Tenasserim Division Chief Minister: ‘We Have to Give All Our Revenue to the Union Govt’

By Zue Zue 7 March 2017

TENASSERIM — Dr. Lei Lei Maw, the chief minister of Tenasserim Division, recently sat down with Irrawaddy reporter Zue Zue and talked about the need for more security in sea and land disputes involving the Burma Army, and the difficulties of dealing with a wary public.

What changes have you brought to Tenasserim Division nearly one year after becoming chief minister?

I want to bring development to each of the three districts—Dawei, Myeik and Kawthaung. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told us to focus on improving the water and electricity supply and transportation in the first 100-day plan. I’m prioritizing Myeik District because 700,000 of Tenasserim’s 1.4 million people live there.

The division’s countless areas of outstanding natural beauty can be a big draw for travelers, especially domestic ones, so I’ve improved transportation to attract them, creating jobs and boosting regional development.

We are working with Japanese experts to survey agriculture in Dawei, fishing in Myeik and tourism in Kawthaung. Although we have huge stocks of fish in our sea, we have to sell them in Thailand, and the prices aren’t good. I want auction markets in Myeik and Dawei that sell fish to Thai companies, which can either make products here or take the fish back to their own country.

What challenges have you faced since taking office?

The more you work, the more you face. No government can survive or prosper without cooperation from the public. In my division, public participation is still low. People are wary of the government; they’re concerned it won’t differ from the previous one, making some uncooperative, and consequentially, making it difficult for us to do our job.

How are you settling your division’s land dispute problems?

We can divide the disputes into three groups: the first one is disputes between family members over inheritance. These are settled in the courts.

The second involves land confiscated by Burma Army, and is difficult because the land was seized for security reasons. People can retrieve their land when the army abandons it, but some expect the new elected government to take it back for them. Only when the army leaves the land can we help the rightful owners recover their property.

Businessmen who had close ties to commanders under the military regime are the third. They gave meager compensation compared to market prices in return for stripping land from owners. Now the owners want full compensation. We’re also surveying the land of around 40 companies with the help of NGOs. Any land that has been out of use for more than four years will be taken under the 2012 Farmland Law and redistributed to people under the 2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Law.

What measures have you been implementing to improve tourism development in Tenasserim Division?

We have invited local businessmen to open coffee shops and souvenir shops on some islands on a trial basis. We charge Thai visitors 100 baht and [other] foreigners US$30 to visit those islands, which attract more than 700 tourists every day. But we can’t afford to secure our sea because we have to give all the revenue to the Union government. Some exploit this and steal coral reefs. We’re also lacking a rescue response team, so if a boat capsizes, who will save the crew? If we get a percentage of the tourism revenue, say 30 percent, then we can cover these issues.

What’s the latest with the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ)?

Launched in 2008, the project was developed by Italian-Thai Development (ITD) but has since been stalled because the firm couldn’t afford to finish the entire scheme. ITD will take care of the initial phase when it resumes and the Japanese, Burmese and Thai governments have agreed to complete the full plan.

How will you handle land disputes with locals over the SEZ?

There are no land disputes over the SEZ. Under the previous government, ITD gave compensations for over 5,000 acres of land and our divisional government owns 16,000 acres; together this is enough. We have no plans to seize land for the SEZ during our term.

What are your plans to prevent negative impacts of the development projects and potential tourist booms?

Any project must have an environmental management plan. We refuse any business in our division that does not have one of these plans. And we won’t confiscate land for any project unless the central farmland management committee approves it.