Karen State, Hpa An – Karen State Chief Minister Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint confirmed that the Border Guard Force, led by Col Saw Chit Thu, had proposed a large city expansion project for the Kaukoo Myaing region of Myawaddy Township.
She said the state government had recently approved an initial project phase on 60 acres of land. The investment is backed by a Chinese state-owned company, Jilin Yati Co.
The Jilin Yatai group, founded in 1993, is a supplier of construction materials and has interests in coal mining, real estate, trade and tourism as well as financial investments. The company was ranked No.329 in “China’s Top 500 Enterprises” in 2016, according to Yatai’s own website.
During an interview with The Irrawaddy at her office, the chief minister was unable to verify estimates of the size of the project or the related company names as it has received limited information about the project from the BGF.
“Actually, establishing a city expansion project can only be authorized by the state government. To become a city it needs to develop systematically but Bo Chit Thu (the BGF leader) was very keen to start quickly, so we gave them the green light to begin on 60 acres of land.”
A few days ago, in response to Chinese news reports, some online commentators claimed the project would cover 1300 acres of land and involve a total investment of USD1.5 billion. Moreover, they claimed the real goal of the project was to develop a large casino business in the remote area.
The chief minister said she was aware of the reports. “To be honest, they are very close to a neighboring country (Thailand) and have acknowledged an interest in such businesses. Sometimes we try to make them (BGF) aware that this kind of business would not have a positive impact on the public. We will try our best to control that (development of an illegal casino),” Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint said.
Although permission for the project has been granted by the state government, it would violate the Myanmar Investment Law (MIC) if the investment really was $1,5 billion, as state and regional governments are permitted to issue approvals for investments worth up to only $5 million, while larger projects require the approval of the union government.
It’s unclear whether Jilin Yatai has applied to the union government for investment approval in compliance with the MIC law.
Saw Min Min Oo, a BGF official, explained that the project was still in its initial stage, with only some storage and staff buildings having been erected. However, the armed organization is still preparing to submit a proposal to the Ministry Investment Commission in order to implement the full development plan.
According to Saw Min Min Oo, Myanmar Yatai Company will invest 100 percent of the capital and the BGF will provide 1,000-2,000 acres of land for the construction of luxury housing, condominiums, a hotel and a golf resort. But details of the plan have not been released yet. The Irrawaddy could not independently verify whether Myanmar Yatai is a local branch of Jilin Yatai.
“They (the company) encouraged us to put a casino business in the project during a meeting. We haven’t yet reached an agreement on that. As you know, such a business is illegal in Myanmar,” Saw Min Min Oo said.
The BGF official admitted about four to five casinos were already operating in the suburbs of Myawaddy under the protection of his organization.
Nan Khin Htwe Myint said there was little her office could do to enforce the law. “We have only a small police force. Without the help of the army we can’t control it at all,” she said, adding that her office was negotiating with army officials to get help.