Dawei development stirs debate
(February 14 - 20, 2011 - Volume 29, No. 562)
JUST months after its announcement, the planned deepsea port and Special Ecomomic Zone (SEZ) at Dawei, in Tanintharyi Region, has begun changing the region’s socioeconomic landscape.
The 250-square-kilometre project will be built by Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) at Kappali Bay, about 32 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of Dawei.
The company signed a 60-year build, operate and transfer agreement with the government on November 2 that is expected to cost US$58 billion, an ITD press release says.
Mr Surin Vichian, ITD’s project manager for the Dawei development, cautioned that the port was still in the planning stage, adding that Phase One will involve building infrastructure for the site and will cost $8 billion.
“We will need to build infrastructure from scratch such as roads, bridges and jetties,” he said.
A District Peace and Development Committee (DDDC) official confirmed that construction work is yet to begin: “The deepsea port is just a plan to show off at present and no digging or work has started in the project area.”
Mr Surin said one of the key tasks in the first five-year phase was to build a road to the Thai border, a distance of about 160 kilometres (100 miles).
He said that ITD will need at least 1000 Thai workers and 6000 Myanmar workers when construction begins in earnest but are currently employing 10 Thais and about 60 Myanmar at the site.
“As far as I know, ITD has not yet gathered enough finance for this project but will build the road from here to Thailand first to encourage investment in the project,” the DDDC official added.
However, in an interview with the International Herald Tribune in November, an ITD official said the company had already secured funding from a private bank that he was not prepared to name.
ITD has already named some of the companies that will invest in the project, including Myanmar’s Asia World Company, while Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production has reportedly shown interest as well.
The port has already begun changing opinions of the young people in the area and might encourage more of them to stay and work at the SEZ rather than seek employment abroad.
Ma Hay Zin Maw, a 24-year-old zoology graduate who works in her parent’s cashew, pomelo and rambutan orchard, said all of her friends are already talking about what jobs they will find at the SEZ.
The owner of a restaurant at Maungmakan beach near Dawei said the SEZ could only be good for his business.
“In the past we’ve gone weeks without seeing any customers but since the SEZ was announced we’ve been making a profit of about K1 million a month because there are more people around,” said 34-year-old U Zaw Naing, who has owned the restaurant for six years.
Property prices have also shot up, with 4800-square-foot properties selling for about K200 million in early February, up from about K60 million in November, a number of residents and real estate agents said.
However, for the 3000 or so residents of 11 villages (according to government figures) near or within the planned SEZ, the future is not looking so rosy since they have had their land appropriated to make way for the development.
“I am very worried about the future because I don’t want to work on the SEZ. I don’t think it will pay enough. I earn about K400,000 a month harvesting cashews from my orchard and up to K5 million from a good fishing trip if I’m lucky,” said U San Myint, a 40-year-old Htein Gyi village resident in Yaephyu township.
He said that many fishermen are worried that when construction of the SEZ starts, they will no longer be allowed to fish.
However, Mr Premchai Karnasuta, ITD’s president, said the company will compensate villagers whose properties have been appropriated.