Lawmakers Fight Concession Contracts on Public Land

By Moe Myint 17 June 2016

RANGOON — Rangoon’s divisional parliament approved a proposal designed to protect public spaces put forward on Thursday by Nay Phone Latt, a lawmaker representing Thingangyun Township.

The proposal called to end public-private partnerships between the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) and private companies that lease public lands in order to build shopping malls, recreation centers, high-rise condominiums and other development projects. The partnership businesses, which have been linked to crony companies, subcontract or develop the land and then charge entrance fees to the public.

Fifteen National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers supported the proposal and contributed additional examples of land disputes, confiscation and corruption tied to former government officials.

Lawmaker Hla Htay from Rangoon’s Minglar Taung Nyunt constituency said YCDC had given out similar concessions for years, offering cheap leases on popular public spaces like Kandawgyi Lake, Inya Lake and People’s Park.

“When I was a university student, Inya Lake was a legendary venue where people went to relax. Now it is a commercial place for businessmen,” Hla Htay said.

Lawmakers pointed out numerous other instances of the misappropriation of public lands.

Lawmaker That Htar Nwe Win of Thaketa Township said Shwe Yap Won Construction Company is trying to fill in a lake in her township to build a housing development, despite objections from locals.

Lawmaker Than Naing Oo from Pabedan Township pointed out another build-operate-transfer project between YCDC and Phoo Pwint Saing Company in Rangoon’s North Okkalapa Township, which has begun construction on a 10-acre plot of public land.

“I saw a game center there. Children were playing there during school hours,” he said, adding that he saw a sign that read, “Coming Soon Water Park,” and that a water park should not be built on a public lake.

Than Naing Oo said that North Okalappa residents and the local fire department rely on the lake during water shortages and emergencies. He added that renovating the lake as a sustainable water supply would be preferable to constructing new buildings in its place, and that in any case, the government should be transparent and release detailed information about the development project.

Lawmaker Hla Htay brought up the iconic Secretariat building in downtown Rangoon—a 19th century government complex built under the British, where independence hero Aung San was assassinated with his comrades in 1947—whose premises are currently barred to the public. Hla Htay called on the government to turn it into a public space, citing the successes of other countries in developing such resonant public sites.

Rangoon Mayor Maung Maung Soe said lawmakers presented strong evidence and that he would seek a resolution to the problem, realizing the value of public areas and public institutions. He added that some projects were already underway, and that many public areas have maintenance costs, which is why YCDC has sought private business partnerships.

“The key is not to exploit or misuse the areas for personal benefit,” Maung Maung Soe said.

Nay Phone Latt said he recognizes the difficult situation the government faces in correcting these problems, and wants to prevent the same misuse issues from happening in the future, adding that he will continue to fight for a law that protects Rangoon’s public spaces.