NGOs Seek Kyaukphyu SEZ Delay as President Pushes Implementation

By Moe Myint 22 December 2015

RANGOON — A coalition of 107 nonprofit organizations has demanded that the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) project be suspended until power has been transferred to a government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), as incumbent President Thein Sein urged just the opposite on Monday.

Khaing Kaung San, chairman of the Wunlark Development Foundation in Sittwe Township, Arakan State, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the organization held a meeting—the All Arakanese Civil Society Organization Forum—from Dec. 18-20 in Kyaukphyu, also located in Arakan State. More than 200 people participated in the forum and drew up a list of 12 points detailing why the government ought to halt construction of the project.

Myint Thein, deputy minister for rail transportation and head of the Kyaukphyu SEZ management committee, outlined the project, billed as Burma’s western economic gateway, to Lower House lawmakers on Dec. 3, urging that it be carried out quickly. The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday reported that Thein Sein also urged acceleration of the tendering process for the project, “so that the next government can continue to implement the project in easy way,” during a meeting the day prior with the Myanmar Special Economic Zone Central Working Body, which he chairs.

Announcement of the tender winner for the project has been beset by a series of delays.

Although the president this week pushed for speedier implementation of the Kyaukphyu SEZ, locals worry about the project’s societal impacts, particularly for farmers, who often lose out as a result of such large-scale, land-heavy developments.

Previous deep-sea port and gas pipeline projects have generated problems that are as yet unresolved, mostly relating to land confiscation and compensation. While governments and companies receive huge benefits from such projects—China currently holds an 85 percent share of the Kyaukphyu SEZ—similarly positive outcomes are typically lost for villagers.

“Nobody knows, specifically, how the government will relocate village residents should they be forced to move. They haven’t said anything about villagers’ futures, if they will compensate them for land lost [as a result of the project],” said Khaing Kaung San.

He pointed to a lack of transparency on government activities and information, such as the budget in Arakan State, revenue generated from natural resources, and how much the state has spent over the past five years. Such data are not made available to the public, he claimed.

Tun Kyi, a forum participant on behalf of the Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association, said: “I think that the power transfer [to an NLD-led government] will happen in March, not far from now. We just want to discuss [the project] with the new government.”

He said a committee had been formed out of the forum, including about 40 people from different organizations who are demanding a conversation concerning the project with the new government, though the committee has yet to nominate a central executive body.

Tun Kyi said the Kyaukphyu SEZ management committee claimed to have hashed out a compromise with villagers, agreeing to develop local career prospects and training schools for farmers’ families. Doubts that these pledges would come to fruition had motivated the calls for a suspension of the project, he added.

The Kyaukphyu SEZ would cover 4,289 acres of land, with an industrial zone being built across five village tracts in the first phase of the project.