Kyaukphyu Awaiting Answers on SEZ Development

By Moe Myint 12 January 2016

RANGOON — Residents of Kyaukphyu, in western Burma’s Arakan State, may have a long wait ahead for answers about the special economic zone being built on Maday and Ramree islands. During a meeting last week to apprise locals of progress on the development, Kyaukphyu SEZ Committee Chairman Myint Thein said major decisions would be deferred until the new government takes power and the committee at least partially reformed.

Myint Thein, who is also the current deputy Union railways minister, plans to retire when the new administration enters office, leaving the chairmanship open and a reshuffle likely. A newly formed cabinet and new legislation will also likely impact major decisions about land compensation, construction contracts and allowable industries, the committee told attendees.

The Kyaukphyu SEZ has been in the works for years, and after a long and opaque bidding process the government announced in late December that China’s CITIC Group of Companies had been awarded two tenders for the development of a deep-sea port and an industrial zone. Committee members said last week that the deep-sea port will not be built until early 2017, and that development of the industrial zone will be tempered by administrative and political reshuffling.

Last week’s forum was hosted by representatives of the SEZ Committee and CITIC, and was attended by affected locals and civil society organizations. The committee unveiled its initial formulations for a land compensation scheme, taxation plan and potential employment opportunities, according to locals who attended the meeting.

Kyaukphyu Township administrator Nyi Nyi Lin told The Irrawaddy that the committee did not present a fixed land compensation estimate, but offered examples of settlements reached at two other SEZs being developed in Burma—Dawei and Thilawa.

Tun Kyi, an activist who attended the presentation, said they were shown a slideshow illustrating that land was bought at US$3 per square meter in Dawei, roughly $12,138 per acre, and $5 in Thilawa, about $20,000 per acre. In Kyaukphyu, he said, many residents desired $25 per square meter for their land.

The issue of land compensation is likely to become the thorniest issue as development proceeds; the SEZ is expected to cover some 4,289 acres of land, with an industrial zone spanning five village tracts. Many local communities have already been subject to what they view as unfair acquisition practices or have sustained damages to their property due to the development that has already taken place. Those experiences have left many in the area wary of investors and difficult to sway.

Further complicating the issue is that many farmers in Kyaukphyu Township, as in other parts of Burma, lack sufficient documentation to satisfy buyers and local authorities, despite having occupied the same property for generations, in many cases.

A number of attendees expressed anxiety over the issue of land compensation, and the fact that they still may have months to wait for answers. The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the SEZ Committee for further clarity on the issue, despite several attempts by phone.