RANGOON — Burma’s Parliament put the brakes on a controversial multi-million dollar international private hospital project on Thursday. The hospital had been approved by the previous government to be built on government-owned land in Rangoon, but it provoked a public backlash due to the project’s lack of transparency and the perception that public land was being misappropriated.
On Thursday, five out of seven lawmakers who registered to discuss the bill, and the Union minister of health, argued to scrap Parkway Yangon, a US$70 million international private hospital project being built on land owned by the Ministry of Health near Rangoon General Hospital.
Union Minister of Health Myint Htwe joined the five lawmakers to voice his opposition to the hospital project, saying, “After considering the pros and cons of the project from a professional standpoint, I support the proposal to halt [the lease of the land to a private hospital].”
The proposal was put forward by a lawmaker last week who objected to the private sector use of government-owned property as “the land should be used for the public [Rangoon General] Hospital since Rangoon residents overwhelmingly rely on public hospitals for medical care.”
Situated on a 4.3-acre plot of land at the corner of Pyay and Bogyoke Aung San roads, IHH Healthcare Berhad, through its subsidiary Parkway Healthcare Indo-China, broke ground on the 250-bed hospital in Rangoon in January. However, the project was quickly attacked by critics who said it was siphoning off government resources for private use.
Two military lawmakers offered a contrarian viewpoint. The project would “support the private sector,” they said. “And having an international hospital in the country would save money.”
But the vast majority of lawmakers were unmoved, and the motion was passed by acclamation, halting the land lease.
“As there is no objection, the Parliament has approved the measure halting [the land lease],” said Win Myint, the Lower House speaker.
In his address to Parliament, Myint Htwe said the investors first approached the Ministry of Health in September last year, and the previous administration allowed them to use the plot of land in December.
“The ministry’s decision was approved by the government in December last year,” he said. “But there was no tender.”
According to the Myanmar Investment Commission, the Parkway hospital project was jointly run by Singapore-based Parkway Pantai and Burmese investors, with 67.5 percent stake held by the foreign firm and 32.5 percent owned by local partners.
The Burmese partners reportedly include Win Aung, president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and his Dagon Group, and Aung Moe Kyaw, the chairman of International Beverages Trading Company.
Neither Parkway nor its Burmese partners were available for comment on Thursday.
The project drew criticism from medical professionals and students in the Black Ribbon Campaign for Myanmar, a movement launched last year to protest against the appointment of military officers to positions within the Ministry of Health.
Dr. Ahlinka, the leader of the movement, told The Irrawaddy that the group’s effort to gather a petition from medical professionals and the public achieved success. She said the group was able to collect nearly 2,000 signatures and submitted them to the president, the minister of health and the Union Parliament in March.
“I’m really happy because today we have witnessed the Parliament living up to its motto, ‘The Parliament’s voice is the people’s voice,’” Ahlinka said. “The land should belong to the people.”