Private Investors Invited to Bankroll Mrauk-U Airport Project

By Moe Myint 15 February 2017

RANGOON — The Arakan State government has invited private developers to speed up the construction of a new airport at the ancient city of Mrauk-U in northern Arakan State, according to a regional minister.

A local construction company, Su Htoo San, began to lay foundations on the project site in 2015. However, the state government planned to spend only 2 billion kyats (US$1.5 million) per year for the project, and the publicly-funded airport would have taken 13 years to complete at that pace.

In 2016, the Union government cut funding for the Mrauk-U airport to spend money elsewhere and the Arakan State government was unable to step in—construction was suspended.

The state government hopes that private investment will speed up construction and plans to offer a deal to private investors under a build-operate-transfer agreement, according to U Aung Kyaw Zan, the regional transport minister.

“We are now calling on international and local companies to invest and to continue the project,” the regional minister said.

The Arakan State government estimated the finished project would cost 26 billion kyats ($18.9 million), according to U Aung Kyaw Zan.

The airport compound is located to the south of Mrauk-U, outside of protected cultural heritage zones but close to the famous Koe Thaung temple with its 90,000 Buddha images. The previous government paid compensation to local farmers who gave up their land for airport construction.

With support from private investors, the government expects to finish airport construction in three to five years. However, not all of the project plans and proposals have been received yet, and the government will need time to complete negotiations with successful bidders, said U Aung Kyaw Zan.

The Mrauk-U airport will make it easier for international tourists to visit the ancient city and encourage private sector development.

Local residents are in favor of the airport because they expect more tourists to visit, and they expect opportunities to earn money through local small businesses, said Daw Khin Than, the founder of Mrauk-U Heritage Trust.

She believes that many foreign tourists travel to the famous sites at Ngapali and Bagan, but they skip Mrauk-U because it is difficult to travel there. Currently, tourists can only travel to Mrauk-U if they fly or take a bus to Sittwe first, and then they must continue to Mrauk-U by bus or boat.

“If the airfield is constructed in Mrauk-U, then tourists will be able to reach Mrauk-U in an hour [from Rangoon]. They will save time as well as money,” said Daw Khin Than.