White elephant, visionary development or dodgy business deal? The Yangon Region government’s proposal for a massive city expansion project with a mysterious public company linked to Chinese interests has sparked intense debate, with pressure growing on the authorities to disclose further details of their plan.
The expansion project covers 30,000 acres to the west of the city’s current boundaries between the Pan Hlaing River, Twante Canal and Hlaing River, including sections of Twante, Kyeemyindaing and Seik Gyi Kha Naung To townships.
Yangon Mayor U Hla Myint revealed details of the project to the Yangon Region Hluttaw on August 22, telling MPs that public company Myanma Saytannar Myothit had been awarded the contract to develop the project, adding that 70 percent of the project would be completed within three years.
According to the mayor, government will receive 20,000 low-cost homes, an orphanage, home for the aged and six toll-free bridges, each comprising six lanes. Existing residents would be taken care of, he said.
MPs said they were “shocked” at the revelation and pushed for further information, including how many people would likely be displaced and questioned how the regional government had made the decision to sign a contract with a very new company on such a large project. The mayor responded that information about the project was restricted “to reduce unnecessary risk” and refused to reveal further details.
Even the representative for Twante said he had no idea about the plan.
“It was a terrible surprise,” said U Thein Zaw Myint, who represents the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
“We only knew about it when the mayor read the message in parliament.”
He said the project area encompasses 15 villages in Twante township and he was determined to find out if residents would be affected. “I’m going to ask questions in parliament about what they have planned for the villages in my constituency.”
While schedule two of the 2008 constitution allows region and state governments to undertake development projects, MPs said the scale and cost of the proposed city expansion meant it should also require Pyidaungsu Hluttaw approval, particularly to head off potential land disputes.
Region hluttaw MP Daw Nyo Nyo Thin questioned why the government was being so secretive and said it should be forced to provide more detail on the project. “I can’t understand why [the mayor] has not allowed this project to be discussed [in parliament],” she said. “I think the government has many secrets to hide concerning this project. For example, we don’t even know how they chose the company.”
According to the Myanmar Investment Commission, Myanma Saytannar Myothit was registered at the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development as a public company in December 2013.
Its registered address is between U Shwe Pin and Myat Eain Yar Street at No 3 Shwe Pyi Thar Industrial Zone but media reports said it has no presence at the site.
Construction industry sources said it is run by two Chinese businessmen, Xiao Pun and Xiao San. Both have close relations with former top military officials, including current Yangon Region Chief Minister U Myint Swe.
The nationality of the men has prompted speculation that the funding for the project will come from Chinese companies.
Myanma Saytannar Myothit has already completed a number of deals with the regional government, including several businesses in People’s Park and a car parking business on state land beside Shin Saw Phu Road.
The company’s managing director, U Thet Oo, refused to comment when contacted last week by Irrawaddy.
The scale of the project has also come under fire from some in the property development sector, who said it risked becoming a white elephant.
U Ko Ko Htwe, owner of Taw Win Family Construction, said apartment-based developments could yield 100 dwellings per acre, meaning the site would be large enough to provide homes for more than 10 million people.
“If five people stay in one household, it could have up to 15 million people. That’s almost three times the population of Yangon now. Who will live in all of these places?” he said. “We should consider whether the project is really needed for development of our local people.”
He also questioned why the Yangon Region government had not called a tender for the project, describing it as inconsistent with the president’s “good governance and clean government” policy.
U Win Myint, the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Hlaing and a member of the Pyithu Hluttaw Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues, said it was unclear whether the regional government would be legally obligated to seek parliamentary permission for the project.
“It’s difficult to say because I don’t know the exact details about the project,” he said. “But if it is a big project, they should explain to parliament and public transparently how will they implement it,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut declined to comment on whether the decision to award the contract to Myanma Saytannar Myothit may have breached President U Thein Sein’s rules for government tenders, which were introduced in 2013.
“It would be better to ask to [the Yangon Region government] because the  constitution gives authority [for development projects] to the regional government,” he said.
Source: MYANMAR TIMES