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Draft Municipal Law for Yangon Draws Fire from Lawmakers, Urban Planners

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 14 February 2018

YANGON — Members of the Yangon Region Parliament condemned a new draft law for proposing to allow the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), the municipality’s governing body, to run business enterprises with tax revenue from the city’s 5 million-plus residents.

The new draft of the Yangon City Development Committee Law was prepared at the request of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in late 2016.

It is intended to replace the existing 1922 City of Rangoon Municipal Act and the 2013 Yangon City Development Committee Law because they need to be reformed, according to the state counselor.

The new draft was submitted to Parliament on Feb. 2 by Mayor U Maung Maung Soe on behalf of the Yangon Region government. It has attracted criticism from architects and urban planners who say it has weak provisions for urban planning management and that measures to prevent conflicts of interest involving YCDC members were nonexistent.

According to Article 23 of the draft, the YCDC is authorized to form business enterprises in various industries including construction, recreation and services.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Daw Kyi Pya, an NLD lawmaker. “The YCDC is supposed to provide municipal-related services to the people, not make money.”

Fellow NLD lawmaker U Kyaw Zay Ya said he was against the formation of business enterprises for Yangon and would encourage Parliament to strike the article from the draft.

“All they have to do is levy the taxes they are supposed to and give services to the people,” he said.

Technically the YCDC is an independent body led by the mayor, who reports to the Yangon Region chief minister. It raises its own revenues from taxes and fees on everyone from property developers to public toilet operators and roadside vendors while wielding responsibility for city planning, land administration, municipal services, development and more.

However, for many years the municipal body has been notorious for alleged corruption and failing to rein in unruly urbanization projects with negative consequences for the city’s 5.2 million people due to a lack of systematic urban planning controls.

When news of the drafting of a new municipal law broke in late 2016, the city’s architects and urban planners were upbeat, hoping the new version would include proper rules and regulations to support systematic urban planning and management. They were invited to join the draft review committee and made recommendations.

“We suggested that the law should be based on a vision for Yangon. It has to be the theme of the law,” said Daw Hla Su Myat, an executive member of the Myanmar Architecture Council and a member of the draft review committee. “But what we see now is really quite different,” she added.

Critics of the draft also highlighted Article 23 (b), which authorizes the YCDC to form seven authorities responsible for urban planning, building, roads and bridges, water supply and use, and drainage and sewage management among other things.

Daw Hla Su Myat said the proposed scope of work for some authorities was not relevant and that some authorities had similar responsibilities.

She said creating multiple authorities to do similar work could cause delays if there is disagreement between them. As an example, she said building roads and drainage should be the responsibility of one authority, not two, and that the urban planning authority should be responsible for land division, not the building authority as proposed.

“The draft will not be supportive of successful urban planning,” she said.

Urban planner Daw Moe Moe Lwin said the law needs to set a vision for Yangon as it governs and shapes the city and the lives of its residents.

“The law will decide what kind of city we have,” said she.

On Wednesday the draft review committee submitted its report on the draft, which said the constitution and responsibilities of authorities and business enterprises were not clear.

“As it is important for Yangon residents, the draft should be discussed in Parliament,” the report says.

Parliament has not yet set a date to discuss the draft but said that any lawmaker wishing to make recommendations had to register by Thursday.

Lawmaker Daw Kyi Pya said she had already registered and prepared her recommendations, which will address the formation of business enterprises.

“We have to improve it because I can’t accept that something bad like this will ink history while the NLD is in power,” she said.

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