Rangoon Firms Seek Fixes to Familiar Woes in Chief Minister Meet-Up

RANGOON — Reliable supplies of running water and electricity, as well as thousands of squatters, are urgent issues to be prioritized, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), an organization of influential businesses in Rangoon, told the division’s new chief minister at its meeting with him on Monday.

The new Rangoon chief minister, Phyo Min Thein, has inherited a host of problems from his predecessor Myint Swe, who critics say failed to see to it that the sprawling commercial capital developed sustainably.

The Hlaing Tharyar Industry Association was forthright about its grievances: The company paid 600 million kyats (US$5.1 million) to the Rangoon Electricity Supply Board, but it still experiences power outages; the government water utility does not supply the company’s factories; and more than 8,000 residents it claims are squatters are living along the fences of their factories, disrupting the company’s business operations and its workers’ lives.

More than five associations operating under the banner of the UMFCCI echoed the Hlaing Tharyar Industry Association’s concerns, and several companies reported that they had forcibly removed squatters. One of the UMFCCI members, the chairman of the Shwepyitha Industry Association, admitted that his company had hired thugs to force squatters out.

Phyo Min Thein said he was understanding of their concerns but that, “We don’t want to be a bulldozer government,” a not-so-veiled jab at the previous administration, which had in the past used bulldozers to clear squatters’ settlements.

Internally displaced people arrived in Rangoon in large numbers in 2008 following Cyclone Nargis’s destruction of thousands of villages and farms in the Irrawaddy Delta, and many became squatters.

The new minister promised no quick fixes, saying he would solve all the problems that could be handled at the Rangoon Division level, but pointing out that some of the issues required action at the Union level. As for the squatters, Phyo Min Thein said the government could create lists of the alleged trespassers and begin working with businesses to resolve the problem. Further, he pledged more urgent action on water and electricity supply issues, saying he would bring the appropriate regional ministers with him to the industrial zones on his next visit and work out solutions with them.

Traffic congestion and logistics were also on the agenda. Ko Ko Naing, a representative for the logistics committee at the Bayinnaung Terminal, a trucking hub, said the terminal should be moved farther outside of the Rangoon city center because the area is too crowded and the roads cannot handle the increased shipping capacity. Severe traffic jams and other logistical problems have been the result.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Phyo Min Thein said he was glad to have had an opportunity to hear the challenges local companies are facing, and he added that “no bribes” would be accepted in his government.

Rangoon Division is Burma’s largest, with more than 7 million people, a majority of whom live in the densely populated municipality of the same name.

Source: Irrawaddy

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