Fresh opposition for relaunched ‘new city’

A controversial Yangon expansion plan is again being picked apart in parliament for a lack of transparency over who will build it.

The government invited tenders in July for what was proposed as one of seven satellite cities in a temporarily suspended plan that was revamped and approved in June. More than 50 companies signalled interest in developing the 11,716-acre Southwest New City located between by the Pan Hlaing River, the Twante-Yangon Canal, the Hlaing River and the Hlaing Tharyar-Twante Road in western Yangon.

The rush of interest and number of applications purchased forced the selection committee to postpone awarding a tender until September 22.

In the meantime, the development is once again eliciting concerns over due process. On August 21, MP Daw Nyo Nyo Thin questioned why the tender committee plans to choose an application for the big-budget project without consulting any international experts. According to Yangon Region Minister for Forestry and Energy U Kyaw Soe, they don’t need to.

“We formed the tender committee in accordance with the President’s Office’s tender rules. This rule doesn’t mention needing to form the committee with international experts,” he said, referring to a directive issued by the President’s Office that sets guidelines for how tenders should be carried out.

Last September a 30,000-acre “new city” project in the same area was suspended amid concerns over lack of transparency in the tendering and planning processes. There was also confusion about how the project related to a long-term development plan for the city.

The Greater Yangon 2040 master plan and the new city project were initially seemingly unrelated development projects. The former was envisioned as an urban planning scheme responding to predictions that Yangon would double in size and need housing for 10 million people by 2040. Work on the master plan began in 2012, and in 2013 the Japanese International Cooperation Agency got involved. But in 2014, JICA rejected the Yangon mayor’s assertion that the “new city” expansion project was part of the master plan.

The US$15 billion new city project had been awarded to an unknown public company, Myanma Saytannar Myothit, but was halted amid public criticism.

Not all were opposed, however: Villagers in the area made it clear that they wanted the project to go ahead in order to spur development.

When the government unveiled its $7.4 billion 2040 master plan in June, the “new city” was back on the agenda, re-emerging as one of seven slated satellite cities, though the size was drastically reduced, from 30,000 acres to just under 12,000.

Under the master plan, which was shortly afterward approved by parliament, the Southwest New City was slated as the second area to be developed, after a $442 million North East project between Thilawa special economic zone and Hantharwaddy Airport. But now the government appears to be reversing its first and second priorities.

Minister U Kyaw Soe said it was simply responding to public demand.

“The people who live in the [Southwest New City] project area protested to have the project implemented immediately. So we should respect the people’s desire,” he said.

But some MPs are upset that the government had not been more upfront about the change, and raised questions about the constitutionality of such a move.

Even some representatives from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which enjoys a large majority in the parliament, are upset.

“The government violated section 251 of the constitution because they didn’t inform the parliament and get approval for a change to their project’s priorities,” said U Thaung Sein, MP for Dawbon township.

He added that the government should have requested the parliamentary Speaker hold a session to inform MPs about the switch.

Yangon Region Minister for Planning and Economy U Than Myint confirmed that the government had changed the development priorities in response to resident’s demands. He declined to comment on suggestions that doing so could have violated the constitution.

Daw Nyo Nyo Thin said that the regional government’s commitment to the “people’s desire” was deeply selective.

“Does the government respect the desires of the squatters in Michaungkan?” she asked, referring to residents of Thingangyun township whose land was confiscated by the military.

Source: Myanmar Times

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