members, including local MPs and lawyers, reported their concerns that a second round of such abuses will be experienced, this time even worse, during development of the Special Economic Zone planned for the area, despite promises from the Government that the development will be environmentally sustainable and bring socio-economic benefits to the region.

In fact, Special Economic Zone can contribute to the country’s economy and help benefit the welfare of its people – but only if sound policies of sustainable development in compliance with human rights are in place.

Otherwise, massive economic projects of this kind risk large-scale adverse environmental, social and human rights impacts.

Kyauk Phyu residents know very well how foreign investments can be harmful for the community when investors fail to comply with local laws as well as international standards, because of their experience with the Shwe Gas Project, a Myanmar-China pipeline.

The Gas Pipeline project was notorious for reported labour abuses, and claims of inadequate compensation for land confiscation, arrest and detention of community leaders and loss of community livelihoods and environmental degradation.

Villagers still frequently take to the street demanding for the damages caused to their farmland to be addressed, in the absence of a proper grievance mechanism.

With these prevailing experiences in mind, local residents were alarmed when authorities reportedly measured about 250 acres for the SEZ around Kathapray, Krat Tein, and Thaing Chaung village tracts in Kyauk Phyu, raising more concerns of land acquisition and compensation.

Locals complain that there was no transparent discussion over compensation for this potential land acquisition.

Villagers from Pyai Sate Kay village reportedly lost about 40 acres of farmland to the construction of a reservoir.

Although, the compensation were made for 5.1 acre of farmland, the rest of grazing land was not compensated according to a report from a villager.

There were also complaints that the compensation was neither a current market price nor a sufficient amount of money for them to be able to buy a similar size of land for cultivation.

He also complained that the Government promised to provide replacement land, but that this has not yet happened.

A total of over 70 acres of land was also apparently acquired for another reservoir under construction near Thai Chaung village.

Compensation was only paid for the farmland acreas occupied for the construction excluding land affected by the access to the reservoir.

“We were compensated but the land we lost were not measured properly. The amount paid was only on the basis of approximation. The land we lost should have been measured carefully to pay for the compensation,” said Ko Tun Nu from Thaing Chaung village.

It is reported that these reservoirs were constructed with the purpose of water supply for the SEZ project.

Furthermore, villagers from Ohn Taw and Pyai Sate Kay also reportedly lost a total of 220 acres of land when it was allocated for construction of a police station between the villages.

Although generally the purpose of the security force stationed there is for the security of the township, local people suspect that this increased security presence is instead in preparation to meet the security demands for the planned SEZ project.

There has apparently been no discussion over compensation. It is also questionable whether this volume of land is necessary for the construction of a police station.

According to the Special Economic Zone Law 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for land acquisition in the area of a SEZ in accordance with existing laws and regulations.

It also imposes duties on the investors and developers to bear the expenses of compensation and relocation and to ensure that the standard of living of affected persons does not fall below their original living standard.

The new NLD-led Government has inherited ample land-related problems and has prioritized dealing with these issues.

On May 5th, the Government formed the ‘Central Committee for the Review of the Acquisition of Farmland and Other Land’ in order to combat nation-wide land disputes.

The Committee’s responsibilities include investigation of compliance with existing laws by relevant authorities.

The President has also instructed that all land acquisition cease until all existing land disputes are resolved.

In addressing those issues, it is important that international standards such as Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development Based Eviction and Displacement are integrated into national policies and regulations.

Only then will such projects ensure the protection of the rights and livelihood of communities and the promotion of responsible business in the country.

Myanmar-Kyauk Phyu SEZ-News-Op-eds-2016-BUR (Full text in Burmese, PDF)

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