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Land types
The state owns all land in the
county and it disperses holdings
to individuals, companies and
government branches under the
following categories.
Note that possibilities and
procedures for foreign holdings
vary according to the land type;
for more detailed information on
this topic, see the 2014 report
Investing in the Myanmar Real
Estate Sector by the law firm VDB
Loi Myanmar Ltd.

Freehold land

Dating from the colonial era,

freeholds are no longer granted,
though existing freeholds are still
recognised. Land can be used for
any purpose and transferred as
desired to citizens.

Grant land

Grant land can be transferred,

used for any legal purpose,
and constitutes most individual
holdings in urban areas. A lease
can range from 10 to 90 years,
and be extended. Can be used for
any purpose, and no limits exist
on selling to other nationals.


Granted by government for

paddy growing only. Permits are
required to work the land, which
can also be leased.

Agricultural land

The same as Farmland above, but

can be used for any kind of crop,
not just paddy.

Permit / Licensed land

Given by government to some
civil servants. Leasing requires
government approval.

Government leased land

Usually controlled by municipal
bodies, this often forms the basis
of foreign-invested projects.

Vacant / Fallow / Virgin

Vacant or fallow land has been
abandoned or left unused by its
owner. Virgin land is land which
has never been cultivated at all.
Applications can be made to a
central committee to use either
category, even if it is currently
held in someone elses name.

Monastery / Religious

Cannot be used for any other

purpose other than that which
is designated for instance, a
business cannot be run out of
monastic land unless a request
is approved by the Ministry of
Home Affairs.

This land isnt

your land

The language of land use:

a constitutional primer
Burma Land and Revenue Act
8. A landholder shall have a
permanent heritable and
transferable right of use and
occupancy in his land, subject
a) to the payment of all such
revenue, taxes and rates as may
from time to time be imposed in
respect of such land under any
law for the time being in force;
b) to the reservation in favour of
Government of all mines and
mineral products, and of all
buried treasure with all the
powers conferred by section 38A.

How land rights reflect political systems

Wade Guyitt

HE people of Myanmar do
not hold absolute property
rights a fact which has
remained true, though
meant different things, through the
pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial eras.
For centuries in Myanmar, land
arrangements revolved around use
rights rather than ownership, and
this conception was still in force
when the British arrived. As JS
Furnivall wrote in 1909, before the
arrival of the British there was for
the most part no ownership in land:

than had previously been the case,

in effect, usurping longstanding
customary land usages.
Once the government had a hand
in how land was owned, it was able
to exploit it to its own use. Cadastral
surveys began carving the country
into categories, the 2009 report
says: land under grant (long and
medium grants); lease-hold lands;
temporary lease lands (seasonal
only); new colonies (newly opened
lands); inundated and island lands
found only in riverine areas (lands
submerged under rivers during
Monsoon season, which re-appear
when river water recedes).
Like most laws passed under

[In 1948] the state was named the

ultimate owner of all land ...
This phrase and its implication has
stubbornly remained in place ever since
Local notions of ownership differed
from those held by the Western
mind, saturated with the idea of
private property, Furnivall reported,
later quoted by economist Sean
Turnell in Fiery Dragons, his 2009
history of economics in Myanmar.
Furnivall and Turnell both cite the
following British account of delta
farmlands in 1862: In the majority
of instances, the villagers regard
land, especially paddy land, to be
common land, which, if unoccupied,
any villagers have a right to take up,
and which when they have done with
it they have an equal right to throw
aside. If not taken up, it remains the
common fallowland of the villagers
for a few years, until it finally
takes its place in the wasteland of
the village tract.
Following the colonising of Upper
Myanmar, the British instituted the
Burma Land and Revenue Act (1879).
This set the basis for future land rights
through until independence, and
imposed a British approach in which
individuals held title to land, allowing
them to work, sell, transfer, and pass
down defined areas as desired.
But where the Empire giveth, the
Empire taketh away: The land and
revenue arrangements instituted
by the British led to far greater
state involvement with the land
sector, write the authors of the 2009
report Housing, Land and Property
Rights in Burma: The Current Legal
Framework, as well as far greater
private ownership of the land

colonialism, this formalisation of

land rights including the first ever
division of state land and nonstate land proved a double-edged
There was, for the first time,
a nationwide mechanism to
regulate land use and provide
some protection for owners where
necessary. But ultimate ownership
was now vested in the crown as

points (out of 100)


Myanmars score in the 2014 Index of

Economic Freedom in the category of
property rights the second-lowest
score given out

it is in the United Kingdom to this

day, making Queen Elizabeth II the
largest landholder in the world. And
what the new landlord wanted to do
was start collecting taxes.
Land tax became the single
largest revenue source for the
British government in Burma, an
arrangement which continued
through Burmas 1935 change from
being a province of British India to
an independent property.
Later, following the confusion of

Staff writers Wade Guyitt, Ye Mon,

Aung Kyaw Nyunt, Su Phyo Win, Tin

Yadanar Tun, Myat Nyein Aye, Aung Shin,
Phyo Wai Kyaw, Toe Wai Aung, Su Hlaing
Htun, Zaw Win Than, Myat Noe Oo,
Aye Thidar Kyaw

wartime occupation by the Japanese,

independence would come to Burma
at last in 1948. Now freed from
colonial rule and getting set to chart
their own course, the nations new
rulers equated capitalism with foreign
control no good for a nation looking
to establish its own sovereignty.
Centralised control of land became the
underpinning of a new state system:
newborn free Burma was socialist in
everything but name.
In the new constitution governing
the nation and setting out its
principles and practices, the state
was named the ultimate owner
of all land. First used appearing
in the constitution in 1948, this
phrase and its implication has
stubbornly remained in place ever
since, through two subsequent
constitutions, including the 2008
version currently used.
The land-use sections of each of
Myanmars three post-independence
constitutions mirror the successive
governments respective philosophies
of centralised rule. And the more
things changed, it seems, the more
things stayed the same.
While the British had defined land
rights for citizens in positive terms
inserting Crown dominance only
via phrases such as subject only to
or save by the 1948 document
turned the exceptions into the rule.
It spelled out explicitly the right
of the state to take land as desired
for collective or co-operative
farming or to agricultural tenants
and limited holdings by default
and no clause set out any rights of a
citizen to hold land privately.
By 1975, over a decade after the
military took power, this socialist
system had become explicit. The
constitution took on the rhetoric of
collectivist propaganda. From here
out, land confiscations would be
carried out in the interest of the
working people of all national races.
The constitution was suspended
in 1988, following the fall of the
so-called Burmese Way to Socialism.
In 2008 a new constitution was
approved, meant to reflect the new
nation and its new name.
While similar to past incarnations,
the language of the current version
of the constitution reflects the
transition to a market economy,
backed by reform of the legal
system. In todays Myanmar, land
confiscation is carried out by
economic forces, following the
enact[ment of ] necessary law.
One other change is notable:
After a 60-year absence, descriptions

Editors Myo Lwin, Wade Guyitt

Photo: Staff

of individual rights return to the

constitution. The state, the document
says, shall permit citizens a
number of land-related rights.
But with the state still the
ultimate owner of land, absolute
property rights remain impossible,
even in the new Myanmar. As a
result, land has become one of
the most frequent sites of conflict
between people, corporations and
The 2014 Index of Economic
Freedom, published by the Heritage
Foundation and the Wall Street
Journal, gives Myanmar a lowly 10
out of 100 points for property rights,
tied for Myanmars worst category.
In fact, overall Myanmar is ranked
second-lowest in property rights
among polled countries, tied with
Cuba, Iran and Syria, among others.
Only North Korea, Turkmenistan and
Venezuela are ranked lower.
At the top of the property portion
of the index is New Zealand, with a
score of 95. Tied for second place,


Land Nationalisation Act, 1953

It is prohibited, as from the
commencement of this Act, to
mortgage, or to sell or to transfer
by some other means or to divide
the lands, if the act is against this
Act or against by-laws of this Act.


