A concise history of the two-lane Dawei Road Link 

The Dawei Road Link is one of the major components of the Deep-Sea Port and the Dawei Special Economic Zone which aims to shorten the distance and time for the transportation of goods and services between Myanmar’s Andaman coasts and the South China Sea’s Southern Economic Corridor. It is expected that this road link can bring down the amount of time to transport goods and services between the Andaman costs to Thailand’s Laem Chabang Deep-Sea Port to less than eight hours. According to the plan, the road link will be 138 kilometers long starting from the SEZ toward the Thailand-Myanmar border at Nam Phu Ron Checkpoint, Ban Kao District, Kanchanaburi. This road link will play an important role on the economic growth of Thailand and Myanmar since it will connect the existing highway between Ban Kao– Kanchanaburi and Highway 81 Kanchanaburi  and Bang Yai, Nonthaburi which will further be connected with another road to Map Ta Pud Industrial Complex and Laem Chabang Deep-Sea Port in Thailand. 

The clearest approval of this project is derived from the cabinet resolution on 7 May 2015 on the implementation of the cabinet resolution to promote the development of the Dawei SEZ and adjacent areas. In essence, the resolution is an endorsement of a soft loan worth 4.5 billion baht to the government of Myanmar for the construction of the two-lane Dawei Road Link for 138 km with Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (Public Organization) (NEDA) taking the lead to coordinate the project. NEDA are involved with determining the soft loan conditions to provide as Financial Assistance (FA) and to offer Technical Assistance (TA) including the development of the report on the exploration and design of the two-lane Dawei Road Link.

The clearest sign of the involvement of the governments of Thailand and Myanmar in spearheading the two-lane Dawei Road Link begun after Italian-Thai Development PLC, which has been awarded by Myanmar the licenses to develop the Deep-Sea Port and the Dawei SEZ, has commenced the construction of the Dawei SEZ and the Dawei Road Link, as part of the project, since 2020. By then, the project was known as “The Four-Lane Dawei Road Link to the Deep-Sea Port and the Dawei SEZ”. It is expected that the road will be further expanded to eight lanes in the future to cater to all forms of mass transportation including train, natural gas pipelines and power girds. 

There are complicated factors in the meantime. For example, the company has failed to raise additional fund and some joint venture companies in Myanmar have pulled out from the project and there has been opposition from the community affected by the road link and political instability. These have hindered progress of the project. There are also problems stemming from the unfair resolution of local disputes. As a result, public authorities in both countries, particularly in Thailand, realize the importance of throwing their concrete support to the Dawei Road Link to kickstart it in order to convince investors of the possibility and the future of this project. In 2015, ITD has begun to take charge of the project again, after winning concessionary right from the government of Myanmar to implement the first phase of the Dawei SEZ and related projects including the two-lane Dawei Road Link.

In March 2018, there was more obvious progress of the two-lane Dawei Road Link since the Myanmar Parliament approved the acceptance of soft loan worth 4.5 billion baht from Thailand. Based on the condition set by NEDA, the interest rate of the loan will be 0.1% and debt servicing will be completed in 20 years with 0% interest rate in the first 10 years (altogether 30 years). The new companies to implement the road link project are required to be contractors and consultant companies from Thailand. In addition, it requires that the government of Myanmar has to depend on goods and services procured from Thailand for not less than 50% of those needed to complete this project. In addition, it requires the assessment of environmental impacts and approval by the Myanmar authorities for this road construction. After the Myanmar Parliament has approved the acceptance of the soft loan, on 5 April, the government of Myanmar has applied for financial assistance from the government of Thailand via NEDA and through diplomatic channel. The application letter is composed of two components including the requirement to conduct \the exploration and design of the project and the revision of the two-lane road and the soft loan worth 4.5 billion baht, which is the largest of its kind since financial assistance has been offered by NEDA and according to NEDA’s regulation, the financial assistance is normally capped at not more than 2 billion baht. 

