How will our lives change with the new Special Economic Zone?

Village elderly woman carrying water on her head in Thit Pote Taung village. Photo by: Yu Lwin Soe/ Oxfam
"We also want job opportunities as our current livelihoods – farming and fishing may be destroyed by SEZ projects"
U Kyaw Win
Village Leader
Author: Yee Mon Oo, Communications and Media Coordinator, Oxfam in Myanmar

Villagers in Thit Pote Taung are very concerned about the lack of transparency of investor and Government actions. They say they are living with uncertainty, because it is difficult to access information on the SEZ development.

Thit Pote Taung village is a small remote village in Rakhine State. The main road to the village runs straight through a navy check point, and ends by the sea. Most villagers are involved in the fishing industry; some are farmers or run small businesses which they operate from their homes in the village. Thit Pote Taung is also one of the villages within the plan for the construction of a deep sea port, which is a central part of the new Special Economic Zone development in Kyauk Phyu. The new port and the economic zone will change the face of their village beyond recognition. But so far, the villagers have been given little information on what will happen to them, how it will affect their livelihoods and what it will mean for the land in and around their village.

Khin Khin Chan, a Thit Pote Taung villager says they are very worried and doubt there will be benefits for their people compared with the benefits for the investors. “As villagers, we are very worried. Even now, with daily casual labour work for the construction of the economic zone, we don’t often get the job. The companies seem to bring workers with them. And even when we do get jobs for building the economic zone we get paid less than the workers they bring in. This means there are no proper job opportunities for locals,” says Khin Khin Chan.

Expressing their concerns, community members from this village have begun to discuss how they will raise these issues with the investors and the Government. In particular, the villagers are planning how they will seek compensation, in case their livelihoods and land are threatened by the SEZ projects. The villagers say that support from the Government is essential to help them hold the investors to account, to ensure they can benefit from the SEZ and are protected from the negative impacts of the investment.

Thit Pote Taung village leader, U Kyaw Win, says his community wants to urge government and companies to be accountable and transparent about what they are doing and what will happen to the villagers.  “Cement and electricity factories have already come to us and asked farmers to sell their lands at low prices. The farmers felt this was unacceptable. But we are afraid that the investors may violate farmers’ rights by just seizing the land in collaboration with local authoritarians and giving us too little in return. They need to give appropriate compensation to villagers and provide proper housing replacement which is in line with proper living standard. We also want job opportunities as our current livelihoods – farming and fishing may be destroyed by SEZ projects,” says U Kyaw Win. His fellow villager, Ma Gyi, adds: “If the sea port is established, we won’t’ be able to do our fishing anymore – this is our main livelihood. Without it we will have nothing”.

Because it is difficult to access information on the SEZ development, villagers are very concerned about the lack of transparency of investor and Government actions. They feel that they are living with uncertainty.

Kyauk Phyu was proposed as a potential SEZ site in Myanmar back in 1998; but it has only been in the last few years that development of the SEZ has begun to take shape. Following an open tender, a Singaporean consortium led by CPG Corporation was selected as the technical consulting partner to advise on the selection of the project developers that will lead the SEZ development which includes a deep-sea port and an industrial zone.

In an effort to encourage responsible investment that protects and respects the human rights and livelihoods of the people living in Kyauk Phyu, Oxfam and its partners, the International Commission of Jurists, Scholar Institute and Earth Rights International have been drawing key decision-makers’ attention to the rules and regulations governing how companies behave and their legal obligations to protect human rights, livelihoods and the environment.

 

Oxfam is working in this area as part of Tat Lan programme.

Tat Lan is a food security and livelihood development programme being implemented in four Rakhine State Townships: Myebon, Minbya, Pauktaw and Kyaukphyu, where Cyclone Giri made landfall.

In Kyauk Phyu, Oxfam and its partners - the International Commission of Jurists, Scholar Institute and Earth Rights International – are working with communities to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities that will come with the development of the Special Economic Zone and bringing key decision-makers attention to the need to be accountable to communities and transparent about investment decisions.