Farmland Law, 2012

Allows farmers with land use
rights to occupy, sell, mortgage
and pass on land


Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands

Management Bill, 2012
Allows government or companies
to lay claim to land deemed
unused some say with little
protection for farmers

Cover photograph

Sub editor Mya Kay Khine Soe

Wade Guyitt (Maha Zaya Street,

Pazundaung, Yangon)


Cover design Ko Htway

Yu Yu, Wade Guyitt, Aung Htay Hlaing,

Catherine Trautwein, Thiri Lu

Page layout Ko Khin Zaw

Contributors Mon Thi Han

For feedback and enquiries, please contact,

with a score of 90, are 18 countries,

among them Australia, Canada,
Chile, Hong Kong, Luxembourg,
Singapore and the United Kingdom.
While Myanmars total economic
score in the report rose between
2013 and 2014, its property rights
score did not. The consequences
of this are worrisome: The report
finds countries with higher levels of

economic freedom will substantially

outperform others in areas of
economic growth, per-capita
incomes, health care, education,
environmental protection, poverty
reduction and overall wellbeing.
Land use is not among the first
topics raised when discussing
possible revisions to the constitution
but perhaps it should be.

Government of Burma Act 145.
1) No person shall be deprived of
his property in Burma save by
authority of law.
2) The Legislature shall not
have power to make any law
authorizing the compulsory
acquisition for public purposes
of any land, or any commercial
or industrial under taking,
or any interest in, or in
any company owning, any
commercial or industrial under
taking, unless the law provides

for the payment of compensation

for the property acquired and
either fixes the mount of the
compensation, or specifies the
principles on which, and the
manner in which, it is to be
The Constitution of the Union of
Burma 30.
1) The state is the ultimate owner of
all lands.
2) Subject to the privisions of this
Constitution, the State shall have
the right to regulate, alter or
abolish land tenures or resume
possession of any land and
distribute the same for collective
or co-operative farming or to
agricultural tenants.
3) There can be no large land
holdings on any basis
whatsoever. The maximum size
of private land holding shall, as
soon as circumstances permit, be
determined by law.
The Constitution of the Socialist
Republic of the Union of Burma
18.The State(a) is the ultimate owner of all

natural resources above and

below the ground, above and
beneath the waters and in the
atmosphere, and also of all the
(b) shall develop, extract, exploit
and utilise the natural resources
in the interest of the working
people of all the national races.
No constitution; suspended by
The Constitution of the Republic
of the Union of Myanmar
37. The Union :
(a) is the ultimate owner of all
lands and all natural resources
above and below the ground,
above and beneath the water and
in the atmosphere in the Union;
(b) shall enact necessary law
to supervise extraction and
utilization of State- owned
natural resources by economic
(c) shall permit citizens right
of private property, right of
inheritance, right of private
initiative and patent in accord
with the law.

Betting the farm

...with Aung Kyaw Nyunt

Daw Moh Moh Aung

In the now-cancelled new city zone west of Yangon, residents say they
would be happy to trade their rural livelihoods for a chance at development

Photo: Yu Yu

Ye Mon

HE recently announced, roundly

accused, rapidly aborted new city
project in the countryside west of
Yangon left a sour taste in the mouths
of many and for none more so than those
living in the area, who say it promised them a
better future only to pluck it from their grasp.
On August 22, Yangon Mayor U Hla Myint
told Yangon Region hluttaw that a new city
project would be implemented outside the
existing city boundaries,on 30,000 acres
between the Pan Hlaing and Hlaing rivers
and Twante Canal, to the west of Yangon. The
development, he said, would help ease the citys
overpopulation. The project was a surprise
to media and even to MPs. It also carried an
estimated price tag of US$8 billion and led to
a predictable flurry of land buying in the area,
with many trying to get their own piece of those
One real estate agent interviewed for this article
said a previous project in the area saw land change
hands for K3 million an acre. After the mayors
announcement, land in the designated area
mostly farmland went for as high as around K50
million per acre in interior plots, and K100-170
million an acre along the roadsides.
But controversy rose as quickly as the
prices: The new city would be built entirely by
Myanma Saytannar Myothit Public Company, U
Hla Myint said, of which little if anything was
known by the public and which had registered
as a public company only in December 2013.
Some onlookers alleged impropriety about
the arrangement. Some even suggested close ties
between two Chinese businessmen alleged to
run the company and the mayor himself.
In reponse to the outcry, the government


Year urban population of Yangon will be

double todays figure (10 million versus 5
million), according to YCDC urban plan

backpedalled. On August 28 it announced the

process would be changed to a tender system.
Then, on September 26, barely a month after
being first announced, plans for what was
referred to as the new city were shelved for
further study.
Prices in the area promptly plunged back to
normal levels, brokers said, and interest has
since moved elsewhere.
For those living in the area, however most
of whom make their living as paddy farmers
its been a brief taste of something that now

I dont want to work on

a farm ... And at present,
there is no hospital in
wont go away.
We were very happy when we heard the news
about the project, said farmer U Kyaw Myat,
of Kha Lout Cheik village in Twante township.
But our happiness is no longer. We are very
disappointed for the suspension of this project.
We hope the new city project will come back
and we requested the government to start again
this project, U Khin Aye, of Tamangyi village in
Twante, said when asked about the project.
Of course, selling their land would mean
farmers like U Kyaw Myat would no longer
be able to farm. But he said the prospect of
development in the area makes it worthwhile,
because of what it would mean for the standard
of living for those who live nearby.
I dont want to work on a farm. I want the
project for healthy and educated living. If the
project is implemented, they will build many
schools and hospitals. So all children can study
in their region. And at present, there is no
hospital in Twante, U Kyaw Myat said.
Of the 30,000 acres originally slotted for the
project, local real estate agents said 10,000 had
been dealt by the time the project was cancelled,
most of it to Chinese and South Korean buyers.
With things in limbo, those deals are now
falling through. Foreigner buyers dont ask to get
the advance back and they dont get in touch to
pay the remaining money, said one local agent.
The land that did change hands is mostly still

being farmed by those who worked it originally,

except now it belongs to someone else.
And the agent said the experience may have
left investors feeling once-bitten, twice-shy.
Some buyers said that they have to stop and
they dont believe the government anymore.
Yangon does need expansion, according to U
Sai Khon Naung, managing director of Sai Khon
Naung real estate and construction. But he
warns it has to happen carefully.
Yangon needs the new city. But if the
government want to reveal a new city, that city
should be better than the old In the other
developed countries, they use a strategy for new
cities and they prepare the electricity, school,
hospital and other infrastructure first. Then they
move the people there, said U Sai Khon Naung.
He said a new city project could help damp
down Yangons property prices, and if the results
are worthwhile people will move there of their
own accord.
U Myat Thu Win, founder of Shwe Min Thar
real estate said, When Yangons population is so
high, the city need more projects for extension.
But the government should have transparency
and plan well for their project. The government
should care about whether there can be side
effects or not before they start.
Farmers in the proposed new-city area say
the project may have been in the works longer
than generally known. They said starting three
years ago, a few companies began buying land
nearby, though no one knew for what. One of
these companies is involved in other prominent
developments in the Yangon area. Another
company, the name of which they do not know,
asked them to cooperate for a project last year, and
promised residents up to K50 million per acre.
Regardless of who implements the project,
however, some residents say they wish to see it
I work on my farm for a living, said Ko
Kyaw Than, of Hlaing Tharyar township. But I
really want to see the new city.
We just need our place to develop because
our place is beside the Pan Hlaing River. If there
will be a bridge to Yangon, we will be getting
better transportation and the place is going to
be developing.
The new city project, the mayor says, will be
resumed in 2040. In the meantime, its back to
the field.
Additional reporting by Myat Nyein Aye

Myanmar Real
Estate Services
There will be
changes in
the real estate
market in 2015, but it will depend on
how much international investment
comes and also on the political
transformation. Prices will either rise
or fall.
Now estate tax has been increased
by nearly 50 percent. In the past, a
2400-square-foot plot of land cost
about K4 million in Dagon and it has
increased to K5 million now. Also
industrial land cost K120 million for one
acre in the past, and now costs about
K190 million.
Dollar rates are low and not good
to invest in here. Gold prices are not
good for business. The car market also
is ruined. So people have changed their
business into real estate. People came
to invest during the era of changes. But
Myanmar people were not familiar with
As a tax department, they will
have to explain to people and people
need to understand. Prices saw a 30
percent increase in June and July of
2014, but were calmer after tax rates
were released on October 8. People are
just waiting and seeing because of the
changing times. Later we are expecting
commerce to be in good shape.

