With the Japan-ASEAN summit approaching, a local rights group is calling on Japanese investors to back away from the controversial Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) until international best practices for compensation and environmental protection are established.
The government last month suspended all work on the multi-billion dollar SEZ until it can undergo a due diligence assessment in cooperation with Thailand ahead of seeking an investor to take over the whole project from the Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) after the first phase of construction is completed.
According to government officials, Myanmar and Thailand will invite Japan to partner with the Dawei SEZ project, which would be a regional hub for energy and transport. However, rights group Dawei Development Association (DDA) has warned against Japanese investors becoming embroiled in the land and human rights abuse allegations erupting from the beleaguered project.
“Local communities have not been provided with adequate information about the project,” DDA coordinator U Thant Zin said.
“They have been forced off their land without fair or equal compensation, and have not had access to adequate housing or livelihoods after being displaced.”
The group attests that as many as half a million people have been adversely affected by land-grabbing for the Dawei SEZ project.
On December 2, the government announced it was partnering with Thailand to conduct a due diligence assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the project.
Central Bank deputy governor U Set Aung said ITD had suspended construction until the assessment could be undertaken.
“We want to invite other international investors and developers for the project and we have to make a proper due diligence assessment of ITD’s work. To make this assessment, ITD must stop all work,” he said. “No company, no consultancy, no international investors can make an assessment if the ITD work is
In November, Myanmar and Thailand took control of the SEZ project from ITD over its failure to attract investors and decide on an energy source for the project.
ITD is nearing exhaustion of its original US$8.6 million investment in phase one of the project that includes the deepsea port, the first phase of the Thai highway express, industrial zones, workshops, residences, a hospital, a school and markets by the end of 2015.
However, the company has said it will source additional funds to complete the phase one project, on the proviso that all expenditure for phase one is reimbursed to ITD by the international investor that will take over the project from it.
“It is not like ITD is leaving the project,” said U Set Aung, who is also chairman of the Project and Related Works Procedural Drafting Sub-committee.
The government will invite international tenders for the project on December 20 and will choose companies by March 2014, U Set Aung said.
“Actually, ITD can also participate in putting in a proposal [if they wish]. So ITD can win … or maybe we can come up with a separate collaboration of ITD and other Japanese or non-Japanese companies.”