RANGOON — Activists met with Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission on Tuesday to submit research on negative impacts of the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a currently stalled mega industrial and transport project jointly developed by the governments of Burma and Thailand.
The Dawei Development Association (DDA), a community-based organization local to Dawei, presented the commission with a new report titled, “Voices from the Ground: Concerns over the Dawei Special Economic Zone and Related Projects.”
Based on research conducted in 20 villages that are or will be directly affected by the billion-dollar development in southeastern Burma’s Tenasserim Division, the report concludes that there have been “critical flaws” in project-related land acquisitions as well as a “high possibility of corruption” that has left most of the area’s villagers on the losing end of the deal.
According to DDA, the SEZ and related infrastructure projects could impact as many as 43,000 people. The biggest concerns, the group said, are unfair land transfers and a lack of community consultation.
“Two thirds of households surveyed did not receive any information from the government or company at all,” read the report, which went on to explain that only about 15 percent of households received any form of compensation for lost land, and that many families were tricked or coerced into relocating.
Only 27 percent of those surveyed had attended any sort of consultation meeting, and some of those who did described them as “one-way” discussions. DDA said that those who actually attended consultations typically did not participate, “mostly because they did not understand what was happening or there was no opportunity to ask questions.”
The group said that although the project is currently stalled due to a failure to secure private investors, much of the land for the SEZ has already been acquired and cleared. Hence, the effects are already being felt by communities that are not receiving any benefits of regional development. If the Burmese and Thai governments proceed with the project, which they have stated a mutual commitment to do, the group said that they should only do so after outstanding claims have been resolved.
The DDA further warned potential investors that they “should refuse to engage with the Dawei SEZ project as long as the human rights of affected communities are not being protected or respected.”
The timely warning was issued just days after Japan announced plans to undertake three major feasibility studies on the stagnant development. The studies, which will examine regional trade potential, technical assistance requirements and how to secure private investors, are expected to cost about US$700,000, according to a Japanese official cited in Burma’s state media.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha met with Japan’s Foreign Minister Minoro Kiuchi in early October, when they reportedly discussed an array of transport and other development plans including the Dawei SEZ. Prayuth visited Burma’s President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw one week later, after which the president’s office announced that the two governments had renewed their commitment to resume the project “as soon as possible.”
The Dawei SEZ was envisioned by the Burmese and Thai governments in 2008, and, if completed, will include a deep sea port, oil refinery, steel mill, petrochemical refinery and at least one power plant, as well as a range of new transport links.
A 60-year concession to develop the SEZ was originally granted to one of Thailand’s biggest firms, Italian-Thai Development Pcl. (ITD), in 2010. A joint venture, Dawei Development Company Ltd., was established by ITD and Burmese partner Max Myanmar, which then backed out of the project in 2012. The concession was transferred to a special purpose vehicle equally co-owned by the governments of Burma and Thailand, according to DDA.