U Tun Tun
Phoenix Real
Estate and
General Service
The property
market is slow
in 2014 but it
was better the year before. It slowed
because of tax increases. Buyers bought
estates and changed the names on the
deeds because taxes rates were cheap
in 2013. Now the cost of changing
names on registration is high, so that
business is not going well.
Now low-cost housing is starting.
But low-cost housing needs to be cheap
so that everyone can live with their own
apartment. Those low-cost housing
prices are a little bit high. Land prices
are the basic issue with going low-cost.
If land prices are cheap, the prices will
be low.

U Maung Lay
Myanmar Real
Estate Services
The real estate
business is
dependent on increasing and decreasing
prices, but whether prices will go up
or down in 2015 cant be predicted.
The government is developing South
Dagon and North Dagon to be on the
same level with our downtown Latha,
Lanmadaw, Pabedon and Kyauktada
townships. Because of that we cant
predict what will happen next. Buyers
need to check when buying if the
paperwork is real or fake. Buyers need
to associate with professional lawyers
in checking if tax has already been paid
or not.

Translation by Khant Lin Oo

What goes up
must come down
In Myanmar, demolitions happen piece by piece

Cutting corners

Building rapport...

The old days of using shoddy materials

must end, builders say

with U Tha Htay, president of the Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs Association

Tin Yadanar Tun

The old Yangon airport terminal gets pulled down earlier this year. Photo: Wade Guyitt

Su Phyo Win

HILE other
countries use
explosives to
demolish even
the largest buildings within a few
minutes, crews in Myanmar still do
things the old-fashioned way.
We need to pull out the roof,
the galvanized iron sheets, first,
said U Bo Su, of Yangons Dawbon
After the roof comes off, he says,
the bars supporting it are removed.
Then the walls of the first storey are
removed, then the first-storey floor.
Next the walls come off the ground
floor. Finally, the vertical columns
which formerly supported the whole
structure are taken down.
If it sounds painstaking, it
is, but theres good reason to be
methodical.In a country where
building supplies are at a premium,
bricks, metal, even nails can all be
salvaged, sold and reused.
We buy old buildings from
owners and sometimes public
buildings with tenders and we take
responsibility for their demolising
with our crews, and then sell the
properties back to the contractors,
U Bo Su said.
The demolition team, since they
own the property at the time of
demolition, also profits from the

component parts of the structure

once removed so it makes good
sense to avoid unnecessary waste.
All the material from
destruction sites, even a nail, can be
recycled or reused, said U Bo Su,
who has been buying old buildings,
demolishing them and selling them
back to contractors for more than
20 years. It takes experienced



Quantity of bricks normally carted

away from a simple two-storey
wooden house during demolition

workers to get good pieces rather

than broken ones.
Everything left has a market
for reselling, said U Hla Tin,
a demolition technician and
consultant. As we are living in
a developing country, we want
to use all the materials left from
demolishing as much as we can.
Even from an ostensibly wooden
house, around 40 truckloads of
bricks will normally be carted away,
in trucks send by the builders who
have purchased the used materials

Buildings are torn down on Yangons Pyay Road. Photo: Wade Guyitt

from the demolition crew. One

truckload of broken bricks is worth
about K8000. During rainy season
the price can surge up to K12,000
because of demand for filling
potholes in roads. Unbroken used
bricks can be sold individually, for
K70 apiece new bricks usually
go for around K100, so its a 30pc
savings to buy used.
Scrap wood and galvanized iron
sheeting can be sold as well, even
if bent.
U Bo Su agrees that the most
important tools of the trade are
the right people: skilled, robust
and experienced labour. Crews
comprise at least five skilled
workers, each earning around
K7000 per day.
The most common project is a
one- or two-storey wooden houses,
U Bo Su says, which arent too
much trouble to take apart: about
10 days worth of work for his
team. Concrete houses tend to take
longer, about a month. The largest
buildings U Bo Su has worked on,
four-storey concrete numbers, take
around three months, and extra
machinery backhoes, bulldozers
are called for to handle the heavy
These days its mostly houses
coming down and apartments going
up, U Bo Su said. Some people
want to demolish as the building
is too old to live in. The rest just
want to replace it with a high-rise,
he said.
Before any sledgehammers are
swung, however, a demolition crew
needs municipal permission. This is
mainly to establish that those doing
the demolition have the right to be
on the property.
We permit demolition if they
can prove that they actually own
the building,said U Nay Win,
assistant chief engineer of YCDCs
Engineering Department (Building).
What if someone wants to
speed things up and use explosives
Thats simply not an option, U
Nay Win said.
The law doesnt permit anyone
to use any explosive materials
expect in the military.

MATERIALS are where builders

have traditionally cut costs, but a
generation after the first building
boom, many are now seeing the error
of their ways.
Many contract buildings started
being built around 1990. At that time,
many buildings were constructed to
improve the number of buildings and
nobody cared about the quality, said
U Aung Myint, vice president of the
Myanmar Engineering Society.
U Aung Min, the director of
Myat Min Construction, agrees.
While he says many buildings,
even luxury condos, lack adequate
disaster-preparedness, standards
generally have improved, as the first
experiment and its shabby result is
now informing approaches to the
current building boom.
When contract buildings
emerged, the contractors and
landowners didnt care about
quality, and they only focused on
building many apartments. Later the
apartment were falling down and
being destroyed only a few years after
construction, he said.
Now they focus on the quality.
The primary determinant of a
buildings quality is in materials
precisely where so many chose to cut
corners in the past.
Breaking down the costs of
building a new house, 50 percent is
the building materials, 25pc is the
labour and the other 25pc is the
profit, said U Yan Aung, manager of
Asia Builders Construction.
To get good-quality buildings,
the foundation is important. There
are at least five kinds of foundations,
each at different prices. When the
foundation is made on soft ground,
the price should be higher than on
hard ground. Likewise the rest of the
buildings price will depend on the
materials chosen, from iron sizes to
kinds of cement, said U Yan Aung.
U Aung Min said, Some contractors
and developers decrease the quality
and dont follow the normal building

standards, to get more profit and to sell

the buildings at cheaper prices.
Real estate agent U Min Htun said
buyers often cant or dont consider
build quality when shopping for a new
home, and tend to focus on location
and price. This makes it easier for
builders and contractors to do things
on the cheap, which is why U Min
Htun said its important for agents to
help customers from getting suckered.
People need to not buy houses that are
not good quality, no matter how good
the location and how fair the price.
A YCDC official said municipal
authorities check the quality of
buildings after they are constructed,
in an attempt to bring some measure
of quality control to the table. But
of course, by this point most of
the salient construction details are
hidden from the eye
The best promotion of good
practices, some say, may be in the
form of competition.
Now many foreign companies
are coming to the Myanmar and they
value quality, said U Aung Myint,
who is joint secretary of the Myanmar
Engineering Counil, which supports
quality building and engineering.
Myanmar engineers and
developers need to emulate the good
habits of foreign partners when they
co-operate with foreign developers,
said U Aung Myint, who is president
of the Myanmar AGTI Society, which
certifies professional engineers and is
working on a scheme to do the same
for developers.
He said the opening-up of
the nation means Myanmars
construction sector needs to build
stronger or be torn down itself.
The foreign companies are
coming to Myanmar and also
Myanmar companies can go to the
foreign countries when the ASEAN
Economic Community [AEC] starts.
The skill standards and grades will be
limited in all ASEAN countries, so if
Myanmar engineers and developers
lack quality skills, they will be passed
over in favour of other developers. For
the AEC, we face as many challenges
as advantages.

