Families Relocated for Thilawa SEZ Seek Meeting With ‘Unresponsive’ JICA

By Yen Saning 30 January 2014

RANGOON — Dozens of families from a community displaced by the Thilawa Special Economic Zone have called for a meeting with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to spell out their concerns regarding the project, after demands put to the Japanese development agency last year went unanswered.

The families, who now reside in Myaing Thar Yar after being relocated from an area where work on the Thilawa SEZ in Rangoon Division has begun, sent a letter addressed to JICA and the Japanese Embassy on Monday, requesting a meeting next month to discuss the situation.

“There are already people affected by the Class-A Area Project,” a translation of the letter states, referring to the first phase of the project covering 400 hectares of land, “some of whom are already suffering due to a lack of livelihood after moving to the relocation site in Myaing Thar Yar without appropriate compensation measures.”

A group of the affected villagers met with JICA representatives in October 2013, where they aired grievances about compensation, transparency and what they said was coerced relocation.

“We sent a letter on October 29, asking what they had done after our meeting on October 15. There has been no response so far. So, we want to know about it,” said Mya Hlaing, a member of the Thilawa Social Development Committee, formed by the affected families. “The compensation is quite low. There is some deviation from the principles of JICA.”

A provision of the Japanese development agency’s “Guidelines for Environmental and Social Consideration” states that “host countries must make efforts to enable people affected by projects to improve their standard of living, income opportunities, and production levels, or at least to restore these to pre-project levels.”

“So far, the developer and the government have failed to comply with several provisions of JICA’s guidelines. And also, JICA has failed to make the government follow the guidelines,” the Tokyo-based NGO Mekong Watch told The Irrawaddy via e-mail.

“With the current compensation measures that the authority is pushing through, it is very difficult for most of the affected villagers to improve or restore stable livelihoods,” Mekong Watch added.

The letter submitted this week also claimed that problems stemming from the SEZ extended beyond the initial 400-hectare project area.

“We would like to reiterate that some farmers, who have tilled their rice fields outside of the 400 hectares, are also suffering from loss of income in the dry season as the authorities stopped providing irrigation water from the Zamani reservoir in December 2012,” states the letter submitted on Jan. 27.

Mya Hlaing said the committee would seek to allow local farmers to continue to work the land outside of the phase-one project zone.

“The remaining 2,000 hectares [of the SEZ project works] will not be implemented during the current government’s term,” Mya Hlaing told The Irrawaddy. “We would like to request permission to farm this land before the [second-stage] project starts. We would like to discuss with JICA how they can help concerning this.”

Contacted by The Irrawaddy, a representative from JICA declined to comment on the relocated families’ request for consultation.

Mya Hlaing said the compensation offered to those relocated to Myaing Thar Yar consisted of a house on a 25-foot-by-50-foot plot of land worth US$2,500. Additional payment included just over $250 for relocation and other miscellaneous expenses, and about $500 per acre of farm land, deemed by authorities to be the value of six years’ worth of harvests per acre.

The compensation package, according to Mya Hlaing, paled in comparison to the amount given to residents displaced to make way for another SEZ planned for Dawei in southern Burma’s Tenasserim Division.

The letter sent by Mya Hlaing’s committee to JICA on Oct. 29 of last year called on JICA to carry out its operations in Thilawa in accordance with its social and environmental guidelines.

“We believe that the current situation regarding the project fails to comply with JICA’s guidelines, specifically the provision regarding involuntary resettlement,” it said. “When JICA confirms and reviews the situation, we highly recommend that JICA talk directly and independently to the people, without being accompanied by any Myanmar government officials. And when the relevant authorities in Myanmar are not able to comply with the guidelines, JICA should reconsider this investment due to violations of the guidelines.”

There are 68 families that have been relocated to Myaing Thar Yar and remain unsatisfied with the compensation they have received.

Mekong Watch has urged JICA not to rely on the government and private developers to provide information on the situation on the ground in Thilawa and to make sure the government authority and companies follow JICA’s guidelines.

“We do hope that JICA officials will come to the local communities to listen to their voices, given that most of the local people are still afraid to raise their concerns or are actually not aware of their right to raise their voices due to the long-standing oppression of the [former] military regime.

“And JICA must make sure the Myanmar authority and the companies follow JICA’s guidelines, by providing necessary advice, technical assistance, and capacity building, so that the affected villagers can sustain their lives as they wish.”