In November 2018, NEDA and Myanmar’s Ministry of Construction have signed an agreement to develop the two-lane Dawei Road Link in Dawei SEZ. Under this agreement, NEDA is obliged to conduct the exploration and design to upgrade and develop the Dawei Road Link, the study of which shall take eight months. A company has been commissioned to conduct the exploration and design of the road link with technical assistance from NEDA from February-September 2019, or 240 days. NEDA has been reporting progress and detail of the activity via its website specifically created for the two-lane road link in Thai, English and Myanmar.

During the provision of the technical assistance via the commissioning of a consulting firm to develop the report on the exploration and design of the two-lane Dawei Road Link from February-September 2019, NEDA has been reporting updates and detail of the report to concerned public authorities of the government of Myanmar periodically. Two public consultations have also been held to solicit input from local community which will be affected. But due the long distance and logistic complications concerning the transportation of the affected people to the meeting venue far from their community, the public consultations have failed to receive input, concerns and recommendations about the two-lane road link. Civil society in both Thailand and Myanmar as well as the affected people have thus sent a letter to NEDA asking NEDA to tell the consulting firm to conduct additional public consultations closer to where the affected community is situated to ensure local people are thoroughly informed and have the chance to directly express their opinions to the concerned people. Later on, the consulting firm has held a public consultation in an affected village in Kamoethway. 

Moreover, in late July 2019 prior to the completion of the final report, community-based organizations and affected people have gone to NEDA and other public authorities concerning human rights including the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) and the Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department to submit their complaints, to raise their concerns and recommendations concerning the two-lane road link.  

NEDA has commissioned a consulting firm to develop a report on the exploration and design of the road link project since September 2019. But since early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has gripped the attention of Thailand and Myanmar (as well as other countries around the world). As a result, there was not much progress regarding the two-lane road link. In Thailand, after ETOs Watch Coalition has sent a letter requesting for updates of the development of the project’s study report, it was informed that NEDA was revising the final report before sending it on to the Board of the Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (Public Organization) (KPP) to seek their approval. After the review and approval by KPP, the report will be sent to the Minister of Finance and the cabinet to further approval financial assistance. 

As to ITD which has been awarded the right to develop the road link, it appears they are waiting to launch the bidding process after an interview given to some news outlets that the Dawei SEZ including the  two-lane road link has stalled for over four years. ITD’s CEO, Premchai Karnasuta, claims that[1] “The project’s stall was due to an intention to wait for clarity given the many recent changes.  Until now, as investor, we have ben shouldering interest burden and has been explaining to the lenders about the long-term benefit of this project. It is only pending an approval. Once the green light is given, we are ready to press ahead instantly to negotiate to ease up debt servicing requirement with the creditors”. And it is expected that if the two-lane road link can be completed within two years, or within 2022, the construction should commence this year. 

Advocacies for mechanisms to monitor Thailand’s investments in the Dawei SEZ  

In 2013, the Dawei’s and Thailand’s civil society along with affected villagers in the Dawei SEZ have submitted a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand requesting for an inquiry into an alleged human rights violation. Later, NHRCT has started its investigation on the implementation of the Dawei SEZ and related projects and published a report on the investigation of human rights violation in the Dawei SEZ as well as offered recommendations to the project developers to ensure fair and comprehensive provision of remedies and compensation. NHRCT has also recommended that Thailand should set up a mechanism to monitor foreign investments of Thai nationals in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The cabinet has issued a resolution on 16 May 2016 to acknowledge the recommendations. It was the beginning of how Thailand has placed an importance on the protection and respect of human rights in business operation and the  Dawei SEZ is one of the first projects which prompts the state to realize the importance of having a mechanism to ensure private sector respect human rights. 

Since then, concerned sectors including NHRCT, and particularly, the Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department have helped to develop the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP). Eventually, on 29 October 2019, the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) Phase I (2019-2022) became formally effective since it was included in the cabinet resolution.[1] According to the NAP, issues concerning cross-border investments and multinational corporations will become one of the four priorities. 

As to the monitoring of the two-lane road link, ETOs Watch Coalition has been monitoring and investigating consistently in collaboration with civil society organizations in Dawei and CBOs in the areas affected by the project including CSLD. NEDA has started its technical assistance for the two-lane road link by commissioning a consulting firm to develop a report on exploration and design of the project from February-September 2019. During the development of the report, ETO Watch Coalition, particularly member organizations including SEM and Free Mekong as well as CSOs in Dawei including Dawei Development Association, Dawei Monitoring Foundation, Takapor and CBOs such as CSLD have helped to document direct and indirect impacts from the Dawei Road Link and concern of the community toward the two-lane road link which is slated to be constructed soon. We have also compiled demands and recommendations from the community in Kamoethway.