follow the code

Myat Nyein Aye

A NEW building code was drafted last year and is available for voluntary
compliance before it is officially passed into law, said U Win Khaing,
chair of the Myanmar Engineering Society (MES). The code has been
published by the Ministry of Construction for public reference.
If the construction sector follows this [draft] law, the buildings
that result will be standardised. If somebody asks about the quality
of a building, you can point them toward the National Building Code
(Myanmar), U Win Khaing said.
In the past, he said, standards were left up to individual builders,
leading to vast discrepencies in quality and safety. The new code will bring
rules and regulations to ensure all construction nationwide matches the
same standards. The Ministry of Construction will supervise construction
and measure it against the code in future.
Moreover, a Myanmar Engineering Council law drafted in November
2013 was enacted last month on October 10. A society spokesperson said
it will keep all engineers working from the same blueprint.
Under the Engineering Council Law, engineers will follow standard
rules and regulations too, the spokesperson said.

we dont have direct tasks given by

the government, but our central
executive committee members are
taking on some duties in other
directly responsible organisations.
It means we are already involved
in the countrys economic reform

Aung Shin

ORMED in 1996, the

Myanmar Construction
Entrepreneurs Associations
mandate is to support
development in the construction
sector. Boasting nearly 2000
members and 1000 construction
companies, the MCEA is now busy
collaborating with YCDC on the
citys zoning plan. It has advised the
Ministry of Construction in drafting
the long-awaited Condominium
Law, to be discussed in parliament
soon. It is also helping arrange
for young local engineers to study
high-tech methods in Japan, in
partnership with the Ministry of
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and
Tourism as well as the government
of Japan.
U Tha Htay, chair of leading
construction company Original Group
Construction, became president of
the MCEA in 2012. Here he speaks
exclusively to The Myanmar Times
about the associations activities.
What are the main responsibilities
of the MCEA?
The association consists of private
construction entrepreneurs and
construction materials producers. It
was formed to support development
of the countrys construction sector
privately. The living standard of
people is directly concerned with
construction. The MCEA is to be a
supporter of the states policy.
Does your association have any
particular duty in the countrys
current economic reform process?
We are handling this indirectly

What is the MCEA doing now?

We are busy organising new subassociations in the regions, and have
already started in Mandalay, Monywa
and Mawlamyaing. We will continue
forming sub-associations under the
MCEA in every region and state.
Is this by state order or the
associations own plan?
It is our own plan. We have officially
been allowed to form these kinds of
associations in the regions.

Any weakness or challenges in the

The main thing is a shortage of
skilled labours. We are facing that
problem. We cant go any further with
our old methods because the latest
technologies are being used in the
sector now as foreign investments
are coming. We have to update our
existing resources and technologies.
A few months ago, President U
Thein Sein met business icons in
Yangon. What did you discuss in
your presentation?
Extending the Yangon area is
essential. But high-rise buildings
are a must, as the land prices are
terribly high We suggested the
government allow construction of
high-rise buildings in areas such as
Mingalardon, Insein, North Okkalapa

that; it is not proper management.

The Yangon City Plan shouldnt just
consider 40 or 50 years ahead it
should consider hundreds of years
ahead, for our next generations.
What are your thoughts on
businesspeople knowing about
new city projects or other big
government construction projects
before they start? What do we do
about speculation?
It shouldnt happen. Actually, it is a
legacy of the old customs from the
previous governments time. If we are
going toward democracy, it is a matter
of transparency. The people are our
family members, and they should
be properly informed. Everyone
should have an equal chance. The
competition should be equal; not
a matter of letting the public know

Photos: Aung Htay Hlaing

Are any well-known construction

companies not members of the
All major private construction
companies are in the MCEA. Some of
them were founders.
How do you see the construction
sector today?
It is going as planned. Especially
there is a lot construction
development happening in Yangon
and Mandalay. Firstly it is because
of foreign direct investment and
secondly because the states budget to
education, health and development
has increased. There are a lot of
infrastructure development projects
by state and regional governments.
The construction sector is progressing
quite a lot.

and South Okkalapa townships,

where there are no high buildings
yet. While the limitation on high-rises
around Shwedagon Pagoda is agreed
by everyone in the construction
sector, we suggest this limitation
shouldnt be enforced in other areas
away from downtown or Shwedagon.
What are your comments on
the new city project which was
criticised a lot recently?
Normally we agree with the concept
of extending Yangon City. But I dont
like how the authorities managed
things that time. Internationally,
such projects are consulted on with
technicians, and would be conducted
by an international tender system.
It cannot be done wrong [without
a tender]: It cannot be done like

when someone else has already been

given a contract. No speculation,
no corruption: It is a matter of
transparency for everyone. That is the
responsibility of the government.
Are private construction sites
being properly managed? Are
they quality-conscious?
Under the previous government, a lot
of construction permits were granted
at the same time due to desire to boost
development numbers. In Yangon,
there were a lot of construction
permits. YCDC tried to manage the
quality of construction sites, but they
cant ensure quality control with their
workforce, because there are thousands
of construction sites in progress at the
same time. YCDC has fewer engineers
to handle the issue. Now, the High-

rise Supervising Committee under

YCDC is taking action on unqualified
construction sites. But this must
be done continuously. And private
construction companies should take
their own responsibility too. When it
comes to quality, everyone should be
tightly handled. We are responsible
for what we do in the future. The
controlling process to private
constructions is still weak even though
more managing actions were taken.
More and more foreign direct
investment (FDI) is coming
in. What is the effect on local
construction companies and
competition in the sector?
More FDI is to the advantage of
everyone. Of course, our local
companies will have to see more
competition because they are working
with international companies. But we
can never develop without FDI. It is
good for the country.
Millions of people in Yangon
dont own a house. Most rent and
are crowded into very bad living
conditions. What considerations
should we give to this issue?
People should be staying in standard
living quarters. Our people shouldnt
be on the street, or especially in
illegal housings. In fact, it is wrong
usage that we are calling these people
illegal residents. How can these
Myanmar citizens be illegal within
their country? The government has
a lot of land space in Yangon. The
government should implement real
low-cost housing projects for the
Can you comment on local
construction materials?
We can only produce a small number
of construction materials at present,
and the quantity is so small it doesnt
cover all construction. Now we are
relying on imports. For example,
we are using cement products from
India and Thailand. Our country is
rich in limestone minerals, but we
cant develop many cement factories
because of other infrastructure needs
such as electricity and road. It is a
very large investment.

Urban round-up YGN, MDY, NPT

Where everybody
knows your game
On the Mandalay real estate scene, theres one address that
matters above all others your brokers local teashop
Phyo Wai Kyaw

IN the storied teashops of

Mandalay, the talk is of profit and
loss, taxes and discounts, freehold
rights and kyat per square foot.
While sailors man the decks
and miners descend into the pit,
Mandalays real estate agents hit the
This mingling of tea and
property is not new. The local writer
Ludu Daw Amar claims there is
something about the teashop setting
that helps endow the necessary air
of shrewd impartiality, dignity and
grace that helps the broker convince
buyer and seller alike that the
transaction, and the commission,
are just right.
The cut and thrust of business
at Bagan Ahla got so intense among
the brokers, sellers and buyers

that its roadside tables stretched

for hundreds of metres in each
direction, spilling over into the
territory of the neighbouring Min
Thiha establishment.
For me, teashops are the
image of freedom. If we make
appointments for business, we
mostly meet at teashops. The
ethos of the teashop in Mandalay
is different from Yangon. Here,
once weve placed our order, we
are free to sit unmolested with
our tea in front of us. We can
make friends in a short time. The
owners dont mind if we sit for a
long time, ordering tea after tea,
said veteran broker U Aung Win.
He also reminisces fondly about
Sein Nu teashop on 65th Street, in
Myothit, and speaks of the rival
establishments that have sprung up
Pyae Sone, Shwe Taung and New
Paris in the west, another Shwe

Taung and Than Tayar in the east.

