NLD set to review ‘new city’ project

Within days of coming into office, Yangon Region’s new National League for Democracy-led government has started to flex its muscles over the proposed Southwest New City project.

The regional administration has asked developers involved in the project to submitted detailed plans, while the NLD-dominated parliament has warned that it will be reviewed before it is allowed to proceed.

In January, the outgoing Union Solidarity and Development Party regional government awarded the tender for the development of the site jointly to three companies: Yangon South West Region Development Public Company, Business Capital City Development and Shwe Popa Construction, a subsidiary of Shwe Than Lwin.

The process was initiated in 2014, when the regional government awarded the development rights for a 30,000-acre tract west of downtown to a formerly unknown public company linked to Chinese interests.

After much public outrage, then Chief Minister U Myint Swe was forced into an embarrassing backdown, and the regional government withdrew the contract and held a tender for a scaled-down version of the project.

While 54 companies expressed interest in the tender, only three companies submitted bids, all of which were accepted.

The developers at once announced plans to build bridges to connect the 11,716-acre site with downtown Yangon and neighbouring Hlaing Tharyar township, including compensation payments to be made to local residents whose homes or businesses had to be relocated.

Now the new government, which took office on April 1, has called in the three developers to submit detailed plans, said U Khin Maung Thant, secretary of Yangon South West Region Development Organisation, which was formed by Yangon South West Region Development Public Company and “project supporters”.

“The new government has asked us for details of the project, including compensation, but we are not required to seek new permission,” he told The Myanmar Times on April 4.

U Khin Maung Thant said the three companies planned to combine into one public company before submitting their plans to parliament and the government. He added that the government could not cancel or suspend the Southwest New City project, because it had been approved by the previous government.

However, this is disputed by the NLD. Daw Sandar Min, chair of the Yangon Region Hluttaw Finance, Planning and Economic Committee, said the new parliament could indeed cancel the project if they found that it would not benefit residents.

“The parliament and the government will reconsider the matter. The project’s future will depend on us, not on the previous government,” she said, adding that the Yangon Region chief minister had already suspended the order to confiscate land required for the project because the responsibility for compensation was unclear.

The Yangon parliament has already recommended the suspension of several other controversial projects, including a 250-bed hospital, which is to be built by Malaysian firm IHH Healthcare together with Myanmar partners.

A decision to cancel or revise the outcome of the Southwest New City tender will be made easier by the fact work has not begun. In the final days of the outgoing government, the three companies said they would begin the project by building a bridge across the Hlaing River to link the new development to the city’s downtown area. However, while a groundbreaking ceremony has been held, construction work, which is expected to take 18 months, has not yet started.

Southwest New City is one of seven sites proposed for a long-term expansion of Yangon over the next few decades, but the only one for which a tender has been called.

Even that has come at the cost of long-standing controversy and opacity, including speculation that has sharply driven up land prices. As recently as late March, some of the owners of homes and businesses set to be displaced by the proposed new bridge were demanding hundreds of millions of kyat in compensation.

 

Source: Myanmar Times
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