Govt to Hand Over Unfinished SEZ Business to NLD

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 22 December 2015

RANGOON — While preparing to come to power in 2016, Burma’s main opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD) must also gird itself for the substantial challenges of completing three special economic zones (SEZ)—Thilawa in Rangoon Division, Dawei in Tenasserim Division and Kyaukphyu in Arakan State.

Maung Maung Soe, a former professor of economics, warned that the incoming NLD-headed government will not be able to avoid SEZ developments because plans for them are already taking shape, though many of the individual projects have yet to be put into action.

“These are huge responsibilities that the new government will have to handle. Every SEZ is a different situation that will have to be handled carefully,” he said. “Burma’s new government will have to be transparent, and it will also have to know how these different zones can bring benefits to the country.”

At a meeting with incumbent President Thein Sein on Monday, the chairmen of the various SEZ development committees—Hset Aung for Thilawa, Han Sein for Dawei and Myint Thein for Kyaukphyu—discussed the status of their respective zones.

According to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar, Vice President Nyan Tun said that of the three SEZs, Thilawa had been the most successful to dat. Its first phase includes the development of residential and commercial areas over some 1,000 acres of land.

48 companies from 12 countries are expected to invest over US$500 million in the project.

Regarding Dawei, “it was agreed to [in a joint high-level committee meeting] last week that Japan’s holding in the project will be equal to that of Burma and Thailand,” Kyaw Swar Oo, personal assistant to Han Sein, told The Irrawaddy.

The Dawei SEZ is slated to include a deep-sea port, an expressway and heavy industry facilities. Japan will provide technical and financial support for the project.

However, the Kyaukphyu SEZ, particularly its first phase, has proven particularly tenuous.

A coalition of 107 nonprofit organizations demanded at a forum last weekend that the zone be suspended until power has been transferred to the NLD, citing local Arakanese concerns over displacement and land compensation that have yet to be adequately addressed.

Khaing Kaung San, chairman of the Wunlark Development Foundation, located in Sittwe Township, Arakan State, told The Irrawaddy on Monday of transparency concerns.

Tender bids for development of the zone ended last November, with one local firm and 11 international firms submitting proposals. Yet although Myint Thein, deputy minister for rail transportation and head of the Kyaukphyu SEZ management committee, and Thein Sein have urged that the project be carried out quickly, the tender winner has yet to be revealed.

Political analyst Yan Myo Thein echoed these challenges, saying that the Kyaukphyu SEZ, hoped to be Burma’s western economic gateway, will be most problematic for the NLD.

“The new government will have to ask the outgoing one for details on the project, such as data and figures, because problems inevitably lie ahead,” he said.

“Going forward, the project ought to be transparent in the new government era.”

The Kyaukphyu SEZ is expected to include an industrial zone, a housing estate and two deep-sea ports on Ramree and Maday islands, and it will cover 4,289 acres of land.