Expert urges new environmental laws

Burma’s government must enact laws to protect the country’s environment as increased foreign investment threatens to overshadow other pressing priorities, a government advisor has warned.

U Ohn, who was recently included in the new Environment and Economic Research Department (EERD), highlighted the recent promulgation of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) law as potentially destructive, given that no environmental regulations have been created to regulate development in these zones.

“I’m afraid I have to do some criticising,” said U Ohn, who is also deputy-chairperson of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association (FREDA).

Drafts for an environmental law, bio-safety law, copyright law and intellectual property rights law had been written ahead of the law governing the creation of an SEZ but were yet to be approved.

He said that references made in President Thein Sein’s first speech last month to amending weak laws regarding environmental protection were “very good”, but that words needed to be translated into action.

“The intention is good – [the new government] wishes to make things better, but the methods used to carry this out may vary depending on the person. We will have to wait and see to what extent they manage to carry out the work,” said U Ohn.

The creation of SEZs in Burma comes as the country looks to encourage a business-friendly environment after decades of economic stagnation.

SEZ’s have been used in regional economic giants like India and China, as well as Thailand, as a way to stimulate business in specific areas without having to alter overall legislation, and have met with varying degrees of success and controversy.

U Ohn said that despite the group’s criticism of the new government, “we can’t not cooperate with them”. He added however they he would not be pandering to the demands of Thein Sein.

The EERD is made up of 12 members, including Thein Htun (of the Htun Foundation), MCC (Myanmar Computer Company) chairman Tin Win Aung, professor Dr Aung Htun Thet, Dr Sein Myint, Yin Yin Lay and U Ohn.

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