U Kyaw says, Brokers now
dont gather in one single place.
Different groups meet in their
own rendezvous. Some gather in
teashops at Setmhu or Thinpangone
ward. Working methods vary. Many
brokers will sit in a teashop all
morning. Some sit all day. Others
sit, then leave, then come back and
sit again.
They talk. They listen. They
bargain. Whether the market is cool
or brisk, it is discussed over brews.
Observers are wondering: Could
the rapid spread of cheap mobile
phones, and the swift transmission
of detailed information that comes
with it, destroy this cosy culture of
pouring out bids and counter-bids
over fragrant infusions of leaf ? Its
too early to tell. Lets go down to
the teashop and talk about it.
Translation by Thiri Min Htun

Is Nay Pyi Taw only

for tycoons?
Su Hlaing hTun
INVESTORS from the small and
medium enterprise (SME) sector say
theyre being squeezed out of the
Nay Pyi Taw market, as government
budget deficits have led to the
suspension of several high-profile
projects, and some smaller projects
and newly developed industrial
zones are still under the shadow
of large business firms owned by
privileged moguls.
The National Archive, one of the
most important national buildings,
is among the projects on hold,
stalled at 70 percent complete
due to budget shortfalls. Although
the National Reception Buildings
construction was started by the
government, the opportunity to
build and operate the building was
later transferred to top-10 business
The capitals housing market
is also tightly controlled. When
buyers want to own a house in
Tapyaykone special ward, in
the area between the recently
developed Maniiyadanar Kyauksein
government building and the
hotel zone, they have to go to the
Nay Pyi Taw municipal authority
and purchase directly from there.
Despite being called special
housing, few signs of public
developments have been observed
in the area yet.
Some business firms have been

banned from investing in projects

since 2012-2013, and some say
contracts are awarded only to
moguls with a close connection to
government officials.
There are still projects that are
ongoing, said U Maung Maung
not his real name the head of
a construction firm involved in
tenders for Nay Pyi Taw projects.
But, the difference is that these
projects are not as big as the
previous ones. Although the
projects go on, there still seems no
chance for investors from the SME
The big-handed tycoons are
still capturing all the opportunities
like how it always used to be. No
competition for everyone in the
investment sector has led to the loss
of opportunities to invest in good
business, U Maung Maung said.
Although Nay Pyi Taw authority
is offering chances to construction
firms for some projects via tenders,
non-tycoon business firms are
saying that the tendering process
lacks transparency. They say the
tenders are never announced in
state-sponsored newspapers, for
The show-offs need to be
stopped now. The time for real
practical experience is coming, said
U Maung Maung. Think and carry
out what the market demands and
needs. Dont look only at tycoons
that are grasping everything, and

think for the people.

Locals also criticise roadworks
they say are not in the mosttrafficked areas. A medical doctor
from Pyinmana said that expansion
isnt needed, and other sectors are
suffering as a result.
I think that road and bridge
works are being carried out as a
first priority in the Nay Pyi Taw
project. It will be great if they
prioritise more on the health and
education areas, said local resident
U Soe Myaing.
Only 20 or so top companies are
taking all the big projects in Nay Pyi
Taw, and the competition among
civilian entrepreneurs and small
and medium enterprises is bleeding
everyone else dry, he added.
A senior official from Nay Pyi
Taw City Development Committee
said big companies are winning
the projects because they have
technology and investment, and
denied that favouratism plays any
role in the process.
We look at both the technology
and the investment capacity of the
companies to handle the projects,
the official said.
It is necessary for small
entrepreneurs to take loans if
they cannot afford to buy land.
At the same time, it is necessary
for entrepreneurs to have strong
project implementation plans.
Translation by
Myo Lwin and Lun Min Mang

Sales sluggish
in Yangon
Land-value survey of Yangons townships for
taxes purposes shows how much downtown
demand is driving prices elsewhere too
Toe Wai Aung

HE second annual survey

of land prices in Yangons
townships comes at a time
when the market is in a
slump, with city dwellers hesitant
to cut a deal, brokers say, and sales
falling victim to sky-high prices.
Following complaints of residents
undervaluing their properties when
registering them, or simply not
changing the name on the deed when
transfering ownership, the Appraisal
Board in 2013 assessed land values in
townships so the values could be used
for calculating land tax uniformly.
The study was completed again
this year, but with prices high, few
are buying, and with taxes on the
increase fewer still are registering.
We think property sales will
improve before the end of this rainy
season, but buyers are watching
the situation without making any
transactions because of the property
value assessment, said real estate
agent Ko Aung Myint.
The appraisals results show clear
distinctions between land in the six
downtown townships Kyauktada,
Pabedan, Latha, Lanmadaw, Dagon,
Botahtaung and Pazundaung and
elsewhere. Land downtown is valued
at between between K250,000 and
K400,000 per square foot. Other
townships in the city come in
noticeably lower, from K50,000 to
more than K200,000 per square feet.
Currently a flat measuring 12.5
feet by 50 feet in Kyauktada township
is priced at K95 million, Ko Aung
Myint said. Flats nearby Kyauktada
township are priced from K50 million
to K1500 million, according to what
storey theyre on. In Latha, the price
of a 25-by-50-foot flat on a first floor
is K2.3 billion, Ko Aung Myint said.
Though the board has been careful
to note this is not a way to artificially
set prices for different areas of the
city, some feel there may be a knockon effect. For instance, a change in
square-foot value can work out to a
big difference in valuation of the total
price of a property, real estate agent
Ko Than Tun said, and may set a pace
for the industry.
If a 1600-square-foot condo flat
on Pansodan Road was worth K445
million, its per-square-foot value is
K270,000. But with the Appraisal
Boards assessment value of K300,000
per square feet, a 1600-square-foot
condo may be nearly K500 million,
said real estate agent Ko Than Tun.
Rental income is taxable, so
landlords are also passing these high
prices on to renters, said Ko Swar Lay,
a real estate agent in Kyauktada.
The rental for a condo with lift is

K200,000 minimum and K800,000

maximum. A company building
condos in Botahtaung township asks
K200,000 per square foot for presales. Renting flats in Bo Myat Tun
condo costs between K2 million and
K2.5 million.
The price of a 12.5-by-50-foot
flat downtown also varies by floor,
he said, with numbers decreasing
according to how many stairs you

Buyers are watching

the situation
without making any
have to climb: K300,000 on the
first floor, K280,000 on the fourth,
K250,000 on the fifth.
Agents say the price crunch
downtown is spilling over to the rest
of the city, with outskirts townships
like North Dagon, South Dagon,
Thingangyun, South Okkalapa,
North Okkalapa, East Dagon, Hlaing
Tharyar and Shwe Pyi Thar seeing the
crunch as well.
Some people sell their flats and
condos in downtown for billions of
kyats, said real estate agent Daw Mu
Mu Myint, then buy land [40ft by
60ft] in the suburbs by paying K10-20
million and building better buildings
there by using K50-80 million for
land and building. Therefore the price
of land and building in the suburbs
are increased.
In 2011, renting a 20-by-40-foot
wooden houses in a suburban area
cost K25,000. It now ranges from
K80,000 to nearly K100,000. Land
prices for a 40-by-60-foot lot in a
prime area priced at K10 million in
2004 now approaches K2 billion.
Land in industrial zones and
suburbs ranges in value now between
K40 million and K1 billion. Industrialzone land is priced between K190
million to K200 million per acre.
But in some places, the current
assessment value is higher than the
past asking price.
Translation by Thiri Min Htun



Maximum height above sea level

(roughly 416 feet) for tops of
buildings in Yangon, to ensure
none goes higher than the tip of
Shwedagon Pagoda



Luxury living
in Yangon
Tin Yadanar Tun

Photos and information supplied.

