RANGOON — The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is paying as much as US$90,000 per month to a former Burmese military general to rent its Rangoon office, sources familiar with the arrangement told The Irrawaddy.
The relief agency last year moved into a large compound in a swanky neighborhood of Burma’s former capital, where rents charged by the area’s well-connected land owners have skyrocketed in recent years. A real estate expert said the rental price paid by the agency was in line with the property market in the area.
Unicef Myanmar did not responded to The Irrawaddy’s requests for comment.
Unicef moved from downtown Rangoon’s Traders Hotel (now renamed Sule Shangri-La) in October 2013 to an office on Inya Myaing Road, in the leafy area of Bahan Township known as Golden Valley. The area is one of Rangoon’s most expensive, and the organization that provides humanitarian assistance to children and mothers in developing countries now counts among its neighbors crony businessmen and military officials.
According to two people close to the agency’s operations in Burma, Unicef’s property itself is rented from former Gen. Nyunt Tin, minister for agriculture and irrigations under the former military regime and a former intelligence officer with close links to former Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
“Unicef’s office is rented from former General Nyunt Tin, who owns the land in Bahan Township,” one of the people said. “I don’t know the exact size of this estate, but it may be at least one-and-a-half acres, so renting fees will be more than in other areas.”
Both sources, who asked not to be identified, said the monthly rental cost of Unicef’s Bahan Township office was between $80,000 and $90,000.
Unicef’s spacious new base in Rangoon appears to have raised eyebrows overseas. According to parliamentary records in Britain—which through its Department for International Development (DFID) is a major donor to Unicef—the subject was raised by opposition peer Susan Nye in a written question to the UK government.
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether UNICEF in Burma is renting office space from former General Nyunt Tin; if so, at what annual cost; and whether they have had any discussions with UNICEF regarding the decision to rent those offices,” asked Nye, a board member at the Burma Campaign UK.
The response from British government spokeswoman Lindsay Northover said, “DFID is not responsible for UNICEF’s choice of office space or its cost. We have not had discussions with UNICEF regarding its choice of office space.”
Zaw Zaw, manager of Unity real estate agency, said that the price of $80,000-$90,000 would be about right for the property, a large compound that includes a number of buildings. He also confirmed that the property was known to be owned by Nyunt Tin.
“At the market rate, this real estate [Nyunt Tin’s house] is valued around $27 million,” Zaw Zaw said.
Unicef was a among a number of other UN agencies that moved out of Traders Hotel last year as the hotel raised its prices. Although increasingly costly, villas and office space in areas like Bahan Township are generally better value than in downtown Rangoon. Other parts of the city offer cheaper rental rates, however.
“UN offices, international NGO offices and businesses are moving to land areas from office towers and hotels in the downtown area because renting rates have hugely increased in the past three years,” Zaw Zaw said.