Can the regional government manage both old and new Yangon?

Photo The govt needs to fix existing problems in Yangon before directing resources to the new city. Nyan Zay Htet/The Myanmar Times

​16 Aug 18 - The Yangon region government has come under flak since March, when it announced the launch of a new Yangon City project at the west bank of Yangon River. If and when the first phase of the US$5 billion development is complete, it will include five village townships, two bridges, 26km of artery roads, 10 sq km of industrial estate, power plants, transmission and distributions facilities as well as fresh water supply and wastewater treatment plants.

Development of the new city is necessary, government officials say, given the rate at which Yangon's population is expected to expand. By 2040, the population is expected to double to 10 million from 5 million in 2014, according to official estimates. In that light, the government believes additional jobs, homes, utilities and infrastructure, embodied within the new city, is required. 

However, members of parliament and the business community have voiced objections and concerns regarding the government's ability to supervise and manage a project of such scale given the long list of problems it has yet to solve at the existing city.

Among those problems are water distribution and electricity supply. "The government should describe exactly and provide details of how it plans to ensure the supply of drinking water and electricity when they have yet to find a solution to these existing problems we are seeing in the city now," said MP U Than Naing Oo.

"We are still seeing water shortages in some areas, while power cuts, though less frequent than before, are still common, especially during the rainy months," he added.

The resettlement of squatters is another potential problem the regional government should carefully plan for. "If not properly considered, the problems we are seeing with squatters in Yangon now could potentially be amplified in the new city as more people from other states and regions move to Yangon to explore job opportunities," said MP U Yan Shin.

Traffic woes

Currently, one of the biggest grouses for residents of Yangon is traffic congestion. Despite government attempts to curb illegal parking and repair roads, congestion on the Yangon roads has not improved. Meanwhile, the number of vehicles is rising as the population swells.

Road users in Yangon said they are concerned that the government may divert resources needed now towards developing the transport system to the new city instead. ''I just hope that any attention and resources by the regional government won't be sacrificed for the new city, but adequate thought and improvements are made to ensure that those already living in Yangon have more pleasant lives," said Ko Thaw Zin Aung Gyi, founding partner of Capstone Education Consulting.

''Regardless of whether or not there is a new city, traffic congestion for any city is bad for business and people's livelihood. Traffic congestion slows the pace of business and its makes life harder for those who would rather be spending time at work or with family than waiting on a car," he added.

For its part, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) has indeed deployed manpower to improve existing road conditions. But with more repairs taking place, congestion has gotten worse during the current rainy season.

''We can't manage our time because of traffic congestion. In the past, we could estimate the time taken to reach our passengers. Nowadays we can sometimes take up to 30 minutes to an hour to reach our destinations due to the roadblocks and repairs. We don't know when we can drive on good roads," said Ko Aung Soe, a taxi driver.

Govt solutions

To manage and develop the project, the regional government has promised to steer clear of public funds and tap the private sector for capital instead.

In March, it set up the New Yangon Development Co (NYDC), which will be wholly owned by the government and led by local tycoon Serge Pun. Mr Pun is also chair of Serge Pun & Associates, a Myanmar conglomerate.

Mr Pun said important infrastructure for the first phase of the new city, estimated at around $1.5 billion will be complete and operational by 2020. The NYDC will implement the first phase of the project at Kyee Myin Daing township over an area totaling 80 sq km, which is double the land area of Singapore. The second phase of development will take place in Dala, Kawhmu and Kone Changone townships.

In a July 10 statement, the NYDC confirmed that infrastructure and services like power, water, waste treatment, road networks, public transport, cargo transport, bridges and waterway accessibility, digital connectivity, mobile communications and public services such as hospitals, schools, parks and green areas would be the priority during the development.

Importantly, NYDC has committed to seeking private sector support to fund development of the new city.. Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein said the project will be carried out under a public private partnership without including public funds. During a forum in April, he also said interest in the project from Chinese, South Korean and ASEAN investors has been rising.

NYDC in July already signed an agreement with state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) to prepare a detailed blueprint for phase one of New Yangon City.

Parliament approval

Still, MPs say they are not quite clear about the structure of NYDC and voiced concerns about transparency and the government being involved in business. Some are also concerned about NYDC failing to call a tender before signing the agreement with CCCC.

Mr Pun said during a town hall session in June that NYDC was set up to draw private investments. "The whole project will cost $5 billion, but we have only around $7 million," he said. "The company doesn't have enough capital for the project and the country is poor. So we will have to attract private investors," he said.

He added that once CCCC has finished its blueprint for phase one, NYDC will publicise the document and call a tender. Under an arrangement called the Swiss Challenge, if a company bids less than CCCC to build the infrastructure, it will be selected instead.

Other concerns linger. ''We know that the government has planned to implement the new city project in Yangon region. But Yangon does not have an Urban Development Act yet. The projects which were presented to Parliament should only be implemented after doing a feasibility study and detailed cost estimates. We can't consider and study the proposal effectively with only the project name and a photo to go by," MP Daw Kyi Pyar said.

U Kyaw Kyaw Soe, member of central executive committee from Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs Association, said that the government needs to present longer term plans to develop the new city.

''If the government changes again in future, we are worried that the management structure and project types may change," he said.

As it gathers resources to develop the new city, the Yangon government will need to demonstrate that it is capable of managing the existing one before MPs and residents are convinced. 

​Source: Myanmar Times

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