Star City
Land area 420 acres
Number of rooms over 2000
Price per square foot Over K100,000 to over K200,000
Location Kyaik Khauk Pagoda Road, Thanlyin township
Unit size 651-3374 sq ft
Advantage Shopping malls, banks, schools are included
Contact 09-73119511

The Illustra
Land area 1 acre
Number of rooms 208
Price per square foot
Contact for details
Location Phoe Sain Road,
Bahan township
Construction time
Completion in 2017
Unit size 1292-2088 sq ft
Advantage Fully furnished
apartment with imported
Contact 09-254477633, 09254477644, 01-206431

Infinity Luxury Condominium

Land area 0.5 acres
Number of rooms 148
Price per square foot K340,000
Location Kabar Aye Pagoda Road near
Golden Valley
Construction time 36 months from Oct 2014
Unit size 1300-3800 sq ft
Advantage Full Singapore design,
good location and full 360 degree view of
Yangon city, close to airport, lakes, foreign
embassies, Shwedagon Pagoda
Contact - 01-544504

Land area 12.8 acres
Number of rooms 584
Price per square foot K190,000K290,000
Location 113 Insein Road, Hlaing
Construction time October
2013-November 2014
Advantage Very fair priced
condo and good location near
Inya Lake and airport
Contact - 01-526146, 526148,

68 Residences
Land area 1 acre
Number of rooms 375
Price per square foot
Location Sayar San Road at
Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, Bahan
Construction time September
2014-September 2017
Advantage Low E-glass system,
duplex system
Contact - 8804477, 8804478,

Dagon City
Land area 22 acres
Number of rooms over 1000
Price per square foot K350,000-K395,000
Location Kabar Aye Pagoda Road at U Htaung Bo Street
Construction time At least 5 years
Unit size - 1477-2832 sq ft
Advantage Near Shwedagon Pagoda
Contact - 09-448255555


Cleared for landing

Minister says Myanmar is aiming to be the major logistic hub in Asia and thats a big
deal for the construction industry which will make it happen. Several big deals, in fact.
Zaw Win Than

HE government is aiming
to make Myanmar the
leading air travel hub on
the continent, a goal that is
spurring the biggest building projects
currently under way.
For the future of Myanmars
aviation sector, we have set a vision
that aims at making Myanmar the
major logistic hub in Asia, said
U Nyan Htun Aung, minister for
For fulfilling this vision, we have
also defined a mission that will drive
us to develop and strengthen the
safe, secure, efficient, sustainable and
environmentally-friendly aviation
industry in the country.
The ministry will implement four
strategic plans to achieve this goal:
pursuing liberalisation of economic
regulation; establishing new air
linkages to destinations worldwide;
promoting national airlines; and
improving infrastructures.
This last is where the big spending
will happen and where the
construction industry comes in.
We will upgrade, in a timely
manner, our air transport
infrastructure to become qualified
ones. We do recognise the importance
of aviation safety and capacity
building for the development of our
aviation sector, said U Win Swe Tun,
director general of the Department of
Civil Aviation (DCA).
In order to speed up the plans,
he said, the ministry is deploying
Public Private Partnership schemes
in keeping with economic trends and
the new foreign investment law.
Figures from the DCA show total
passenger traffic was 6.49 million in
2013, a 16.5 percent jump from 2012.
The large increase in passenger

An artists rendering shows the planned Hanthawaddy airport. Photo: Supplied

numbers at Yangon International

Airport has prompted the
government to revive the mothballed
Hanthawaddy airport project near
The government has also invited
the private sector to participate in a
planned redevelopment of Yangon
and Mandalay international airports.
Among the winners, Pioneer


Annual number of passengers

the expanded Yangon airport will
be ready to handle by the end of
2015 half the capacity of the new
Hanthawaddy airport, set to open
December 2019

Aerodrome Services, a Myanmar

company, won the tender to renovate
Yangon International Airport, while
Singapore-based Yongnam-CAPE-JGC
was selected as the back-up.
Yangon airport can handle only
2.7 million passengers a year. In
2011, it received about 2.4 million
passengers [and] in 2012 it was
beyond capacity. Yangon International
Airport will be expanded to handle 6
million passengers a year. The largescale reconstruction of Yangon airport
is scheduled for completion before the
end of 2015, he said.
Japan-based Mitsubishi
Corporation was selected to renovate
Mandalay International Airport, with
France-based VINCI Airports selected
as the back-up company.
Mandalay International Airport
can handle 3.5 million passengers a
year. It will be renovated and added
cargo facility and the upgrade project
is expected to finish by 2015, he said.
The long-awaited announcement

for the winning consortium of

Hanthawaddy International Airport
project was officially announced on
October 29 at Myanmar Civil Aviation
Training Institute in Yangon.
Hanthawaddy is expected to
become the countrys main airport,
located on a 9000-acre (3642-hectare)
site about 77 kilometres (48 miles)
north of Yangon near Bago. The site
was first slated for development in
the early 1990s. Work began in March
1994 but ceased in October 2003.
Despite its distance from the city, the
site was considered the most suitable
among a shortlist of nine.
DCA announced that a Singapore
consortium comprising Japans JGC
Corporation was selected by the
Ministry of Transport to build the
US$1.5 billion contract.
He said the company will get
official development assistance from
the Japanese government with low
interest rates and the group didnt
ask for any guarantee from Myanmar
They are now in talks with the
Japan International Cooperation
Agency (JICA) to cover part of the
construction cost with development
assistance. The projects completion
date is now pushed back from 2016 to
2019. So the airport will be ready to
operate by December 2019 and will be
capable of handling up to 12 million
passengers a year, said U Win Swe
The tender had previously been
awarded to a consortium led by
the South Korean Incheon Airport
Cooperation in August 2013, but in
February this year, Singapore-led
consortium has been brought back to
re-enter negotiations for the project
because the original tender winner,
from South Korea, has so far failed to
meet the governments specifications
for the project.

Banks wary of mortgage risks

But introduction of mortgage law to Myanmar would facilitate access to housing
Aye Thidar Kyaw

WITH property prices through the

roof in Myanmar, a mortgage is a
powerful yet still locally unutilised
tool for facilitating home ownership.
Experts say that while mortgages
drive prices higher because they
boost demand from the middle
class, they should be implemented
nonetheless, in keeping with
international financial practice,
in order to ease payments and
financial planning.
Bankers interviewed by The
Myanmar Times said they have
strong financial backing to provide
mortgages to customers as soon
as Central Bank allows, but since
Central Bank reopened economic
policies generally three years ago,
local banks have been treading
cautiously, not wanting to put a foot
wrong in their offerings.
There are no rules and

regulations for the [banks] right to

own apartments, said U Mya Than,
chair of Myanmar Oriental Bank.
That makes risk for us [banks].
We dont want to go to court with
Loan assessments to business
enterprises can easily be calculated
through financial statements
and cash flow, he said, but for
homeowners its more difficult, as
its necessary to calculate for longterm inflation and property price
fluctuation over the next couple of
With the draft of the new
condominium law finalised and
likely to be enacted by early 2015,
a policy for mortgages is probably
included as part of the law, said
advocate U Than Maung of Kelvin
Chia international law firm in
But the condominium law alone
is not enough to activate mortgages,
he said, adding other laws such as

