Dagon City Saga – A vote of confidence in the future of Yangon City as a livable heritage city

Shwedagon Pagoda is the defining landmark in the City Center – no high-rise is allowed within a 1.6 km radius
Shwedagon Pagoda is the defining landmark in the City Center – no high-rise is allowed within a 1.6 km radius
Source of photo: Airpano.com

I am a Singaporean who runs a business consultancy in Myanmar since early 2013.

I think most foreigners have very little understanding of what goes on in Myanmar. I have seen sensational headlines like “Dagon City’s Demise Casts Doubts on Myanmar” or “Myanmar Scraps Real Estate Projects Under Pressure From Monks”. The Myanmar economy has been badly managed and isolated for the last 50 years – first due to the military government and secondly as a result of the Western sanctions. Myanmar is a nascent democracy whereby the law and legislation are still being improved to keep up with the opening up of the country and the inflow of foreign investment.

In early 2013 as most of my clienteles are foreign investors – I was approached by Myanmar “broker” who claimed that they have access to privileged information about Myanmar Railway land in Yangon that is opened to foreign investment. I saw some of the properties and they were indeed prime properties in Yangon. Many of these properties didn’t become available to the market until 6 months to a year later via government tender announcements.

During those early days there were Myanmar people who because of who their relatives or friends were – have access to privilege information about idle government assets or worse military assets that need to be disposed of due to the economic or political reforms. These are privileged information that in most country would be handled in a transparent manner via an open tender.

I am not saying that the same thing happen with military land around the Shwedagon Pagoda – but I can tell you that you need powerful friends to get those land for development as a foreign investor.

I have seen the many ways that the Myanmar government has tried to make decision making more transparent and accountable. For example the Myanmar Parliament stops the Ministry of Information tender for the Yegu Transmitter projects due to a lack of transparency on 22 May 2015. The Myanmar Parliament also stop the award for the development of a new town in the West of Yangon to an unknown company call Myanma Saytannar Myothit Public Company due to a lack of transparency on 22 September 2014. The above are just some of the many examples of how the Myanmar Parliament is making the various ministries and regional governments accountable for the decisions that they make on disposal of public assets or how tenders are awarded.

Yangon is a heritage city with many historical buildings that date back to the early 1900s and of course the more than 2,000 years old Shwedagon Pagoda which is revered by most Buddhists. One should look at the admirable work of the Yangon Heritage Trust and the Association of Myanmar Architects and their calls to have a comprehensive plan for the sustainable management of the Shwedagon Pagoda and the surrounding area. I do not want to debate on the impact of the Presidential Order to the 5 foreign property developers to stop work on sites near the Shwedagon – I know that it is a big loss for the developers who took a lot of risk by investing in the country when it just opened its door but at the same time to me it is a vote of confidence in the people of Myanmar that they know what is their cultural heritage and what is worth preserving. It is like the Parisian love for the Eiffel Tower and restriction on developments around it. In the end what you have is an iconic and memorable city which everybody love and all travelers want to visit.

Myanmar is an emerging market. As most experienced investors know investing in emerging market will not be a walk in the park. The risks are high but the rewards are high as well if you get it right.

I think it is a fallacy to say that “Dagon City’s Demise Casts Doubts on Myanmar”. Why? For it is like saying that the first KFC that opened in Yangon is bad just because they had bad service on its opening day as the staff were new and the customers took a long time to place their order as they were not familiar with the menu. In my opinion I think that the best is yet to be for Myanmar. In my more than 2 years stay in Yangon each day the infrastructure gets better from the reliability of the mobile phone system, power supply, broadband internet, choice of Western restaurants, the legal system,etc.

To learned more about why the Myanmar Government has to stop the developments around the Shwedagon Pagoda (a 2,000 years old monument) go to Dagon City 1 Dumped by Government under Pressure from Religious, Civic and Social Organizations

Author: Andrew Tan

The above article also appeared in Myanmar Business Today at https://mmbiztoday.com/articles/opinion-dagon-city-saga-vote-confidence-future-yangon-livable-heritage-city

The views expressed above are those of the author and not necessarily represent the views of the government agencies, companies or individuals mentioned in the article. Read our complete disclaimer policy here.

Andrew Tan is the Managing Director of Consult-Myanmar Co Ltd. Consult-Myanmar is a Yangon-based Singapore-owned company that is incorporated in Myanmar. Consult-Myanmar provides business advisory, business partner search, company incorporation and immigration service to foreign investors that are interested to start a business in Myanmar.

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