Burma

Yangon Orders Closure of Unlicensed Luxury Spa in Myanmar’s Historic Secretariat

By Aung Thiha 31 October 2019

YANGON—A newly-opened deluxe spa at Yangon’s Secretariat will have to be closed because it has no operating license, according to the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

“We have not officially issued a business license to the spa at the Secretariat. As it is operating without a license, it has to be closed,” U Than, the joint secretary of the YCDC, told the media.

The Yangon regional government has not granted permission either, said Regional Minister Daw Naw Pan Thinzar Myo at a press conference regarding the high-end spa on Thursday evening.

The Singaporean-run Dé Béau Wellness Center has not sought the approval of the Yangon Region Investment Committee to run the spa, said Daw Naw Pan Thinzar Myo, chairwoman of the Regional Investment Supervisory Committee.

Anawmar Art Group, owned by family members of former junta General Tun Kyi, won the rights from the Myanmar Investment Commission in 2012 to preserve the Secretariat’s architecture and maintain the complex as a historical museum and arts and cultural center. In 2015, the Yangon regional government signed a 50-year lease with Anawmar Art Group.

U Soe Thwin Tun, managing director of the group, told The Irrawaddy in 2016 that one third of the complex would be used for commercial purposes to cover the considerable cost of renovating and maintaining the building.

The Yangon regional government will review the contract with Anawmar Art Group and take legal action in line with the law if there is a violation of the contract, said Daw Naw Pan Thinzar Myo.

“The contract was signed under the previous government, not under our government. We’ll check if the company is doing businesses outside the contract. If it is, we will take legal action,” she said.

The spa has attracted a wave of online criticism, after pictures from its opening ceremony on Oct. 26 went viral on Facebook and other social media. Many people online questioned whether a building that is as historically important to the country as the Secretariat should host a spa.

An official of Dé Béau Wellness Center told The Irrawaddy that Anawmar had leased them the space.

“We are just a tenant and Anawmar Co. is the host. We are operating with their permission,” said the official.

Officials from Anawmar and Dé Béau Wellness Center said they will hold a press conference soon.

Construction of the Secretariat started in 1889 and was completed in 1893. The colonial-era building is one of the most historically important buildings in Myanmar, serving as the headquarters for the British administration during Burma’s colonial period. It was also the site of a national tragedy when independence hero General Aung San, the father of current State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and his colleagues were assassinated at the Secretariat in 1947.

Political activists have attempted in vain to open a museum in the Secretariat in memory of the pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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