Poor renovation work decried as blighting Bagan’s ancient heritage

More than 600 ancient pagodas in Bagan have been ruined by botched renovation work, an architect has claimed. U Sun Oo, a member of the Bagan Management Plan Organising Committee, laid blame for the destruction on the practice of putting out complex and sensitive repair work to tender.

Responsibility for maintaining the sacred Buddhist site’s ancient structures rests with the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library. But the system it uses, according to U Sun Oo, is wrong.

“It’s time to change the system of putting conservation work out to tender. The masons hired by the tender-winning companies do not have the required skills. There are not enough masons qualified to do preservation work on valuable ancient architecture,” he said.

Renovating pagodas is not like putting up a new building within fixed deadlines and budgets. If the authorities want better restoration, they have to spend enough to hire the best technicians and architects, and to appreciate the masons as artists, he said.

“This requires funding, capacity-building and proper materials,” said U Sun Oo, who is carrying out a survey of Bagan’s architectural heritage.

He said more than 600 ancient pagodas had been damaged due to faulty renovation, many having been rebuilt from top to bottom, resulting in an artificial copy.

“These buildings have nothing of architectural value or ancient art left. Why should tourists come to see them?” he said.

Archaeology department targets call for the renovation of 54 pagodas this year. None of these have yet been put out to tender, said U Zaw Zaw Tun, director of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture.

“We continuously monitor the work, giving technical guidelines and maintaining industry procedures. But we are directly responsible for the conservation of pagodas for under K5 million [US$4220] in budget,” he said.

Starting this year, the Myanmar Tourism Federation began collecting entrance fees for the Bagan conservation zone on the basis of a five-year contract, in an agreement with the former culture minister.

“We were glad to transfer fee collections to MTF because we didn’t have the staff to work for conservation,” said U Zaw Zaw Tun.

According to the agreement between the ministry and MTF, 90 percent of the take goes back to the government, 2pc goes toward pagoda conservation and 6pc goes to the federation.

U Sun Oo said the amount devoted to pagoda renovation is too small. “This is not enough to restore lost architecture,” he said. Criticising the quality of the renovation work, he said, “They use a shovel when they should be using a paintbrush.”

The quality of the renovation work had implications for UNESCO’s consideration of Bagan’s bid to be listed as a world heritage site, said U Sun Oo. Another problem was the presence in the heritage zone of modern buildings, including hotels and golf courses.

“Actually, UNESCO never asked for these new buildings to be relocated or demolished. They are not going to meddle in our internal affairs,” he said. “What UNESCO does care about is establishing better management systems in future so that such mistakes will not occur again.”

At issue are the 42 so-called limbo hotels whose owners complain that changes in the law have left them unable to make a living.

“In fact, there are more than 100 hotels already operating. UNESCO is concerned with how the law will protect the zone in future. The last government issued various directives at different times, even after the construction of authorised hotels had begun, which has impacted on the businesses concerned,” he said.

“The current government is clear on that point: If the law has to change, they will change it. They will take action against people who break the law, but will not connive at law-breaking by their connections, like the former government,” U Sun Oo said.

In 2015, 247,140 tourists visited Bagan. As of April, the number of visitors in 2016 so far is more than 110,000, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

 

Source: Myanmar Times

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