Yangon (2007-2017) / Uncertain Property Ownership and Regulations Creating a Playing Field

Various local NGOs and spokepersons argue that the current property laws in Myanmar lack an updated framework, transparency and effective implementation. It perhaps does not provide appropriate laws to deal with issues aroused from the transitioning government or the opening economy, such as rapid urbanization or problematic property ownership, Yangon is experiencing, and are in particular open to easy exploitation by stakeholders of significant financial, legal, and political position.

Daw Moe Moe Lwin, director of the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), states that, “It has been an uphill battle in a place that still doesn’t have a formalised planning system, and where many public buildings have been swiftly privatised in deals that allowed the generals of the outgoing dictatorship to fill their pockets in the process” (Wainwright 2016).Within Yangon, particularly downtown where many heritage buildings reside and many privatized, conflicts arise between interest groups, such as developers, the local community, international investors, and so on.

However the regional government and particularly the YCDC have demonstrated increasing efforts to the preservation of the downtown Yangon district such as by implementing zoning and height restriction policies, though they still lack rigor, as well as apparently actively halting and exposing projects that violate or sway the aforementioned weak policies. The chair of the local NGO Yangon Heritage Trust U Thant Myint-U in particular has stated the support received, “They’ve stood firmly not only against the demolition of heritage buildings but in favour of the protection of Yangon’s historic cityscape more generally” (Kean 2014). Private developers however still sometimes demonstrate disagreements with the policy.

Take for example, the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. Originally known as Prome court during the colonial era, it was constructed from 1921 to 1922 as a residential complex for members of the British administration. After gaining shaky independence from colonial ruling the complex became the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The building was abandoned as the military junta moved its ruling capital to Naypyidaw in 2005, and privatised as part of the Privatization Commission programme implemented in 1995. On December 25th 2013, the building was to be reopened as June XI, a complex of high-end apartments. However, originally designed to be a 14-storeys building, it had to be redeveloped as a 6-storeys complex due to the implementation of height restrictions by YCDC. Yet the spokesperson for the developer, Youth Force Group, reportedly stated “we will develop the foundations of the building so that it can be expanded to 14 stories in the future if the rules change.” ‘ (Brook 2014).

U Khin Hlaing, an executive member of the Yangon City Development Committee, has made himself known for campaigning against projects, particularly by the private sector, he suspects are violating regulations. “We want zoning rules to come out as soon as possible. If they were in place we would not face such problems, but for now we have no legal grounds to refuse a permit [of the 68 Residence project, which violates height restriction regulations, yet were approved by the Department of Engineering],” he said” (Aye, Yangon official takes fresh aim at high-rise projects 2016).

The building regulations, largely framed by the zoning plan and height restrictions formalized by the YCDC beginning from the Greater Yangon 2040 plan by the JICA in 2012, still lack rigor or reverence before its official  approval by the Yangon Regional Hluttaw. Particularly in light of the Privatization Commission, itself also questionable, which has given many former state-owned enterprises to the private sector, and high investment interests in the opening and rapidly developing urban land and economy, the properties of Yangon have become a playing field.

References

Aye, Myat Nyein. 2016. “Yangon official takes fresh aim at high-rise projects.” Myanmar Times. January 27. Accessed December 23, 2017. https://www.mmtimes.com/business/property-news/18680-yangon-official-takes-fresh-aim-at-high-rise-projects.html.

Brook, Daniel. 2014. “History of the Present: Yangon.” PLACES. May. https://placesjournal.org/article/history-of-the-present-yangon-myanmar/.

Japan Internation Cooperation Agency (JICA), and Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC). 2013. A Strategic Urban Development Plan, The Project for the Strategic Urban Development Plan of the Greater Yangon. Final Report I, Yangon: Nippon Koei Co., Ltd, NJS Consultants Co., Ltd., YACHIYO Engineering Co., Ltd., International Development Center of Japan Inc., Asia Air Survey Co., Ltd., ALMEC Corporation.

Kean, Thomas. 2014. “Heritage preservation receives a boost.” Myanmar Times. January 13. Accessed December 23, 2017. https://www.mmtimes.com/national-news/9234-support-builds-behind-conservation-campaign-to-preserve-yangon-s-historic-neighbourhoods-boosted-by-recent-planning-decisions-and-moves-toward-a-new-legal-framework.html.

Kitahara, Reiko, and Satoko Shinohara. 2015. “Research on urban planning and building regulation by Yangon City Development Committee.” Japan Architecture Institute Technical Report 1195-1200.

Waldle, Peter, and Yangon Heritage Trust. n.d. “Unlocking the Economic Potential of Residential Buildings in.” Yangon Heritage Trust Livable Yangon. Accessed December 23, 2017. http://www.yhtliveableyangon.org/wp-content/uploads/online_annexes/YHS_OLA5.pdf.

YCDC, Yangon City Development Committee, and Japan International Cooperation Agency JICA. 2014. A Strategic Urban Development Plan of Greater Yangon. Final Report II, Summary, Yangon: Nippon Koei Co., Ltd., NJS Consultants Co., Ltd., YACHIYO Engineering Co., Ltd., International Development Center of Japan Inc., Asia Air Survey Co., Ltd., ALMEC Corporation.

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