Mon State gov’t accused of extortion as villagers forced to forego compensation for land sold to Southern Myanmar Development Co. Ltd

May 23, 2019

HURFOM: Plantation owners from Aung Tha Pyay and Hnit Kayin villages, from whom the government purchased land to construct the soon to be completed Ye-Thanbyuzayat road, are accusing the Mon State government of extortion after the government withheld 20 percent of the compensation owed to each landowner. Villagers were to be compensated 10 million kyat (USD $6,519.22) for every acre of land they sold, but intimidation and threats of land confiscation have forced them to surrender one-fifth of their expected compensation to the government.

Construction of the road was a joint project between the government and the Southern Myanmar Development Company. The government can use the state budget to pay the company…There’s no reason why we should have to contribute. Now we, the poor, have to pay for the road. We want full compensation for our land. Contributing to the project should be our decision to make, but they just take 20 percent of what we’re owed without our consent. We also don’t know what’s being done with the money they’ve kept,” said a woman from Thanbyuzayat Township.

In addition to the 20 percent withheld by the government, the Road Construction Committee, a group of prominent village members responsible for mediating between the government and the landowners, collected 10,000 kyat (US $6.52) from each landowner when distributing the payments.

I think the money should only be taken after getting the approval of the landowners. Personally, I didn’t want to give any of my money to the project. A minister told me that by refusing to comply, we delayed construction of the road, and that other plantation owners had planned to protest our decision. Because of this, we had to sign an agreement to give over 20 percent of what we were owed even though we didn’t want to. They should have negotiated with us. We feel threatened. It’s not right that others get to decide what to do with our money. It shouldn’t be like this,” said U B—, a plantation owner from Thanbyuzayat Township.

The plantation owners had initially requested 20 million kyat (US $13,044.25) for each acre of land, but after negotiations between the government and the Road Construction Committee, the owners agreed to accept 10 million kyat per acre.

After we agreed to accept 10 million kyat per acre, the government told us to contribute 20 percent of the compensation we received towards the project. Some landowners agreed, but others didn’t.  The government officials then said that if our lands happen to be seized after the road is completed, they wouldn’t be able to help us. After hearing that, many of us were afraid of losing our land, so we signed the agreement,” said Nai K—, another plantation owner from Thanbyuzayat Township.

According to Nai Kyaw Than, a member of the Road Construction Committee, only when a consensus was reached to contribute 20 percent of their expected compensation to the project did the plantation owners sign the agreement.

It was an open and transparent process. We were not looking to cheat the landowners. We don’t know why the government wanted to retain 20 percent of the money that was owed, but we had to proceed with the project,” said Nai Kyaw Than.

With permission from the Mon State government, the Ye-Thanbyuzayat road is being built by the Southern Myanmar Development Co. Ltd (SMD), the company also responsible for providing electricity to residents of Mon State’s Ye Township. Government officials say the road is needed to further support the development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone.

Addressing the Mon State parliament, U Min Kyaw Lwin, the Mon State Minister of Municipal Affairs and Construction, expressed his disfavor with the process by which SMD was awarded the construction contract, pointing out that SMD was granted one billion kyat (US $651,885.95) to construct the road without the government first requesting tenders, as is procedure. Putting the scale of the sum given to SMD in perspective, the minister also noted that the Mon State government had requested only $757 million kyat (US $492,711.63) for all construction projects in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

As previously reported by HURFOM, fears of land confiscation and concern over unfair compensation related to the project first emerged in November 2018 when construction on the road began. Prior to this, residents of Ye Township who receive their electricity from SMD protested the company for introducing fees and price increases that breached SMD’s service contract.

To ensure rule of law, the corruption and the misappropriation of funds identified by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Construction ought to be investigated, but equally as important is redress for villagers who have been, and continue to be intimidated, threatened, and exploited by both the government and the Southern Myanmar Development Co. Ltd.

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