YANGON – Lawmaker U Phoe San of the Arakan National Party asked the Rakhine State government whether authorities would provide the remaining compensation to farmers from Pyine Sae Kay village in Kyaukphyu Township who released their land in 2014 for a water reservoir at a parliamentary session on Monday. But those funds have seemingly been misplaced.
The Rakhine State government’s 2016-17 fiscal year statistics show that 65 million kyats (US$48,000) were allocated for land compensation for the reservoir project.
The former quasi-civilian government oversaw the project, which will provide water for the forthcoming Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone.
Before implementing the project, the government initially agreed to compensate farmers 1.8 million kyats per acre of land. The farmers said the compensation was significantly lower than market price for land in the region. The Myanmar Kyaukphyu Special Economic Holding Public Company Ltd. (MKSH) negotiated between the government and the farmers.
The farmers agreed to accept 3.8 million kyats per acre, but the rate varied slightly among landowners. The government and MKSH paid about 29.4 million kyats to nine farmers in 2014, according to government statistics. The government would not elaborate on the amount contributed by MKSH.
Lawmaker U Phoe San pointed out that as the state fund for compensation for the reservoir was set at 65 million kyats, but nearly 35.5 million kyats were unaccounted for. He asked the state government to take action.
U Kyaw Lwin, the divisional minister of mining, agriculture and livestock, said in Parliament on Monday that MKSH had withdrawn 28 million kyats of this fund from the government and deposited it at a local bank, a claim that MKSH member U Kyaw Soe denied on Wednesday.
U Kyaw Soe said MKSH never withdrew money from the government. Instead, the company fronted 28 million kyats for seized land, 18.5 million kyats of which were later repaid by the state government.
“Something is very wrong with this case. We don’t know where the remaining money is and we must address this. MKSH has not received any cash transfer from the government,” said U Kyaw Soe, adding that MKSH planned to meet with cabinet ministers in state capital Sittwe this week and invited lawmakers to join.
Lawmaker U Phoe San argued that compensation should have gone directly to the farmers and not have been dispensed to MKSH regardless.
The Irrawaddy called several Rakhine State cabinet members but all declined to comment on the controversial state budget.
It is also unclear how the government calculated land used for the project. Landowner U Than Tun from Pyine Sae Kay village said he was not compensated for pastures or arable hillsides that the authorities had labeled as vacant land.
“We were only compensated for five acres of paddy fields,” he said, referring to land owned by nine different farmers.
MKSH vice chairman U Kyauk Taung said villagers had willingly accepted “reasonable compensation” before the project was implemented.
MKSH member U Kyaw Soe said the company spent some 220 million kyats on the reservoir and that the 65 million kyats was a separate issue that the company was not involved with.
“We will sue whoever is behind this as it harms our dignity,” said U Kyaw Soe.