Rangoon Govt Suspends Controversial City Expansion Plan

By Htet Naing Zaw & Kyaw Phyo Tha 26 September 2014

RANGOON — After facing criticism from the media and local lawmakers, a controversial city expansion plan for Burma’s former capital has been suspended, the Rangoon mayor said on Friday.

The suspension was announced by Mayor Hla Myint at a special session of the Rangoon divisional parliament that was called primarily to discuss the proposed expansion plan.

The announcement came less than a week after the mayor defended the plan, claiming it enjoyed widespread popular support and would fit into a wider urban development strategy.

But on Friday, citing a need to review the proposal further, the government said it was suspending the plan, a decision that was later put to a parliamentary vote.

When asked by the media whether the plan was unequivocally canceled or merely suspended, the mayor responded: “As we said, it has been suspended. You should understand what that means.”

Friday’s special session at the Rangoon divisional parliament was called to discuss the controversial city expansion proposal. According to the session’s agenda, whether or not to go forward with the plan was to be subject to a vote by divisional lawmakers after the issue was deliberated.

But on Friday, Hla Myint preempted any discussion of the proposal with a request for parliamentary Speaker Sein Tin Win to approve a suspension of the plan. The speaker acquiesced, and proceeded to take the suspension to the full parliament, which also voted in favor of it.

“According to parliament’s rules and regulations, the speaker has the authority to suspend or withdraw the proposal under discussion. Now the speaker approved the suspension. It’s good news,” Nyo Nyo Thin, an independent lawmaker who has been against the secretive plan since it was revealed last month, told the media.

Lawmakers and the public remained oblivious to the existence of the expansion plan until Aug. 22, when the mayor and Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe angered local MPs with a surprise announcement that the government had awarded a contract for the multi-billion-dollar project to Myanmar Say Ta Nar Myothit Company, a little-known firm that was only registered as a public company last year.

Since the announcement, the plan has been severely criticized for its lack of transparency. A subsequent investigation by The Irrawaddy revealed close ties between the Rangoon Division chief minister and the founders of the company that was initially awarded the project contract.

Following a public backlash, the divisional government had said that it would issue a public tender for the expansion project, which would have seen the official city limits expanded west by some 30,000 acres across the Rangoon River. The plan was also to include the construction of affordable apartments, a 1,000-student school, a home for the aged, and five bridges linking the area to Rangoon proper.

“Now, it has been suspended. If they want to resume it, we will have to discuss it in the parliament, too. We have to keep an eye on it,” Nyo Nyo Thin said.