The Irrawaddy

Architects, Experts Slam Draft Law for Yangon City Development

YANGON—A new draft law governing the development of Yangon has been condemned by architects and urban planners, who say it lacks a long-term vision for Myanmar’s biggest city, as well as safeguards against conflicts of interest involving members of the city’s development authority.

Yangon government-appointed experts and the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), the municipal body, drafted the new YCDC Law following a request by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in late 2016. The law was intended to replace the existing 1922 City of Rangoon Municipal Act and to supplement the 2013 YCDC Law.

The YCDC is led by the mayor, who reports to Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein. The committee comprises 9 members: the mayor, along with four government-appointed and four elected committee members. Since the National League for Democracy-led government came to power, however, no election has been held to select new committee members. For many years, the municipal body has been notorious for alleged corruption and failing to rein in unruly urbanization projects that have had negative consequences on the city’s 5.2 million people due to a lack of systematic urban planning controls.

The draft was sent back to the Yangon Region Government in early December with remarks from a 31-member review committee, according to U Thein Myint, the secretary of the committee. The draft has not been made public yet.

Daw Nilar Kyaw, the Yangon Minister for Electricity, Industry, Roads and Communication, said the draft would be distributed to lawmakers in the Yangon Regional Parliament for discussion at the end of this month.

However, the contents of the draft drew criticism from professionals at a panel discussion held as part of the Architects Fair hosted by the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA) in Yangon on Sunday.

“We are not pleased with the draft,” U Sun Oo, the president of the association, told the audience at the “Our Vision of Yangon City” discussion, adding that he had hoped for a better one.

One of the panelists, Daw Hla Su Myat, said: “Frankly, I am not happy with the draft.”

The architect said the new draft had weak provisions for managing urban projects in the city, while measures to prevent conflicts of interest involving YCDC members were nonexistent. Daw Hla Su Myat refused to discuss details of the draft, however, as it remains a “restricted” document.

“I want the new draft to offer a clear vision of what we want Yangon to be,” said the executive member of the AMA, who is also  a Myanmar Architect Council’s representative on the draft review committee.

The Draft’s Provisions

The Irrawaddy managed to obtain a copy of the draft for review. It comprises 30 chapters. Unlike the 2013 law, the new one contains a separate chapter on YCDC committee member elections. However, none of this chapter’s 10 articles expressly prohibits an elected member from engaging in a conflict of interest, opening an opportunity for anyone in a high position to abuse their power for their own interests.

“We want the restrictions included in the draft. Even the 1922 Act includes provisions to prevent [conflict of interest],” said Daw Hla Su Myat.

Questions were also raised about Article 27, which authorizes the YCDC to form seven authorities with responsibility for Urban Planning; Building Regulations; Roads and Bridges; and Water Supply and Use, among others. The article dictates that each authority should comprise five members, overseen by a committee member, with participation from external experts and a department head. This article too fails to include any restrictions preventing conflicts of interest such as, for example, builders and other cronies of officials influencing the decisions of the authorities after being brought on board as “external experts”.

Another controversial issue was the formation of YCDC-run business parties responsible for construction, the service industry, recreation and others, a policy that is seen as squeezing out other parties seeking to do business in those sectors.

Lack of Public Consultation

While it would potentially impact the lives of Yangon’s 5.2 million residents, the YCDC draft fails to take public opinion into consideration, said U Maw Lin, vice chairman of the AMA.

“It has to be open to public participation. The public has to be aware of what should be or should not be in the law. If necessary, the government should accommodate the public’s views. They should have a say in [the development of] their city. What is happening now is very different,” he said.

U Sun Oo said the draft should be based on a long-term vision for the city and include input from all stakeholders.

“First, you have to keep in mind what kind of city—commercial or administrative, for example—you want, and the law has to support that vision,” the AMA president said.

Daw Hla Su Myat recalled a meeting in June with experts from Singapore, who were invited to provide input in the drafting of the law.

“They said they would be able to make suggestions upon learning details of our vision for the city. But a YCDC representative replied they wanted to reform the law, form authorities and do business,” she said.

As a review committee member, she said, the AMA’s representative had submitted recommendations for the draft but was not sure if they would appear in the final draft.

When asked the reason for the document being restricted, the architect said she had the same question: “Why?”

“We voted overwhelmingly for this government. It should be transparent and consider public opinion when drafting a law like this one, to make it perfect,” she added.

U Thein Myint, the secretary of the review committee, told The Irrawaddy that the committee had included its remarks in the amendments. However, the official refused to reveal what those recommendations were.

“It’s up to the government if they make any changes or not.”

Yangon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.