financial institutions and housing

loans also need to be implemented.
Economist U Hla Maung said
mortgages requires strong capital
and stock exchanges and a strong
monetary market. He also agreed the
government needs to act in setting
rules and regulations.
I hope it will happen in the near
future with Central Bank permission,
possibly with the assistance and
practice of foreign banks, he said.
U Hla Maung added that the
important thing is that property
prices need to be watched closely,
to avoid a bubble of property prices
which crippled the mortgage system
in the 2008 financial crisis.
Central Bank allowed hire
purchase for commercial banks in
late 2011, focused only on buying
vehicles and electronic products.
Regional government urged banks to
offer hire purchasing for customers
in their recent low-cost housing in
outskirts areas. However, the system

was not popular, as banks demanded

many documents and restrictions
from their customers.
The different between a hire
purchase and a mortgage is who the
right to own something, U Mya Than
Hire purchase is safer for the
bank side, as the property remains
in the banks hands for as long as
a customer is paying. However, the
customer can own a property before
he has fully paid in a mortgage, he
The other challenge is that even
well-paid middle-class staff may find
it a burden to meet the monthly
payments mortgages require.
The banks will take many risks
in this case, so we need to scrutinise
it even if Central Bank would allow
it, he said.
He suggested more government
low-cost housing is a better solution
for those in need than relying on
bank loans.

All the
citys a
Myat Noe Oo

LIVING downtown may be a way

to skip the traffic for affluent
businesspeople, but the steep
prices and congestion make it an
unpopular place to set up a home.
Originally the centre of the citys
planning structure, Sule Pagoda
today is the hub in terms of price,
says Ko Htun Htun, an agent from
Phoenix real estate. He says a rough
rule is that the closer you get to Sule,
the more expensive you can expect
a property to be. But he added thats
generally okay for the demographic
most often drawn downtown
wealthy, unattached businessmen.
Places which are crowded and
near bus stops businessmen like
these places, Ko Htun Htun said.
Those looking beyond the
bachelor lifestyle tend to look
elsewhere, he added. People
who want to live only, and not do
business, like the quiet places and
look in the quiet areas.
The question of how to balance
the need for quiet with the need
for convenience makes purchasing
property outside downtown a
difficult proposition, even if the price
is more attractive.
Ma Naw, a broker who lives in
Shwe Pyi Thar, agrees that selling
outside of downtown can be
harder, because it requires a more
complicated set of considerations.
People looking for houses to live
in like quiet areas, she said, adding
that many want to able access
amenities like markets or public
transportation but also do not
want to live right next to them.
Sometimes, owners have
difficulty selling if a house is near
a crowded area like a market or a
monastery, Ma Naw said.
Location is a prime factor in sales,
but how a property is presented or
staged, in industry lingo can also
make a difference. You cant always
trust people to recognise that your
place is a diamond in the rough,
especially if youve left it a little too
rough, and its so full of clutter they
have to turn sideways to squeeze
down the hall.
If you want your residence to
make a lasting impression, you need
to dress it up, as if for a first date.
I decorated my house when I sold
it, said Daw Aye Aye Naing, a South
Okkapala resident. Formerly of 13th
ward, she sold her property and
moved to 10th ward six months ago.
But she is now renting, being unable
to afford to buy an apartment.
In her experience, neighbours and
environment can also help tip the
scales to help you sell, she says.
As can a good broker: Ko Zarni,
an agent who lives in Okkalapa, says
being a good communicator is crucial
for success as a real estate agent.
Some buyers are very choosy
and so we have to talk until they are
satisfied, he said.
And sometimes they cannot pay
much money but they are very fussy.
Times like that are difficult in my job.
Be wary, however, not to get too
carried away with tempting talk.
The brokers speak well of the
electricity and water, but the reality
[after moving in] may be not having
enough water to use, said Daw Than
Than Aye. It is a big problem.




Sounding off on noise violations

Su Phyo Win

HEY say good fences make

good neighbours. At least,
they used to say that today
a good pair of earplugs
might be closer to the mark.
Celebrations have always been
riotous events in Myanmar, in the
age of amplification combined
with the lack of anything close
to soundproofing in homes one
persons enthusiasm has become
another persons discomfort. Or
possibly many peoples discomfort.
Street vendors; portable personal
music players; festival stages; store
promotions; religious sermons
through loudspeakers; roving
fundraising groups you can hear
a mile off all in all, the city, and
especially downtown, is a pretty noisy
place to be. And thats with even
mentioning all the car horns.
But telling people to be quiet is
simply not done in polite Myanmar
culture. These days, its up to the
grandmothers to start taking a stand.
Recently a lady mailed a letter to
the op-ed column in a state-owned
paper. She wanted to complain about
a betel shop next to her house. It
wasnt the spitting that did her in,
though it was the two amplifiers the
shop had set up, which played music
morning till night she could hear
inside her home. And if that wasnt
enough, her grandchild was trying to
study for exams.
Now, the exam period in Myanmar
seems like the one time a semblance
of peace and quiet can be enforced.
Last year YCDC even ordered KTV
lounges to shut for the exam period,
to keep on track those whose time
and energy would be better spent

Pardon me?
Sound is measured in units called
decibels, and long or repeated
exposure to sounds at or above
85 decibels can cause hearing
loss. The louder the sound, the
shorter the amount of time it
takes for noise-induced hearing
loss to happen.
Here are the average decibel
ratings of some familiar
The humming of a refrigerator
45 decibels
Normal conversation
60 decibels
Noise from heavy city traffic
85 decibels
95 decibels
MP3 player at max volume
105 decibels
120 decibels
Firecrackers and firearms
150 decibels
Your distance from the source of
the sound and the length of time
you are exposed to the sound
are also important factors in
protecting your hearing. A good
rule of thumb is to avoid noises
that are too loud, too close or last
too long.
Source: National Institute
on Deafness and Other
Communication Diseases

The city we
Yangons urban planning solutions will
remain hampered so long as residents keep
shaping the city toward their own ends
Mon Thi Han

This goes to eleven. Photo: Catherine Trautwein

slaving away at their desks.

If only similar concern for public
welfare continued at other times of
year. The township office gave the
betel shop a warning, and the music
did stop for a while. A few days
later, though the shop turned it on
again, morning until night.
No fine, no punishment was given.
Other countries have municipal
limits on the number of decibels
that can be played in public at a
given hour. If such things exist here,
though, they certainly arent enforced.
Its all part of being polite, but it also
means everyone suffers distraction
anytime anyone wants to be loud.
Where are the manners in that?
During the Kahtein festival,
the biggest donation festival of
Buddhism, which was held earlier this
month, people go out around the city
to collect money for monasteries from

loudspeakers, amplifiers, drums, even

electric guitars in cars and jeeps.
Firefighters take care of the traffic
beside them as they go about the city.
Other times of the year, many
groups go around the wards to
collect money. They use volume to
advertise their approach, and living
in an apartment with thin walls gives
a good chance to contemplate the
Doppler effect but not much else.
Daw Taung Tin the grandmother
who wrote that letter to the editor
says all this noise bothers her health
at any time of year. She says she
knows it is supposed to be for religious
purposes, but it actually makes her less
peaceful, less calm and less mindful.
I cant stand that loud music
when it is close to my home, said
Daw Taung Tin. I just want them to
move away quickly as I am mostly
feeling unwell. But we cant complain

I cant stand that loud music when it is

close to my house. I just want them to
move away quickly.
well-wishers. They put amplifiers on
trishaws, cars, and even trucks to let
everyone know they are coming. The
soundtrack ranges from traditional
Myanmar songs to South Koreas
mega-hit Gangnam Style, all played
at ear-splitting volume. One wonders
how the people pushing the trishaws
or riding in the cars can stand being
that close to the speakers without
losing their hearing altogether. Of
course, maybe they already have, and
thats why they keep turning it louder.
Its not just about Buddhism,
though like love itself, noise
seems capable of reaching across
all beliefs. Hindus too play music
during festivals by putting extra

to anyone as it is for religious affairs.

