Sule Square Project Breaches Building Regulations, Says Inspection Committee
By Tin Htet Paing 1 August 2016
RANGOON—The High-Rise Inspection Committee (HIC) of Rangoon’s municipal body said that the Sule Square commercial complex includes two extra floors for which the developers do not have permission to add.
Construction of the 23-floor structure is nearly complete. Aung San Win, secretary of the HIC within the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the building has yet to receive final approval from the YCDC and the Rangoon divisional government.
The addition of the two extra floors is a breach of the committee’s initial approval for the project, he said. However, at just over 302 feet, the building maintains the same height for which the YCDC’s approval was granted.
Sule Square is being built adjacent to the existing Sule Shangri-La hotel—formerly known as Traders Hotel. The complex is expected to open in late 2016.
YCDC’s initial approval, which was issued to the project in January 2013, comprised two basements, 20 floors and a penthouse, he said. The project’s complete revised plan—submitted by the developer just before the end of March this year—has not yet received final approval from the divisional government and the YCDC. It includes one basement and 23 floors, Aung San Win explained.
“There are about ten findings which are different from the plan YCDC initially approved,” he said.
Apart from the two extra floors, the most apparent differences are smaller scales of a public space and public toilets, which were designed as part of a deal agreed between the developer and the YCDC, he said, because part of the land on which Sule Square exists was originally a public space.
YCDC’s initial permission was granted based on the project’s original proposal, which promised a public space of over 5,000 square feet and a structure with nearly 900 square feet for public toilets, Aung San Win said. But the revised proposal covers a public space of around 1,300 square feet, with 500-600 square feet for public toilets, he added.
YCDC issues approvals for buildings with between nine and 12.5 stories, while developers of structures 13 stories and higher are required to seek approval from the Rangoon divisional government.
“The complete revised plan of the project was submitted very late,” Aung San Win said, referring to the period of time in which the handover took place between the old and new governments of Rangoon. “The former Rangoon divisional government didn’t have a chance to approve the revised plan.”
The revised plan has now been submitted to the current regional government, led by chief minister Phyo Min Thein, for final approval, he added. According to Article 68 of the YCDC Act (2013), anyone who violates the city’s municipal regulations regarding building construction will be charged with up to one year in prison, a penalty of 10,000-500,000 kyats, or both.
Sule Square is now open for those seeking office rentals. Yet building without securing final permission from the YCDC has caused the developer a liability, Aung San Win said. He refused to comment further on the issue, pointing out that it is handled by the YCDC’s Engineering Department (Building).
The Irrawaddy tried to get interviews with multiple senior officials within the Engineering Department (Building) during the last week in July, but Than Htay, department chief, said that he could not answer questions concerning high-rise developments.
Kyaw Tha Sein, a deputy head of the Engineering Department (Building), confirmed to The Irrawaddy that, according to the YCDC’s legal advisor, the municipal body has filed a lawsuit against the Sule Square project developers, but refused to provide further details about the case. He added that his department had not received any new instructions from the regional cabinet regarding the dispute.
On July 27, Rangoon chief minister Phyo Min Thein posted photos on his official Facebook page of a meeting with Sule Shangri-La representatives. However, details of the meeting were not shared by either party.
The Irrawaddy contacted the Sule Square office on Monday and asked about the project permit and the extra two floors. Yinn Mar Nyo, of the leasing department, told The Irrawaddy that members of management were not immediately available to respond to the reporter’s questions, but would respond by the end of the week.
The previous Rangoon divisional government and municipal council had given “initial approval” to more than 200 high rise building proposals from 2013 until March 31 of this year, which was the last day of former divisional government’s time in office.
According to US Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks, the Traders Hotel was built in the 1990s by a partnership of blacklisted tycoon Steven Law (also known as Tun Myint Naing)—the head of the Asia World conglomerate and son of notorious Shan State drug kingpin Lo Hsing Han—and Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok, who owns a stake in its current operator Shangri-La Asia Ltd.
This article has been corrected from an earlier version that stated that the Sule Square project was built using a US$80 million loan from the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IFC have since clarified that the loan only applied to renovations on the Sule Shangri-La Hotel and the Shangri-La Residences luxury apartment tower near Kandawgyi Lake in Rangoon.