Source: The Myanmar Times

Date: 15 February, 2018


A Strategic Environmental Assessment prior to ESIA is "a tangible step the NLD can take to avoid another Myitsone scenario", the ICJ said.

THE committee charged with implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State announced that the Kyaukphyu SEZ Management Committee (KSMC) will conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) prior to Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA), but the SEZ developer denied this and has recently been authorised to go ahead with the ESIA. 

The Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State (Rakhine committee), jointly chaired by the social welfare, relief and resettlement minister and Rakhine's chief minister, issued the "Report to the People on the Progress of Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State". Published on a state-owned newspaper on February 13, the committee has taken forward the commission's suggestion to carry out an SEA for the Kyaukphyu SEZ project.

"Previous experience has shown that large-scale projects, including SEZs, can have negative consequences on the environment, other economic sectors and local people; therefore, the Environmental Conservation Department and the KSMC have been discussing and coordinating to conduct the Strategic Environmental Assessment in a comprehensive approach," the report stated. An SEA would likely take one to two years and means another procedure has to be done prior to the ESIA.

With this announcement, the government is signalling that they are moving forward with the recommendations which were first made in March last year and repeated in September. The Advisory Commission, headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, reiterated the SEA recommendation in its final report in September 2017, arguing that large-scale projects in Rakhine have bred local resentment towards Nay Pyi Taw and stressing that local communities should have a greater say in the state's development.

Vicky Bowman, director of Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), said that the SEA will be a valuable process for the developers, communities and the government to map out a broader picture and look at the development plans. The SEA findings, including baseline data, can then immediately inform individual EIAs for the port, and other projects in the SEZ.

"One issue that should particularly be considered in the SEA is the proposed size of the SEZ, and whether the carrying capacity of the area, including water availability for both residential and industrial use, is sufficient to support extensive industrial zone plans. An SEA could offer the opportunity to examine this, and reconsider the scope and scale of original plans. This could reduce the disruption to local communities of land acquisition for which there may be inadequate carrying capacity, and an uncertain economic case," she explained.

Kyaukphyu greenlights ESIA

However, according to China's state-owned investment conglomerate which leads the Kyaukphyu consortium, the KSMC did not inform them about the SEA process.

U Kyaw Htin from CITIC Myanmar said that they "have not got any information" regarding the SEA, and that KSMC has already issued a notification on January 16 to authorise the consortium and its Myanmar counterpart to carry out EIA/ SIA and the site geological and topographical survey.

He added that the project, which will consist of a deep-sea port, an industrial park and an integrated residential area, will develop into a major trade hub.

"The guiding principle of the delivery plan includes three key components for a successful partnership: planet, prosperity, people," U Kyaw Htin explained.

The CITIC-led developers will "engage leading international firms joined by local experts to work as a third party to independently carry out EIA and SIA" and such work "will be openly monitored by the general public." The project companies will "continue to engage independent international consultants to audit the environmental and social impacts on a continuous basis." The audit report will be "timely released" to the public. Furthermore, "all mangroves and existing rivers will be retained to ensure minimum influence on the environment."

The company highlighted that, during the 50-year concession period, the port and industrial park are expected to generate US$6.5 billion and $7.8 billion accumulative tax income respectively for the Myanmar government. Once the industrial zone is in full operation, the annual turnover will reach $3.2 billion, and per capita GDP is expected to increase to $32,000 per year.

CITIC said the consortium is committed to spend $1 million per year in the first five years of construction and half a million per year afterward. This will amount to a total of $40 million.

SEA prior to ESIA necessary

Despite the pledged benefits, there are those who remain unconvinced about the project and who insist on doing an SEA prior to any EIA or SIA.

Sean Bain, legal consultant from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), told The Myanmar Times that an SEA would allow the necessary time and information for Nay Pyi Taw to make informed decisions on the mega project.

"Clearly the government needs more time, information and expert analysis to inform big decisions on development in Kyaukphyu that will have inter-generational impacts. An SEA would provide these."

He argued that the SEA is "a tangible step the NLD can take to avoid another Myitsone scenario" and "seems like good economics, good politics and in line with the government's new commitments to economic, social and cultural rights."

Myanmar ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in October 2017 and its international treaty obligations came into effect last month. ESC rights is at the core of mega infrastructure projects, including Kyaukphyu, because of the issues related to land clearances and eviction. It is significant that the Myanmar government has just joined this treaty because the project risks, at least in its implementation of the pending land acquisition, violating these rights and hence the state's new international law obligations, according to the ICJ.

Last October, Yuan Shaobin, CITIC's executive president, said that land acquisition activities had not taken place in Kyaukphyu, and that community consultation, resettlement plans and land acquisitions are all responsibilities of the government, not investors. The developers are, essentially, only paying for the cleared land.

Potential displacement

"If the NLD can't move on this it's hard to see how it will address the more pointy proposals of its advisory commission," Mr Bain argued.

"The ICJ discovered that current plans for the SEZ would displace more than 20,000 Rakhine residents. Yet a sound economic case is yet to be made: we don't even know if the industries will be jobs-intensive or pollution-intensive. Promotional materials suggest the project will create 103,000 jobs, which just happens to be the working age population of the entire areas. Such claims require interrogation," he went on. It's in the interests of all parties to find out the real benefits and opportunities.

"If not what we will have is broken promises, a disgruntled population and likely human rights violations - exactly what Rakhine State does not need more of," Mr Bain continued.

The legal expert stressed that the initial approval of the proposed SEZ came from "an unelected government following a severe defeat at the November 2015 polls". An SEA should increase transparency by bringing project documents to light and having them interrogated.

"The Advisory Commission presented this recommendation to the government back in March 2017 so it would be helpful for all parties, including both affected communities and investors, if this is moved forward now," he concluded.