MANDALAY – Locals of Bagan, the archaeological zone in central Myanmar, said they have filed a complaint to the Anti-Corruption Commission of Myanmar and requested an investigation into development and conservation projects that were done in their area.
Save Bagan, a local activist group focusing on the conservation of heritage and environmental protection, told The Irrawaddy that it submitted a complaint to the commission on Aug. 6, which was signed by more than 8,000 locals.
“There have been many unjust incidents where local hoteliers were sued while the cronies and rich businesspeople who built their hotels inside the archaeological zone are still out of the reach of the law,” said Ko Myo Set San, a leader of Save Bagan.
The group said a complaint was also sent to the President’s Office, regarding hotels that have ancient pagodas in their compounds.
In early June, the group urged the government to declare a safe zone for about 100 ancient pagodas and temples that are located inside the leased compounds of hotels and other private compounds in Bagan.
After receiving no reaction from the authorities, the group decided to gather signatures from locals and send the complaint to the President’s Office and the Anti-Corruption Commission.
“We suspect there is corruption at the local authority level. We’ve requested that the commission investigate both the local administration offices and the Department of Archaeology, who are the responsible bodies that have allowed the hotels to operate like that,” Ko Myo Set San said.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture reportedly held a series of meetings with the hotel owners in early August and said they were looking for the best way to create a win-win situation for both the businesspeople and the conservation of the region, and to make sure there would be no more similar negative impacts on Bagan in the future.
The group also said the current landscaping projects in Bagan have no transparency or clarity in their budgets.
A few months ago, a cement sidewalk was constructed at Ananda Pagoda. When locals and visitors showed their dissatisfaction and sent complaints, it was removed.
A similar reaction occurred when the local authorities announced plans to build a public toilet at Alodawpyae Pagoda and manmade hills for watching sunrise and sunset. The projects were halted after public disagreement.
Bagan is home to over 3,000 ancient pagodas and temples built between the 9th and 11th centuries. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has sought to register Bagan as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The nomination dossier was submitted in 2016 and a team of experts from UNESCO is due to visit Bagan this September. Their report is to be brought up for deliberation at the UNESCO World Heritage Site convention in 2019.
“Currently, Nyaung U district administration office is doing a landscaping project at 17 prominent pagoda and temples where they are growing grass and have no transparency,” Ko Myo Set San explained.
The group said since Bagan is located in the dry zone and already has its own natural dry zone landscape that matches the ancient temples, the grass patches are not needed and, in fact, negatively affect the ancient temples and pagodas.
“Growing grass is unnecessary but the authorities are doing it and we suspect they are doing this project to show off and squeeze money [from the government] to put in their pockets or just wasting money, thus we reported it to Anti-Corruption Commission,” he added.
The group said the Anti-Corruption Commission has told them they will be in touch within two weeks. When The Irrawaddy contacted the commission, it said it could not comment yet as the case is new and needs to be investigated first.