Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Almost all land taken for Thilawa released, as protest gains ground

Just 200 of the 2,400 hectares of land allocated for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone have yet to be released for industrial use, according to Thilawa SEZ Management Committee.

The announcement comes despite a growing protest by those who say they have been impoverished since being “forced” to make way for the first phase of the project located about 20 kilometres southeast of downtown Yangon.

Last month, with the assistance of Japanese NGO Mekong Watch, people affected by the Japan-Myanmar project they took their protest to Tokyo. Three representatives of the Thilawa Social Development Group made a formal complaint to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA, which has a stake in the SEZ.

That complaint triggered a formal review of the project by JICA, which has a set of environmental and social guidelines it is required to follow in projects it invests in, as well as an examiner that can investigate alleged violations of these guidelines.

According to Mekong Watch, the examiner will investigate whether the Thilawa project is being implemented in compliance with JICA guidelines. The investigation is expected to take about two months.

The June 2 complaint letter said the Thilawa SEZ had already increased the poverty rate in the area. Moreover, the relocation site, Myaing Tha Yar, lacked safe drinking water and infrastructure, and people relocated to it had not received the compensation they were promised.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the more than 1,000 families who could be displaced by the project. It said that 81 families had “completely lost the farmland they previously occuppied/or owned” in the first phase of project and that those resettled had received no new farmland. Another 1,055 families could also lose farmland in the second phase of the project’s development, the complaint says.

Those relocated so far were promised jobs with wages of $10 per day, but after they moved the payment fell to about $4 a day, the complaint said, adding that only four people from the 81 families relocated so far have jobs on SEZ construction crews.

The complaint to JICA also says that children dropped out of school because their families could not afford transportation costs and that parents have gone into debt to feed their families because they no longer have jobs.

It says that JICA failed to provide adequate support for the environmental impact assessment and the resettlement work plan for the first phase of the project, both of which – it says – fall far short of JICA’s guidelines as well as international standards.

The Japanese and Myanmar governments each hold 10 per cent stakes in the project. Myanmar companies own another 41 per cent and Japanese companies hold 39 per cent. The Japanese government holds its share through JICA. The Japanese consortium comprises Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Marubini.

Companies that have already announced plans to set up factories inside the SEZ, including Ball Corp of the United States and Japanese auto parts maker Koyo Radiator Company. Both signed agreements with Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Ltd to invest in the zone on June 6, with Ball Corp’s factory estimated to cost $40 million.

source: Eleven Myanmar
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