In late August 2019, community in Kamoethway led by CSLD and concerned CSOs in Myanmar and Thailand, particularly ETOs Watch Coalition have met with NEDA and concerned human rights organizations including NHRCT, and the Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department to explain about the existing impacts from the project’s implementation and to express our concern about the future of the project. We also demand the project to place an importance on the local community which will face the impact and to ensure there is no human rights and community rights violation. 

In addition, ETOs Watch Coalition has been consistently monitoring and inquiring about the progress of NEDA’s implementation concerning the technical assistance and the development of the report on the exploration and design of the two-lane road link. We have submitted letters voicing our demands and asked for meeting with concerned officers. In 2020, ETOs Watch Coalition has submitted letters to NEDA inquiring about the progress of the report on the exploration and design of the two-lane road link, first in March.[2] A reply we received indicated that the agency is revising the final report which should be done in May and once the report is completed, NEDA would disclose the detail to the public via a website of the project and NEDA’s website. At the same time, ETOs Watch Coalition has recommended to NEDA to adopt the UNGP and Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) in line with its duties in light of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) Phase I (2019-2022). It will be part of the effort to monitor and regulate cross-border investment which may affect human rights.[3] Nevertheless, of late in August, ETOs Watch Coalition has submitted a letter to NEDA requesting for progress of the revision of the final report.[4] In NEDA’s reply, it states that the revision is ongoing and once it is completed, the information will be publicized on concerned websites within August .[5]  But until now, the report on the exploration and design of the two-lane road link has yet to be publicized in the websites referred to by NEDA. Anyhow, NEDA has failed to mention if it will also disclose information from the report which concerns the area where the people inhibit and will be affected by the two-lane road link or not. 

On a positive note, in terms of NEDA’s attempt to work in line with NAP, NEDA says it its reply to us that the consulting firm has been requested to conduct HRDD additionally, as a result, it has delayed the launch of the final report on the exploration and design. It has been over a year since NEDA has started to develop the report on the exploration and design of the two-lane Dawei Road Link, after the survey was completed since September 2019. The affected villagers still have no clue as to whom they can turn to demand justice from those they have already approached to submit their demands and to explain their predicament in over the past ten years. In addition, they have no idea about the possible and future impact from the expansion of the route which will certainly bring about more impacts including on the environment and natural resources. Impacts of their land are their gravest concern more than any compensation. As to an attempt to ramp up good governance regarding Thailand’s foreign investment and the NAP which has been declared since 2019, over the past one year saw little progress as to any concrete measures to address the cross-border human rights violation. Even though an effort has been made by state and private agencies to raise public awareness about the NAP, there is a lack of proactive process and the adaptation in business sector to place more importance on the stakeholders in the supply chain more than the shareholders.


References

[1]https://www.prachachat.net/property/news-499592

[2] https://www.matichon.co.th/local/crime/news_1734463

[3] Letter of ETOs Watch Coalition no. 3/2563 on “Request for detailed information of report of the exploration and design and the implementation of the two-lane road to the Dawei Special Economic Zone and our demand for the implementation with respect on human rights and community rights”, 31 March 2020

[4] Letter of NEDA no. 280/2563 “Information about the detailed study and design of the development of the two-lane road to the Dawei Special Economic Zone at the Thailand-Myanmar border in Myanmar “, 16 April 2020

[5] Letter of ETOs Watch Coalition no. 7/2563 on “Request for updates on the revision of the final report of the exploration and design of the two-lane road project connecting the Dawei Special Economic Zone and Nam Phu Ron Checkpoint in Kanchanaburi and procedure concerning the project’s bidding”, 6 August 2020

[6] Letter of NEDA no. 433/2563 on “Progress concerning the exploration and design and the implementation of the two-lane road project connecting the Special Economic Zone and the Thailand-Myanmar Border, Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 14 August 220


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