Thilawa’s complaint mechanism criticised as “a process on paper”
Source: The Myanmar Times
Date: 14 February, 2018
The SEZ responded that the new process has involved consultations with more than 300 stakeholders.
An international non-governmental organisation has accused a recently launched complaint process in Thilawa of violating human rights norms, whereas developers have insisted the mechanism is a culmination of consultations with more than 300 stakeholders and that they "stand by" its quality.
Companies in Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) have "failed their obligations under international business and human rights norms" in the new Thilawa Complaints Management Procedure (TCMP), the US-headquartered EarthRights International (ERI) said in a statement on February 7.
Thilawa community members have sent the SEZ developers a formal letter requesting a negotiation to improve the grievance mechanism, arguing that the affected communities have spent three years to develop a mechanism to address rights abuses.
Katherine McDonnell, the ERI's legal advocacy coordinator, said that "the TCMP was rushed through without proper due diligence."
"As a result, it fails to address the community's concerns about the impacts of the SEZ, and lacks basic criteria such as accessibility, predictability, and legitimacy. A process on paper is not the same as a functioning mechanism," she added.
New mechanism for complaints
Designed to receive, investigate and resolve affected communities' concerns regarding SEZ activities, the TCMP will be run by Thilawa SEZ Management Committee (TSMC) and Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Limited (MJTD).
The ERI argued that, in publishing the TCMP, the developers rejected three years of requests from Thilawa community members to collaborate on a Community-Driven Operational Grievance Mechanism (CD-OGM) to address the impacts.
"The developers received the formal draft of the full CD-OGM in late 2016, with the request for comments. But in late 2017, they commissioned the design of the new TCMP without proper consultation with community members - neither those who were already working on the CD-OGM nor those who will use the mechanism." This incurred additional expenses, lost relevant information, and sowed confusion and distrust in the community.
"Nobody asked us what we think about this TCMP. They only tried to make us understand it, then sign an agreement," the ERI quoted a community member who requested anonymity due to concerns about retaliation saying.
Ms McDonnell said the TCMP represents "an active rejection of engagement" and "falls short of good practice in the most basic ways".
"One of the most troubling aspects of the TCMP is that it completely lacks oversight and is meant to be run only by internal actors with no training, who will have complete discretion. There are no criteria for any decision-making processes, and no external appeals or monitoring. There is nothing in this document to provide any assurance that it can be implemented in an impartial and consistent way," she went on.
The SEZ's management committee and its developer told The Myanmar Times that they have engaged with communities in the area and are committed to fair treatment for those affected.
"The Thilawa SEZ Management Committee [TSMC] and Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development Limited [MJTD], as a signatory to the UN Global Compact, has engaged, continues to engage and remains open to all forms of engagement from any party who shares our commitment to ensuring that communities affected by the project are treated equitably and be given fair consideration for remedial measures," TSMC and MJTD responded.
"Importantly, we believe that for any discourse or criticism to be effective, it must be truthful and accurate to protect the credibility of truthful complaints founded on real evidence.
"We stand by the quality of the Thilawa Complaints Management Procedure," they added.
Both organisations explained that initial consultations on developing the existing mechanism were undertaken in the late October and November last year. In the process of devising the TCMP, more than 300 stakeholders were consulted, including project-affected peoples (PAPs)and communities (PACs), local civil society organisations and businesses.
As of February 8, eleven complaints are registered in the procedure. Five cases are "resolved" or "conditionally resolved" while six cases are "under investigation".
The SEZ stressed that the progress of complaint management is disclosed publicly at the website of MJTD to uphold transparency.
"The designing process and concepts of TCMP were acknowledged by UN Working Groups and international audience and endorsed at the panel of UN Forum as effective and proactive way of managing complaints in line with UNGPs.
"Thilawa SEZ has a significant number of important stakeholders including local residents and civil society. Therefore, it takes time and balance for us to engage with all key individuals or groups. Despite the circumstance, we, TSMC and MJTD, commit to continuous efforts for stakeholder engagement including evolution of the TCMP," TSMC and MJTD argued.