Silence on investment projects is not the answer Silence on investment projects is not the answer

Silence on investment projects is not the answer

Silence on investment projects is not the answer

Over the past three months, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has written to investors, developers, an international audit company and an environmental research institute to ask for the public disclosure of information relating to two of Myanmar’s largest economic development projects: the Dawei and Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The ICJ asked for information regarding environmental impact assessments (EIA), environmental management plans, and financial audit reports. The ICJ received no substantive responses.

The Dawei and Kyauk Phyu SEZs, two of Myanmar’s three proposed SEZs, are key elements of the country’s economic development plans. Transparency about the proposed projects is vital to ensure the protection of those whose rights will be affected by these massive investment projects. The Myanmar government, and interested investors, must remove the secrecy around these projects and provide the basic information requested regarding these projects.

In a country where businesses normally proceed without input from local communities, such secrecy has fostered serious human rights abuses, including land misappropriations, loss of livelihoods, serious environmental damage, and violent curtailments of freedom of expression and association.

The two SEZ projects will include a power plant, industrial zones, a natural gas terminal, a water reservoir, and substantial infrastructure, which can have massive effects on the environment and the health of nearby communities. The experience in Rakhine state, where the proposed Kyauk Phyu SEZ will be located, is instructive: development of gas fields and other resource extraction projects have been fraught with allegations of forced labour and the forced eviction of hundreds of farmers from their lands.

The companies operating in SEZs are not the only ones rejecting transparency. When the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre recently wrote to more than 100 foreign companies operating in Myanmar, seeking details on their activities and human rights commitments, only a quarter responded with relevant information; another quarter provided general statements; and approximately half failed to respond altogether.

Lack of transparency around projects with potentially harmful environmental and social impacts can leave communities vulnerable to abuse. They can also affect investors, exposing them to project delays, litigation, and reputational damage. Myanmar is increasingly seeing examples where lack of transparency at the early stages of a project hurt companies — and more important, the communities among which they work.

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Source: Bangkok Post

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