Zaykabar chair: Suu Kyi is ‘like a sister’

Real estate tycoon U Khin Shwe discusses his close friendship with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, land confiscations associated with his company Zaykabar and his reputation as a crony of the former military regime, in an interview with The Myanmar Times.

I understand that you have a close relationship with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. How has this friendship developed?

We’re like brother and sister. Before the election she kept asking me to take a position in her government, in a friendly way, and I kept refusing. In fact, I will criticise the government if I have to. I just want to be an MP and look after my business. [U Khin Shwe was formerly an MP for the Union Solidarity and Development Party but lost his seat in the 2015 election].

She told me we have to build the character and morale of the people to what it was before 1962. I think we have to build it back up to what it was in 2010. As far as I’m concerned, that’s when things started to go downhill. She disagrees. So, we tease each other.

Why did you urge her to run in the first place? You’re a USDP member.

Everybody wanted change. Things have got so bad these past five years, including our international image. Besides, she’s 70 years old and if she didn’t get elected this time around she can’t wait another five years. We’d have had to stay under the military government for all that time.

Nobody else can make the changes that have to be made, only her. So I told her to run for the Pyithu Hluttaw, and I would run for the Amyotha Hluttaw.

Why has the squatter problem become so bad?

The government spent K200 billion a month to build Nay Pyi Taw, much of it on construction workers. The problems started when they finished the job and came back to Yangon, at the time when there was no work for them. Many of them settled in Hlaing Tharyar township.

It was not a good time for entrepreneurs to set up new businesses to employ the workers, either. I was working on a major project called Pyay Garden though a joint venture with the government, but the government wouldn’t let me borrow from the banks because they said it would be inflationary.

When will the United States lift sanctions?

The partial lifting is just a test, to see if the changes that have taken place are irreversible and will continue after March 31. The US will lift sanctions after they see the political prisoners and the students released. The outgoing government was on the right path until 2012, but then it started to wobble, and the economy ran into trouble. In 1988, people couldn’t vote the government out of power, but in 2015 they could, and did.

Is it true that Zaykabar confiscated land?

No. We built houses on land owned by the Department of Human Settlements and Housing Development, and sold the houses.

The farmers occupied the land. U Nay Myo Wai [of the Peace and Diversity Party] accused us of land-grabbing and led the occupation by the squatters, until the landowners paid him K10 million an acre to remove the tents. He made about K400 million. We told him we would prosecute if he did that again.

We prosecuted Thuriya Nay Wun Moe Hein for making a similar accusation, claiming K7 billion in damages. I blame the weakness of the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs for letting the squatters sit on the land we were building on.

What do you say about the complaints of the auditor general that Zaykabar received leases at extremely low rates for land around Kandawgyi Lake?

You’re referring to that fact that Zaykabar received a lease for 25 acres of land around Kandawgyi Lake for K30 million a year.

Auditors are very good at auditing, but they don’t know much about the economy, and maybe some hluttaw members don’t either. This lease dates back to 2003. Tourism and the economy are booming now. But who came to this country at that time? Nobody.

[Yangon Mayor U Hla Myint later stated that the Zaykabar contract had been renegotiated in October, with the rent doubling to K60 million a year.]

What should the new government do about the economy?

We have to move away from just producing and exporting primary agricultural products and industrialise. It will take time to build the necessary quality. Remember when a Japanese-made golf club cost US$1000, and China would produce one for $10.

We also have to develop human resources, like Singapore. It’s hard even to find a good secretary.

What about the cronies?

There are three or four people who got very rich. I won’t name them.

Which sectors will do well over the next five years?

I think tourism, if the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism develops the sector properly, by advertising and improving human resources. They say there were more than 4 million tourists, but only about 1 million came via Yangon airport. The others came across the border.

President U Thein Sein developed tourism, but most foreigners came because of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

It’s better than it used to be. A few years ago, even people in Singapore didn’t know where Myanmar was.

 

Source: Myanmar Times

 

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