Banks urged to be picky with Dawei

Bangkok Post 16 October 2013

By Nanchanok Wongsamuth & Somruedi Banchongduang

Asean banks should only back financially sound investment projects in Myanmar's Dawei development to protect communities from social and environmental harm, says a local environmental group.

Bo Bo, a representative of the Dawei Development Association (DDA), said only light industries with responsible investment should be allowed in the Dawei special economic zone (SEZ), but not petrochemical, oil and gas offshore blocs, as well as a coal and tin mining projects.

Citing international sources responsible for monitoring banks and Dawei investment issues, he said the Dawei SEZ has already secured US$235 million in loans from Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and Bangkok Bank. Officials from SCB, Krung Thai and Kasikorn banks were not available for comment yesterday.

"If banks like SCB aim to go regional, they too should take into account social and environmental issues and not invest just for profit," said Bo Bo, a Dawei resident himself.

He also had doubts that the local people will actually benefit from investments in the area. "So much gas [from Myanmar] goes to Thailand, but we Dawei people have to pay about 16-17 baht per unit for electricity, which is very expensive," Bo Bo said at a seminar in Bangkok yesterday.

At the event, scholars and non-governmental organisations urged Thai businesses to uphold human rights and environmental issues when investing in Myanmar, a country where the legal system has yet to reach global standards despite the advent of some democratic reforms. Social activist Sulak Sivaraksa warned about the dangers of capitalism, which he said is endorsed by companies such as Charoen Pokphand, Chang beer and Italian Thai Development Plc (ITD), which was granted a concession by the Myanmar government to develop Dawei's deep-sea port and SEZ.

"When ITD lacked the financial resources to invest in Dawei, [former prime minister] Thaksin Shinawatra, who has more power than the Thai government, ordered Yingluck to look into this project," he said, adding that ITD's involvement in the project is hurting communities.

Mr Sulak also expressed disappointment that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to be cautious with multinational corporations that seek development without taking into account local culture and the environment. But Moe Thway, president of the youth group Generation Wave, said in a separate interview that Suu Kyi is making no mistake in focusing on peace and politics first.

"If later on she has the power, she could control the damage done to the environment by former dictators," he said.