By The Myanmar Times / 16 December 2016
A Coalition of local residents has criticised two Myanmar companies and a Chinese firm for announcing plans for a number of development projects in Tanintharyi Region. In a statement issued on December 14, the residents also attacked the local ethnic armed group, the Karen National Union, for its apparent participation in the projects.
On December 13, the two Myanmar companies, Noble Prince and Sun and Rainbow, signed an agreement with the Power China International Group for the development of the Mae Tha Mee Khee Industrial Estate Project, the Tanintharyi Renewable Energy Power Project for dam construction on the Tanintharyi River and other related works, including the construction of a small port and the building of a road linking Htee Kee and Ka Net Thi Ri in Tanintharyi Region.
The next day, 17 civil society organisations in the region issued a statement saying the projects must not proceed without transparency and accountability.
The CSO coalition says no information has been provided to the public about these projects, and no consultation has taken place with local Karen communities or civil society groups. “This represents a severe lack of transparency and a violation of international human rights principles,” says the statement.
Local residents are particularly concerned about the involvement of the Karen National Union, which claims to represent the interests of the Kayin ethnic group. The KNU seal was on the invitation letter for the MoU signing ceremony in Dawei, which KNU chair General Mutu Say Poe attended. The precise extent of KNU involvement is unclear, however.
Local Karen communities say the negative impacts of other projects in the KNU-controlled Myeik-Dawei District, such as the Myanmar Stark Prestige Plantation (MSPP) palm-oil project and the Ban Chaung coal mine, have not yet been resolved. They have appealed to the KNU not to proceed with more business interests that they say harm the environment and human rights.
“We are greatly disappointed that the KNU chair rushed to attend the signing ceremony, and we do not accept the MoU signed for these projects because the signing is against the will of Karen people,” said the statement.
The statement goes on to say that investment in large-scale infrastructure projects must not come before sustainable peace is achieved and political dialogue commences. The signatory organisations want a public consultation process with civil society, and the free, prior and informed consent of local communities.
Naw Pe Tha Law, consultant at Tarkapaw Youth Group, told The Myanmar Times that the main reason for disappointment was the lack of transparency and the failure to consult with local residents.
“We’re hearing of an industrial estate to be built on 6000 acres [2400 hectares] of land in Htee Kee, and a hydropower project that will produce up to 600 megawatts and a 70-mile road to be built to Htee Kee. I think they should proceed only after getting comments from the community and regional organisations and CSOs,” she said.
Phado Mann Nyein Maung, a KNU central executive committee member, said he was aware that MOUs had been signed for some projects but did not know details. Repeated attempts by The Myanmar Times to contact any of the companies involved were unsuccessful.
According to U Ho Pin, Tanintharyi Region minister of civil development, the projects are still in early phases.
“As far as I understand, we had a rough agreement between the KNU and the regional government arranged in last two month about the industrial estate project in Htee Khee to create job opportunities and raise the living standards of an area where mostly ethnic Kayin people live,” he said. “But the related projects are just proposals to the regional government. We have not permitted or recommended those projects … All the big projects can only be undertaken at the Union government’s behest.”
He added that projects that were disputed by the local population would not be easily greenlit by the current administration.
“The Tanintharyi cabinet will not accept or give a positive recommendation for any projects which the local community is against. We would never change the attitude of what we stood for as the opposition party. That attitude [of standing for the people]is not different now that we have become the government,” he said, while also asking for patience in regard to the review of projects that were agreed to by the previous administration.