YANGON — The developer of a $500-million tower project on military-owned land has been ordered to suspend work until the Yangon government approves its proposed safety measures for a 92-year-old reservoir nearby.
The Myayeik Nyo project, still in its early stages, is being developed on a 13-acre compound in Bahan Township home to the shuttered Myayeik Nyo Hotel. The developer, Zaykabar, ranks among Myanmar’s largest construction companies and is run by tycoon U Khin Shwe.
Twelve buildings ranging in height from 382 feet to 412 feet and another three-story structure are slated for construction on the compound, which lies near a reservoir that distributes water to Yangon’s 16 downtown townships.
Residents who live near the construction site are against the project because they fear that damage to the 20-million gallon reservoir could flood their neighborhood and cause water shortages across the city.
The Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) told the developer to suspend work on the site in March and, seeing that the company had not complied, sent it a letter on Monday.
On Wednesday, U Khin Shwe told The Irrawaddy that he met with Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein and some cabinet members the day before to discuss his safety plans for the reservoir.
“The chief minister told us to make sure the reservoir is safe. After the safety issue [is resolved], other things should go ahead,” U Khin Shwe said.
The tycoon, who is related by marriage to U Shwe Mann — the third most influential person in the former military regime and now an important ally of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — said his company would use bored piles and water seals to protect the reservoir.
“We’ve already consulted with technicians and will submit the proposal to the YCDC in one or two days,” he said.
A YCDC member with knowledge of the project told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the committee had asked the developer to officially submit the proposal with signatures from relevant technicians or engineers before it is referred to the cabinet for approval.
“We will allow them to go ahead [with safety measures] after the cabinet agrees to the proposal. At the moment they haven’t been allow to do anything yet,” said the committee member, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the project.
Not a Joint Venture
Project director U Tun Win Han said Zaykabar won the military’s bid tender for the site in 2014.
“Under the terms of the lease, we are allowed to operate for 50 years with two 10-year extensions,” he said.
U Khin Shwe said the project, scheduled for completion in 2020, was a landmark investment for Yangon and would feature both hotel space and serviced apartments. He said the company building it all, the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, was a contractor and not a partner.
“I want to make it a joint venture, but the MoU with the military forbids it. I will have to pay them from room sales,” he said, adding that 60 percent of the profits will go to the Chinese company.
He also warned that frequent suspensions of the project could scare off potential foreign investment in Myanmar.
“We used to think there would be investments for the US and EU. In reality they don’t come, so we have to rely on China, even for the technology,” he said.
Asked about local residents’ fears of flooding, he said the construction was taking place far from the reservoir.
“But to lessen people’s worries, we will make bored piles and add water seals to enhance safety. So nothing bad will happen,” he said.
Some residents are not convinced.
“That’s not for him to say, only for technicians from a third party,” said Kokkine Avenue resident U Win Bo, who heads the Yangon Kokkine Reservoir Salvation Team, a lobby group of residents opposed to the project. They fear that their relatively sparsely populated residential neighborhood will lose its character once the high-rises go up.
“We need a solid guarantee from someone independent that the reservoir will be safe. It has to be revealed to the public,” he said. “So far, the project has no transparency.”