Surbana Jurong goes underground to expand Myanmar business

Surbana Jurong has added Yangon’s first underground pedestrian walkway, an airport and a special economic zone to its list of Myanmar projects, the Singaporean infrastructure consultancy announced this week.

Shwe Taung Development awarded Surbana Jurong the contract for the 30-metre underpass last week. The country’s first underground walkway will be located on Pyay Road and connect the Practicing High School, the Yangon Institute of Education and the Junction Square shopping centre.

Construction will take six months after which Shwe Taung will donate the project to YCDC, said a spokesperson for that firm.

Surbana Jurong has been operating in Myanmar for three years. The engineering design contract for the underground pedestrian walkway takes its project tally to 40, the company’s CEO for international operations Teo Eng Cheong told The Myanmar Times.

The underpass joins Hanthawaddy International Airport in Bago Region and the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) in Rakhine State on Surbana Jurong’s list of Myanmar projects.

The firm has partnered with a consortium led by Chinese firm CITIC, which won two tenders to develop the Kyaukphyu SEZ, and worked on the master plan, infrastructure and port plans.

The announcement in December that the CITIC-led consortium had been chosen came less than a week after over 100 civil society groups demanded that the project be suspended until after the new government takes power. They objected to a lack of transparency in the tender process and demanded more consideration for local people’s welfare.

Asked whether he was concerned about local protests, Mr Cheong said it depends on what the protest is about. “We should not take protests lightly,” he said. “We want to be sensitive to the demands and concerns of people in the area, and we should address those concerns.”

But protests are also “part of doing business in many countries”, not just Myanmar, he said. “I prefer to look at it from the bigger picture. Is the project good for the country, for the community?”

An economic zone in the western part of the country would open up the economy and improve exports, he said. “It can only be good for Myanmar.”

He believes Myanmar’s transition is going smoothly and the country will continue to open up to trade. Surbana Jurong worked with the current government on affordable housing projects and helped draw up an affordable housing masterplan for Yangon with the Ministry of Construction in 2012.

Myanmar’s government has struggled to keep the cost of affordable housing down. The Ayeyarwun and Yandana Housing projects developed under the masterplan recently drew public criticism because of higher than expected costs.

“This is a common challenge all over the world,” said Mr Cheong. “The most effective solution is to ensure that the economy grows, people have jobs and incomes continue to rise.”

Construction costs can only be pushed down so far. But rising incomes will mean greater access to loans with which to pay for housing, Mr Cheong said. Regardless of construction cost, the volume of affordable housing will make it a big part of any government’s budget. The budget for the coming fiscal year will cover only a small chunk of Yangon’s housing requirements.

At the other end of the spectrum, Surbana Jurong has several luxury housing projects in Yangon under its belt, including Polo Club Asia Residence and Golden Valley Residences. Mr Cheong said it was important for governments to consider the balance between the two.

Singapore has set aside much of its land for public housing, which today accommodates more than 80 percent of the country’s population, according to Singapore’s Housing & Development Board. But does Yangon have the balance right?

The government needs to make the best of its space, resources and income, he said.

“You have to take note that at this stage Yangon is already fairly built up,” said Mr Cheong. “It’s not a blank sheet.”


Source: Myanmar Times



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