As Thilawa SEZ Launch Nears, Farmers Concerned About Compensation

By Sanay Lin 21 August 2013

RANGOON — Residents who will be displaced by the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rangoon Division are complaining that although the project is due to begin next month, procedures to compensate them for lost land remain unclear.

Plans to resolve land issues have lacked transparency, Mya Hlaing, a spokesman for farmers in the project area in Thanlyin Township, told The Irrawaddy.

“Negotiations are continuing, but no arrangements have been made to relocate local residents,” he said. “Since the project is due to start next month, now is high time to announce an implementation plan for the project.”

Set Aung, Burma’s deputy minister of national planning and economic development, is chairman of the implementation group for the Japanese-backed Thilawa SEZ. He said negotiations were going relatively smoothly but had been complicated by businesspeople with separate interests who were backing the farmers.

“Those businesspeople behind the farmers never stop coming forward,” he told The Irrawaddy. “Currently, half the farmland from the project zone has been purchased by business giants, and they bought this land in complicated ways.”

“Our assessment methods regarding rates of compensation abide by international norms,” he added. “We are still conducting surveys and making calculations.”

In June, the deputy minister told The Irrawaddy that international World Bank and Japanese standards for compensation would be followed.

“We won’t offer payments to the farmers for the rest of their lives, but we will offer them a fair amount so they have savings in their current situation,” he said.

Farmers in the project area have decided to move only after receiving 30 million kyats (US$30,000) for each acre (0.40 hectares) of farmland. That amount of money is not much compared to the current price of farmland, says Aye Htay, speaking on behalf of the farmers.

He said the farmers were willing to negotiate with the government over compensation, but added that if negotiations were not conducted in a smooth manner, the project would likely be delayed.

Farmers are also concerned about where they will be relocated, he said.

“It seems that each person will get one plot that is 800 square feet [245 square meters] in the relocation process,” he said. “It is unsatisfactory unless each person receives a plot that is 2,400 square feet. Nobody will accept a meager compensation.”

Villages reportedly set to be relocated first include Phaya Gone, Alawn Soot, Phalan (Aye Mya Thida), Shwe Pyi Tha (Thilawa), Thaya Gone and Gayet Thida Myaing. Farmers in these villages will reportedly receive compensation first.

In 2012, Burma’s government began planning the Thilawa SEZ, together with Japan’s government, a consortium of Japanese firms and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The sprawling industrial complex, located about 25 km south of Rangoon, includes a deep sea port, Japanese factories and large housing projects. The Burmese side owns 51 percent of the project and is responsible for developing a 2,400-hectare core zone.

The massive project is expected to drive Rangoon’s economic and urban growth in the next decades, and could generate up to 200,000 jobs when all four project phases are completed, a Burmese project developer said in May. But the project thus far has been marred by land disputes affecting hundreds of farmers.