Rangoon Mayor Defends Controversial City Expansion Plan

By May Kha 23 September 2014

RANGOON — Rangoon Mayor Hla Myint has defended attempts by regional authorities to push through a large-scale city expansion plan, telling Rangoon Divisional parliament on Monday that there was widespread support for the plan, which he claimed also fits into a wider urban development strategy.

Local lawmakers quickly rejected the mayor’s comments, however, and pointed out that the city expansion plan had been shrouded in secrecy until late August, when the Rangoon Division government announced that it had awarded the massive project to the little-known Myanmar Say Ta Nar Myothit Company.

Hla Myint addressed a special session of Rangoon Division Parliament dealing with the proposed US $8 billion expansion plan, which would see the official city limits of Rangoon expand westward by some 30,000 acres in order to build 20,000 homes on farmland in Kyee Myin Daing, Seik Gyi Kha Naung To and Twante townships.

He said the city expansion plan would fit with the Greater Yangon Strategic Development Plan that is being drawn up by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

“We’ve already informed the union level [government] about the Yangon urban development design by Japan, and JICA has also explained this strategic urban development plan to the people,” said Hla Myint, who heads the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), a municipal body that oversees Burma’s largest city.

“As we are inviting foreign assistance for the comprehensive development of Yangon City, Myanmar Say Ta Nar Myothit Company  proposed building a new city,” he said. “Since people are in favor of the plan, we have agreed to it in principle.”

Opposition lawmakers said in a reaction that Hla Myint had informed the public and MPs too late, and his speech had done little to help lift the secrecy surrounding the project.

Regional authorities “should have officially submitted the proposal earlier. It has submitted it now, but [the plan] is still lacking in transparency,” said U Kyaw, a lawmaker with the New National Democracy Party who represents Thingangyun Township.

He said Hla Myint was attempting to mislead MPs into thinking that the city expansion plan was well-thought through by conflating it with the JICA-funded regional urban development plan.

“They tried to confuse us by linking the [city expansion] project with an earlier one. It is unacceptable.  We have to call for a discussion. We will ask precisely what is going on during the discussion,” he said.

Nyo Nyo Thin, an independent MP representing Bahan Township, echoed U Kyaw’s concerns, saying, “The mayor talked as if the new city plan is part of the Yangon urban development plan that is being carried out by Japan, but at first the divisional government said that it was keeping the Rangoon expansion plan secret.”

“So, what they said is conflicting. They are trying to deceive us and
this shows the government’s dishonesty,” she said.

Rangoon Divisional Parliament Speaker Sein Tin Win said that the project was scheduled for discussion and a vote at the legislature on Friday.

Hla Myint in his address on Monday said that the government would put out a tender for the massive project. He made no mention of government efforts to consult farmers who would be forced to give up their land for the plan.

On Aug 22, the mayor and Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe angered local MPs with a surprise announcement that it had awarded the multi-billion dollar project contract to Myanmar Say Ta Nar Myothit Company, a shady firm that was only registered as a public company last year.

Hla Myint said at the time that the little-known firm was “chosen it because it is financially strong. We have done it secretly to avoid unnecessary problems.”

The opaque project deal and the reported connections between the company’s owners and Myint Swe and Hla Myint resulted gave rise to complaints of corruption and nepotism.

YCDC and Rangoon Division authorities were subsequently forced to backtrack and promised to put the development project to tender in the near future and would give all private companies a chance to participate.

Burma’s biggest city and commercial capital is experiencing rapid economic growth after decades of stagnation under military rule. The city’s real estate market is booming and authorities and real estate developers are eagerly planning for an expansion of the city, which according to some estimates could double in population size to reach 10 million residents by 2040.