The salty, humid breeze off the Andaman Sea soughs through the sparse pine trees on the edge of the shore and rolls as far as the clumps of areca palm farms along the ridgeline. The early May sun is high in the cloudless sky, and the waves are placid and slow.
Kabyar Wa, arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in Myanmar, just 25 kilometres from Ye in southern Mon State, is untouched by any hint of development. For its 13km (8-mile) length it boasts almost 100 metres of golden sand at low tide, but there are no hotels, no guesthouses. Restaurants housed in small bamboo huts lay out rickety plastic tables and chairs, for the two months a year that they are open.
There is no public transport.
There are the first signs of investment, though: bamboo fences marking out plots on either side of the ochre road leading to the beach.
The residents of Kabyar Wa village, about 400 households, subsist on fishing and farming on the hillside. Almost all the young people go across the border to Thailand as undocumented immigrant workers.
“Things are starting to change,” said U Aung San, the village chief. It started in 2012, when the government and the local armed group, the New Mon State Party, signed a ceasefire accord.
Now a developer wants to build a US$12 million beach resort. Yangon-based Myanmar Aurum managing director U Htay Thwin told The Myanmar Times the company already had permission from the state government to develop nearly 20 hectares (50 acres) of virgin land at the beach.
“We will start working on infrastructure later this year,” he said. The implementation of zones 1 and 2 will be complete within two years, he said. The company has plans for four zones located by the four villages along the 13 km of beach.
Local and international tourists are showing interest, just as land prices rise. Ko Aung Yin Oo, 47, a resident of Ka Nyar Wa village, said the price of a typical 2400-square-foot plot in the area had risen tenfold, from K300,000 to K3 million.
The residents hope the project will bring economic development to the region and improve its infrastructure.
But critics point to the example of Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha beaches in Ayeyarwady Region, where the former military government grabbed land from the residents, paying low compensation and handing out jobs and contracts to the generals’ cronies.
Economist U Hla Maung said big projects must be conducted in a transparent manner, and particularly that their finances and relations with the government and major contractors are known. Such projects should favour local residents when it comes to job opportunities, he said.
“It’s important to avoid a situation where cronies are sharing out the spoils thanks to their monopoly,” he said.
U Kyaw Thu, a program specialist with UN-HABITAT, said consultation with local groups was important because the government still lacks the capacity to properly implement the findings of environmental and social impact assessments.
“The final decision has been made by the regional government but for such a large project they should work together with civil society and INGOs who are experts on environmental and social impact analysis,” he said.
Some Ye residents have accused senior state government officials of having shares in Aurum.
“If you don’t have close relations with government officials, it’s impossible to do business in Ye,” said one environmental and political activist from the town.
U Htay Thwin of Aurum refused to disclose names of shareholders, but said the Mon State chief minister, U Ohn Myint, was not involved.
“I got permission from the government because I’ve been involved [in this project] for a very long time, and I’m from Ye,” he said.
He said he had promised local residents that he would launch a regional development program on the 20 hectares of land for which he has received government permission. At an estimated cost of K1 billion, he will construction school buildings, a hospital, healthcare centres, a fire brigade, a research centre, better roads and a crematorium.
Saw Myat Sandar Win Maw, 33, the owner of a seafood restaurant near the beach, said she welcomed the prospect of more visitors to the beach.
“We can’t afford to improve our region, but the company could do it, I think,” she said.
Resident U Thaung Win, 55, a fisherman, said he had bought a plot in the village 18 years ago for a very low price.
“But I never had any documents,” he said. “I’d better check my ownership status.”
Source: Myanmar Times