The Irrawaddy

Businessmen Want $250,000 Back for Tollgate Bids

Bidders of tollgates hold a press conference in Pathein, Irrawaddy Division, on April 4, 2016. (Photo: Salai Thant Zin / The Irrawaddy)

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — Irrawaddy Division businessmen have asked for the return of more than US$250,000, which they paid to bid for tollgate operating licenses, after the Ministry of Construction closed 22 tollgates in the division earlier this month.

The Construction Ministry closed 161 of its 302 official tollgates across Burma as of April 1.

“We welcome the government’s plan not to charge tolls anymore, as it saves people money,” said Win Lin Htet, who won a government tender to operate one of these recently closed tollgates. “But, we want the money back that we paid to bid for toll collection.”

In the past, the Ministry of Construction set a base price for tollgates and then let private businessmen bid for the tender. Later, as this attracted large numbers of businessmen, the ministry changed its system, issuing the one-year tollgate licenses through a lottery system.

To enter the lottery, applicants had to pay 10 percent of the base price of the tollgate as a deposit, plus about $80 for tollgates that had base prices below $25,000; $160 for those with base prices between $25,000-50,000; and $240 for those with base prices above $50,000; as an expression of interest.

There were 22 tollgates in the Irrawaddy Division with base prices below US$25,000, and five tollgates with base prices above that amount. Businessmen hired dozens of people to enter the lottery on their behalf, to increase their chances of winning. Each tollgate had between 150-300 bidders.

All 22 tollgates with base prices below US$25,000 in the Irrawaddy Division were closed on April 1. Almost 3,000 people bid for these tollgates, and paid over US$270,000 to the government through the Construction and Housing Development Bank.

“We spent [almost US$30,000] to win the tender for three bridges,” said businessman Soe Soe from Myaungmya.

But with those tolls now closed, he said he wants that money to be returned.

Irrawaddy Division Ministry of Construction officer Aung Myo Htut said 75 percent of the payments had been put into the division’s development fund, and the remaining 25 percent went into the Union-level budget. He added that the Union-level construction minister would decide whether to return the money or not.

Construction Minister Win Khaing was scheduled to meet the recently appointed state and divisional construction ministers in Naypyidaw on Tuesday.