We have no choice but to be patient
and tolerate it.
She added, however, that blasting
music seems fairly different from the
Buddhas scriptures and teachings.
U Za Wa Na, from the Abidamar
Yanthi Monastery where Buddhist
scriptures are taught to monks,
said that when people mix religious
affairs with business the essence of
Buddhism fades away.
There doesnt need to be too
many offerings from the donors for a
monk, U Za Wa Na said. Three robes
are enough for one monk. And during
the Kahtein festival, it is enough if
only one robe for one monk is offered.

But now people are competing

with each other to collect money
from donors and they try to attract
people by making loud noises to the
surrounding area. And the Western
music and spiritual songs dont relate
with Buddhism.
He said people are taking
advantage of the tolerance of
Buddhist people with the religious
affairs. They are trying to modernise
everything nowadays, even the
collection of money from donors.
Sometimes people just want to
do good things, U Zaw Wa Na said.
They want to collect more money to
donate but they dont even consider
what impact they are making on the
surroundings. The people just have to
ignore it though they cant bear the
U Za Wa Na said the value of some
things decreases with quantity, like
gems which are precious only for
being rare.
More and more groups are rising
up to collect money. It is not good
for Buddhism. In the past there was
nothing like todays situation, U Za
Wa Na said.
Monastic organisations should
encourage the restriction of loud
noise in public, said U Za Wa Na
A township official agreed.
Some are fake money collectors
as they dont even send letters to get
permission from the ward office to
use the loudspeakers, sound box and
amplifiers. They just put an image of
Buddha on the trishaw and collect
money from donors, said an official
from Kyauktada township, who asked
not to be named.
If people hear loud noise relating
to religion, he said, they mostly try to
tolerate it. If it relates to business, like
a noisy teashop, they will sometimes
complain to the ward office.
One thing they cant do much

about is demolition or construction

crews. Theres no way to hammer
a nail in quietly and with the
construction sector booming, theres
little way to block out the distraction,
except with a little music.
But wear headphones. And keep
the volume low. Your ears and your
neighbours will thank you.

Whats the law?

N Yangon, the root of our

urban problems lies in a lack of
physical and ethical distinctions
in peoples minds between
public space and private space. As
the city develops, the consequences
of the shortfall of public knowledge
on this subject will increasingly be
brought to the fore.
Yangon is a city shaped on the
private scale. The basic element of the
city is the optimising individual and
his or her immediate private space.
As the urban population continues
to rise, a typical optimising person,
who is by definition opportunistic,
wants as much space as they can
acquire. Domestic lives manifest
themselves beyond the boundaries
of private space, and the occupation
of public space for private use has
become the norm.
But when the spacial needs of one
individual are juxtaposed with those
of many others, the city becomes
a congested ground of constant
spatial contestations. Consider
a typical downtown urban block
as a microcosm of Yangon: Most
streets contain multiple programs of
commerce and living, and peoples
acts in areas like these create complex,
unthought-of implications for all.
Physical acts
Spitting and littering in public space
are very common. For example, in
urban blocks, residents use what

should be public space behind their

properties as if it were private.
Residents from upper floors typically
throw trash down into the alleys,
treating it as their own open-air
trash bin. This not only makes
these areas unusable for other
purposes, but attracts stray dogs and
pests, who live off the abundance
of sustenance in the alley. Its not
uncommon to hear the screams of
stray dogs which have been hit on
the head by falling trash bags. And
spitting is a similar act to littering:
Waste is expelled but straight into
everyone elses shared environment.
Ethical beliefs
Sometimes altruism has unintended
consequences. Many religions
encourage kindness to animals, and
for Buddhists the desire to provide
and donate encourages the feeding
of pigeons and stray dogs. But the
resulting overpopulation of stray
dogs and the noise pollution also
impacts the quality of urban life.
While animals are cared for,
buildings generally are not. To say
there is a correlation between belief
systems and the shape of a city may
be debatable, but it is true to say
that residents often accept things as
they are, without striving to change
them. That also extends to the urban
environment. People take care of
their own sections of a buildings
faade only occasionally, so the result
looks like a patchwork. Only recently
have we seen a surge of interest
in the look of the skyline, mostly

Photo: Yu Yu

through the commercials of new

developments. Maintaining buildings
and urban spaces is a Western
concept, and Yangon is a city made
with a provisional outlook.
Without attention, nature thrives
in Yangons urban environment but
not in a way we might enjoy. A city
left alone to natural growth over
time becomes a complex ecosystem.
Nature loves overlooked spaces and
thrives in them. Mosses and large
plants prosper behind the building
blocks; so do varieties of ants, other
insects and rats.
Economic pressures
Traditional ways of doing business
are perpetuated by gruelling
economic conditions, but not
always to the benefit of the urban
Mobile street hawkers are
familiar sights in the city. Whether
the noisiness and traffic they cause
is beneficial or not makes for a
spirited debated between those who
appreciate street food and those who
want to pass a quiet time. They are,
however, examples of a significant
problem in Yangon: Ownership of
the streets is ambiguous.
Driven by lack of private space,
some people take permanent

proprietorship of part of the street

by growing plants, using space for
commerce or putting other private
possessions there. In downtown blocks
with dense activities, human activities
fill every available corner. Parking is
reduced, leading to clogged streets and
constant traffic jams. Private lives spill
out into the public environment and
make things slower, noisier and more
crowded for everyone.
A matter of philosophy
In ancient Greece, some philosophers
went to one extreme, defining public
space as a place where individuals
should not draw attention to
themselves, intentionally or
otherwise. (To give a radical example,
conjoined twins appearing in an
ancient Athenian marketplace would
have been considered offensive to
the public, despite the fact that
being born conjoined is a natural
happening, not a social statement.)
Others, such as the Cynics,
favoured the opposite view. They
considered public space to be a place
where people could do anything they
prefer, without needing to consider
or be considered by others.
Residents seem to lean toward
the latter view. But philosophers like
Raymond Geuss (born 1946) would

say Cynics are people who detach

themselves from politics. The essence
of politics is mutual dependence.
In a city like Yangon, where some
people litter on the streets, people
must not be feeling they will have
to suffer inconveniences from the
polluted streets that result from their
actions, or they would not do so.
If we do not unravel urban issues
related to and caused by peoples
behaviours, the city will become
increasingly difficult to manage in
the years ahead. Just as animals
decline when forests cannot sustain
them, so too do humans wither
when our environment fails to
support us. But the city by itself
does not degenerate. It does so when
individuals do not do what is right
and is of most benefit to all.
It is essential that we ask ethical
questions about what it means to
live with others. This, as much as
better buildings or traffic flows, is
what could create a better city and a
friendlier urban environment.
Mon Thi Han studied at the
Architectural Association in London,
England. She is currently preparing
for postgraduate study and writes
about architecture and cities.

The Myanmar Times was unable

to determine current law on noise
violations in Yangon. A search
for noise in the 1245 pages of
Housing, Land and Property
Rights in Burma: The Current
Legal Framework brings up the
following two mentions but the
report was published in 2009,
so whats currently on the books
is unknown. Tell us if you hear
anything, okay?
The Specific Relief Act (1877)
Chapter X: Of Perpetual Injunctions
Illustration [Person] A rings
a bell or makes some other
unnecessary noise so near a
house as to interfere materially
and unreasonably with the
physical comfort of the occupier,
B. B may sue for an injunction
restraining A from making the
The City of Rangoon
Municipal Act (1922)
235. Rules may thereunder may
provide for or regulate all or any
of the following purposes and
matters, namely:
(b) the prohibition and regulation
of the use of whistles, trumpets,
and noise-producing instruments
operated by any mechanical means

Workers plus materials equals
the start of the Yangons new
GEMS development, shown
here under construction in
September 2014.
Photo: Thiri Lu