[MW Statement] Premature JICA Decision Violates Environmental Guidelines

What will it take for JICA to learn from its past mistakes? The Thilawa Special Economic Zone is entering it’s next stage, but JICA is repeating many of the same mistakes it made during Phase 1. Local people affected by Phase 1 of the Thilawa SEZ were so concerned about the repercussions of being relocated that they filed an official complaint against JICA in June 2014. An examiner who investigated the complaints wrote a detailed report with many recommendations to JICA for measures that should be implemented to improve the project. JICA put together a team of experts to talk with relocated families to try to address the problems they were facing. JICA dedicated a lot of time, money and effort for this. Why are they now repeating such similar mistakes now in Zone B?

Mekong Watch issued a statement in October (original in Japanese), and the English translation is below:

October 24, 2016

[Statement] Myanmar’s Thilawa SEZ Zone B Phase 1

JICA Violates Environmental Guidelines with Premature Decision to Invest

Agreements on farmland expropriation still incomplete

On October 21st, upon revising the joint venture contract with Japanese and Myanmar enterprises and the Myanmar government, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) decided to provide overseas lending and investment[1] to develop Zone B’s Phase 1 (approx. 100 hectares) of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) development project being supported by both the Japanese public and private sectors.

Agreement has still not been obtained, however, from farmers who will lose their means of livelihood due to expropriation of farmland in Zone B Phase 1, and negotiations regarding compensation measures are still ongoing. We are expressing grave concern regarding JICA’s formal decision to invest at a time when there is still no final agreement with parties who are subject to compensation. This is a clear violation of JICA’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations (hereafter, the Guidelines), which state, “[i]nvoluntary resettlement and loss of means of livelihood are to be avoided when feasible by exploring all viable alternatives. When, after such an examination, avoidance is proved unfeasible, effective measures to minimize impact and to compensate for losses must be agreed upon with the people who will be affected.”

Even though this is an overseas investment and lending scheme where JICA supports private enterprises, the Guidelines should be applied in the same way as they are for yen loans and grant aid, and we cannot stand by and allow the Guidelines to be disregarded.

In regard to processes for resettlement and compensation agreements for Phase 1 of Zone B, we are seeing a repetition of the same problems (as of October 14) that we pointed out during resettlement and compensation processes for Zone A of the SEZ. These are listed below:

  • As stated in the Guidelines, project affected people must be able to “improve their standard of living, income opportunities, and production levels, or at least to restore these to pre-project levels.” To enable them to do so, it is crucial that sufficient time is provided prior to resettlement and loss of livelihood to implement livelihood restoration assistance, provide vocational training and begin job placement. At this point, however, there are still no concrete plans, or scenarios for livelihood restoration measures, including any indication of the timing for transitioning from current to alternative means of livelihood.
  • No mitigation measures have been considered to address reduction or loss in opportunities to use community land or natural resources (e.g. grazing, gathering).
  • Copies of the results of a 2013 survey to calculate compensation (a supplementary survey to the socio-economic survey) have not been distributed to the individual surveyed households.
  • Signatory households have not received copies of agreements they signed regarding resettlement or compensation.
  • In regard to cultivated vegetables and fruit trees, there has been no notification of the replacement cost (including concrete methods and grounds for calculation) for each type of fruit/vegetable (e.g. gourd, eggplant), even to those who are supposed to receive compensation.

In November 2013, sixty-eight households were relocated for development of Zone A. Citing deteriorating living conditions, residents filed a formal objection against  JICA in June 2014. After that, additional measures were implemented, including disbursement of a social welfare fund in 2015 (3 million kyat per household, approximately 2,223 USD). Even with these measures, six households had to sell their mortgaged homes at the relocation site because they were unable to pay off debt incurred while constructing the homes and faced difficulties making ends meet[2].  Currently, there are at least four households near their deadlines to pay back debt for which their homes are mortgaged. In this way, although approximately 3 years have passed since resettlement, there are still families at risk of losing their homes and facing other serious threats to their livelihood. It can be said that one of the reasons for this is due to the failure to smoothly provide some common lands and micro finance efforts etc. at the same time as disbursing the social welfare fund, but the most significant reason is the initial insufficient compensation and the late start of livelihood restoration support.

In news released by JICA on October 21st[3], “the exact date for the start of construction will be determined upon considering the condition of the Myanmar government’s process of land acquisition and resettlement.”  In regard to Zone B’s development, it is essential that JICA’s Guidelines are respected and implemented in order to prevent worsening of residents’ livelihoods.  Based on lessons learned from the resettlement and compensation processes of Zone A, the following measures should be strictly implemented:

  • Until residents who will be impacted by farmland expropriation have agreed to measures for effective compensation and livelihood restoration, and until land expropriation is actually complete, there should be no haste in commencing construction or any kind of land preparation for Zone B’s Phase 1. Also, appropriate information disclosure and participation processes should be ensured in the consultations with affected people and obtaining their informed consent (prior information disclosure or dissemination, transparent consultation etc.)
  • Construction, resettlement and farmland expropriation must not proceed without preparation of a resettlement site and preparation/implementation of livelihood restoration measures. To prevent deterioration of living standards of affected people, it is essential to begin support livelihood restoration, vocational training, and job placement prior to commencement of construction—i.e. ample time should be given before people are resettled and lose their means of livelihood.

To develop the remaining 2000 hectares of the planned Thilawa SEZ, including Zone B (700 hectares), there are 995 households (3,829 people) facing relocation[4]. As for Phase 1 of Zone B, considering that resettlement and compensation measures will be a litmus test for subsequent project implementation, the Japanese government and JICA should reconsider their hasty project promotion. They should guarantee appropriate and thorough consultation processes and measures to ensure that the living conditions of affected people do not deteriorate because of the project.

Mekong Watch
Tel: 03-3832-5034, Fax: 03-3832-5039
E-mail: info@mekongwatch.org

[1] This is an ODA scheme that provides investment and lending to private enterprises.

[2] Of the 68 households that were relocated with the development of Zone A, seven households have sold their mortgaged homes at the relocation site due to inability to repay debt in time. One household did so prior to the social welfare fund disbursement, and the remaining six did so between December 2015 and September 2016. At present, of these seven households, four families are renting places to live in the resettlement site. Two families are renting residences elsewhere. One family built a house just in front of the relocation site and is currently living there. (as of October 7, 2016)

[3] https://www.jica.go.jp/press/2016/20161021_01.html

[4] http://www.myanmarthilawa.gov.mm/resettlement-plan

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