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JICA's Dawei SEZ scheme under fire for exclusion of site-wide evaluation

The expert warns that the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Roadmap sponsored by Japan would be "illegal" to implement without a site specific evaluation prescribed by law and that visibility and reasonable involvement of the general population is necessary to assess who will benefit from these roadmaps before proceeding. Dawei SEZ's Dawei SEZ MASTERPLAN, prepared by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), will be published at the end of May.

To The Myanmar Times, U Myint San, Dawei SEZ Executive Board (DSMC) VP, said JICA has been preparing the Dawei SEZ Executive Board since 2017. Completion of the main schedule will take place by the end of May, covering all stages of the area. There are three stages in the plan: now until 2030, 2030-40 and 2040-50.

It is proposing to prioritize phase 1 infrastructures and connections, which includes road, electricity and deepwater ports. "will be published at the end of May. We' ll know the exact details of the main schedule. We' ll be discussing and examining how we can put the plans into practice," said U Myint San.

There has been strong criticism from academia, civic organizations and local authorities for the fact that no site-wide EIA was undertaken before the preparation of the EIA-Masterplan. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said to The Myanmar Times that "appropriate consultation on the Blueprint must be undertaken with the affected municipalities and interest groups and a site-wide evaluation should be undertaken to make sure that the accumulated effects are assessed".

"The WWF is extremely worried about how badly the Dawei SEZ has been so far conceived, organised and consultated, and if there are no major enhancements, man and the environment in this area will suffer far more than what is derived from the SEZ and the associated initiatives. "Given the local population and the environmental value of the countryside around each project, appropriate E/SIAs must be implemented and actions to alleviate these effects must be incorporated into the project management plan," said Christy Williams, WWF-Myanmar Landesdirektor.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) would also consider the expansion of the Dawei site without a site-wide evaluation illegitimate. "Sean Bain, counsel at the ICJ in Yangon, said, "It would be against the law to continue with the purchase of real estate or infrastructural developments now without a site-wide EIA.

We have to examine how different elements interoperate with each other and what cumulatively they have on the community and the surrounding area. For this reason, the Myanmar Act calls for a site-wide footprint analysis for each SCC. This has not yet been done for the Dawei SEZ," he continued.

He said Myanmar has the ability to prevent the past issues associated with this project, involving breaches of humanitarian law, by ordering the necessary site-wide EIA. Thammasat University' Dr Charlie Thame said there was a need for openness and real involvement of the general community to see who would benefit from JICA's projects before the project was approved by the state.

Related research has led to serious risks to public and environment heath, among them atmospheric and aquatic contamination, unusually high levels of cancers, and childbirth anomalies. "After all, Thailand had to abandon 76 industry ventures because they were seen as a menace to the people' s right to security and heath. That is one of the reasons for the construction of the SED in Dawei.

Dawei Development Association (DDA), a civic organization in Tanintharyi, U Thant Zin said they have not been given "concrete information" about the Blueprint and the development of the Blueprint has not yet been "publicly accessible". "JICA has repeatedly explained to Japanese NGOs, as we know so far, that JICA does not make a JICA MASTERPLAN, but only the verification of the MASTERPLAN.

Most importantly, we must provide sufficient information on the Blueprint and hold useful consultations with the affected areas and Tanintharyi before the authorities make a decision," he continued. The Dawei company earns "an open and sincere account" of who benefits when the project is resumed.

Tanintharyi has long been skeptical about the SEZ project because of serious scandalous abuses of humans such as eviction, opacity and destruction of the environment. SEZ-Italian-Thai development raised further concerns among Thai municipalities when its chairman, Premchai Karnasuta, was detained and indicted by the Thai state.

Iiro Maruyama, Japan's embassador to Myanmar, said on 30 April that the two masters will be ready soon. Irrespective of this, JICA also draws up the Tanintharyi Region Roadmap, which complements the Dawei work.

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