Yangon’s struggling industrial zones need support: interview

Yangon’s industrial zones have been left largely to fend for themselves while the government focuses instead on trophy projects such as a new special economic zone at Thilawa, says U Myat Thin Aung, chair of Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone.

Almost all the infrastructure that keeps factories functioning, including electricity, roads and sewers, is provided by private owners, not the regional government or Yangon City Development Committee, he said.

“We can’t compete with Thilawa and local industrial zones have suffered as a result of this.”

Since they were introduced in 1996, industrial zones on the outskirts of Yangon – including the city’s largest at Hlaing Tharyar – have been beset with problems including controversies over land grabbing.

Owners have struggled to turn plots held by speculators to industrial use, and the number of people building makeshift houses on the vacant land around the factories is rising quickly.

In a November 19 interview with The Myanmar Times, U Myat Thin Aung said, “It takes a great deal to run an industrial zone. For a start, you need a fence, to keep out trespassers. There is no fence.”

There are 28 industrial zones in Yangon Region. Of these, Hlaing Tharyar is the most popular among displaced people, he said, with the number of temporary houses rising from 1000 in 2012 to nearly 10,000 now, reducing the space available for new factories.

“We built the roads and dug the drains. We provide the power and light from our own transformers, and put up the street lighting. We provide the funding for any improvement required. We are very much left on our own.”

Around 250,000 to 300,000 people work in the zone’s 700 factories, he said, adding that this number could rise substantially if the government provided more support.

Factories are certainly opening in Myanmar, with the Myanmar Investment Commission’s bi-monthly approvals list dominated by the manufacturing sector.

Nevertheless, much industrial land around the edges of Yangon remains empty.

Since the year 2000, the construction ministry has been providing grants to applicants on condition they use them to build factories. However, many took the money and chose instead to speculate on the value of the land, as the price per acre rose from K400 million to K6.5 billion.

Almost 1000 plots set aside in Yangon Region as industrial land remain empty, despite persistent warnings from the government that it will resume ownership of the land if grant recipients fail to set up factories.

U Htay Aung Moe, who owns the HWT sewing factory in Shwe Pauk Kan industrial zone, North Okkalapa township, said, “The management committee of each zone has drawn up its own plans to provide infrastructure, and the factory owners have to pay monthly contributions for upkeep.”

In the future, U Myat Thin Aung hopes to develop his industrial zone – which is home to the factories of multi-national giants including Coca-Cola and British American Tobacco – with support from the Union government or local authorities. “I’d like Hlaing Tharyar to be developed in the style of Thilawa, where the infrastructure is fully developed, allowing international companies to move in immediately,” he said.

“I’d like to give the message to the new government that local industrial zones have suffered, and we need more support, which will lead to more job creation.”

U Khin Mg Tint of YCDC said the local authority is trying to come up with a solution to remove squatters from the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone.

“We also plan to renovate the roads and the bridges in the rest of the township,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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