Questions Raised Over Land Ownership and Development in Ngapali Mangroves

By Moe Myint 8 March 2017

RANGOON – Arakan State parliamentarian U Naing Kyway Aye told The Irrawaddy that the Rangoon-based owner of a local Thandwe hotel purchased land with the intent to develop it without permission from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

The National League for Democracy regional MP said that Daw Mar Mar Khin, the owner of the Pleasant View Hotel, in recent months bought 50 acres of land covered in mangrove palm trees from local villagers, at five lakhs per acre (US$368)—well below the market rate.

Pleasant View Resort’s manager Ko Than Htike Aung confirmed that his boss is implementing a new project but that it is not being officially launched as a hotel resort. He denied accusations that the resort was cutting down mangrove palms to carry out construction work and claimed that the land had been purchased after being officially registered in the regional land department.

“Recently, we just developed a road to link with the village,” he added.

The area in question is located near Mayut Kalay village in Thandwe, southern Arakan State. Along the Ngapali coastline, developers need to obtain permission for the construction of new structures from local authorities and the Union ministry of hotels and tourism in Naypyidaw directly handles hotel business permits.

“As far as I know that place is vacant land. But the villagers indiscriminately sold 50 acres of mangrove palm and now the hotel owner has already built four wooden huts. I think in a period of time they are going to cut down the palms there for construction,” U Naing Kyway Aye said.

Lower house lawmaker U Min Kyi of Thandwe Constituency corroborated U Naing Kyway Aye’s conclusion that the palm mangrove is believed to be on vacant—rather than registered—land, unlisted in public records. It is possible, he added, that the farmers sold it without having owned it in the first place.

Of concern, U Min Kyi also said, is environmental impact of a project in the area, as the mangroves are crucial in protecting the coastline from flooding and other damage during hurricanes. The parliamentarian said he would gather a team of environmental activists to assess the project.

Lawmaker U Naing Kyway Aye complained to the regional minister of planning and finance U Kyaw Aye Thein that the project had been under discrete construction for months, even though local Thandwe authorities had not been informed. Three ministers from the Arakan State government checked the location in February, and reminded the owner to adhere to the ministry’s construction procedures.

U Kyaw Aye Thein said that the Pleasant View Resort owner had not applied for a business permit but confirmed that she had already constructed a restaurant and some wooden huts on the land. He could not verify whether the 50 acres of mangrove palms had indeed been vacant land or had been owned by the villagers. He asked the land record department and township land management committee to scrutinize the area’s background.

Some local sources told The Irrawaddy that 15 acres of mangrove palms had already been cut down, but Minister U Kyaw Aye Thein rejected this assertion, saying that the hotel had cleared enough trees only to build a 40-foot thatched roof building, linked to a road.

Hotel owner Daw Mar Mar Khin has since presented her conceptual plan for a tourist destination to ministers, who suggested that she submit the proposal officially to the ministry, explained U Kyaw Aye Thein. He told The Irrawaddy that environmental and development factors would have to be considered before permission would be granted.

“As you know, the only activities in Ngapali are swimming and sunbathing. So, they [the Pleasant View Resort] would like to make a different structure. By developing that area, the locals could benefit. We should encourage them,” he said.