Thilawa Residents Upbeat about JICA Examiner Visit

JICA’s Examiner, responsible for investigating the Objection filed by Thilawa villagers claiming that JICA failed to meet its own social and environmental standards, visited Burma and met with Thilawa villagers, government officials, and civil society organizations.

The Thilawa Social Development Group, a group representing villagers living in the 2,400 hectare Thilawa Special Economic Zone issued a press release after meeting JICA’s examiner.

“…We were very happy to have the Examiner visit us and see our living conditions for himself…We were able to have frank conversations wtih him about how we have been affected by the project. We look forward to the recommendations he will make to the JCIA President after his investigation.”

In a nutshell, the villager’s Objection included the following:

…damages include loss of farmland and access to farmland, loss of livelihood opportunities, impoverishment, loss of educational opportunities for the villagers’ children, substandard housing and basic infrastructure, and loss of access to clean water in the Myaing Thar Yar resettlement site.

The villagers say there has been some noticeable progress since filing their complaint under JICA’s Objection Procedures. Hopefully this progress will continue. It should not, however, be used as a reason to let JICA off the hook. JICA has been negligent, and we expect the Examiner to verify this, and hope JICA will continue to take sincere steps to rectify the outstanding issues.

See the Press Release (unofficial English translation) below:

Thilawa Social Development Group
For Immediate Release

July 21, 2014

Thilawa Residents Appeal for
More Constructive Negotiations about Resettlement

Yangon, Myanmar – Residents of the 2,400-hectare Thilawa Special Economic Zone near Yangon appealed for more constructive discussions with the Yangon Regional Government and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Speaking at a press conference today, the residents explained that there has been some noticeable progress since filing a complaint under JICA’s Objection Procedures, but that there was still more productive negotiations needed to rectify the problems with the relocation of villagers in from the 400 ha area of Phase I of the project, as well as those slated to be relocated in future phases of the project.

Three representatives of the residents of Thilawa filed the Objection in Tokyo on June 2, which outlined damages incurred by villagers from Phase I of the project and those likely to be incurred by the residents in subsequent phases. These damages include the loss of farmland and access to farmland, loss of livelihood opportunities, impoverishment, loss of educational opportunities for the villagers’ children, substandard housing and basic infrastructure, and loss of access to clean water in the Myaing Thar Yar resettlement site.

JICA’s Examiner responsible for investigating the Objection, Dr. Sachihiko Harashina, concluded a trip to Yangon and the Thilawa area on Saturday. During his trip, he met with the Thilawa residents, civil society organizations, and representatives of the Yangon Regional Government and the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee.

“We were very happy to have the Examiner visit us and see our living conditions for himself,” said U Khine Win, a resident of the 400 ha area and one of the complainants who delivered the Objection to Dr. Harashina in Tokyo. “We were able to have frank conversations with him about how we have been affected by the project. We look forward to the recommendations he will make to the JICA President after his investigation.”

After the complaint was filed, JICA agreed to organize a meeting with the Yangon Regional Government, the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee, and the Thilawa residents. “In this meeting on July 8, we told the government representatives how people are still suffering in the relocation site. They made some promises to us, so we will see if they fulfill these promises by our next meeting. But there are still some points that we need to negotiate more,” said U Kyaw Kyaw, a resident from the 2,000 ha Phase II area of the project.

Senior Myanmar lawyer, U Myint Thwin, said, “In the Thilawa SEZ, we found that the land was not confiscated under the procedures of the 1894 Land Acquisitions Act. Although the land was confiscated in 1997, the farmers still paid land taxes until 2012. So therefore we can say, the government didn’t follow the 2012 Farmland Law and By-laws.”

“It is very important to address the problems with the relocation of the villagers in the 400 ha area, because the villagers in the 2,000 ha area will have the same problems,” said U Mya Hlaing, a resident of the 2,000 ha area. “Thilawa can also set a precedent for all of Myanmar. If the government ensures that our relocation includes adequate housing, replacement land, livelihood restoration and compensation, and that decisions include our input and consent, this will be good for us and set an example for other projects in our country.”

JICA’s Examiner is scheduled to publicly release his report on the findings of his investigation and recommendations for the JICA President by the beginning of September. The residents of Thilawa expect to have another meeting with the Yangon Regional Government and JICA next month.

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