| YANGON, Sept 1
YANGON, Sept 1 Authorities in Myanmar's biggest
city have backed down on plans to award a $8 billion
construction contract to a barely known firm following a public
outcry over its transparency in a country notorious for graft
and vested interests.
The Yangon region government said on Thursday an open tender
would be held for a huge low-cost housing project, one of the
biggest of its kind in Myanmar, just days after the city's mayor
stunned lawmakers by announcing a deal had been struck in secret
with a firm set up only nine months ago.
"We were all caught by surprise when we heard this," Yangon
region lawmaker Nyo Nyo Thinn told Reuters.
"We later realised that they had been carrying out this
project secretly without the knowledge of parliament, and were
far from seeking approval."
It was unclear what prompted the decision to open up bidding
or if the central government was involved, or even aware of the
initial deal with Myanmar Say Ta Nar Myothit Public Co. Ltd.,
which was registered as a business in December last year and
unheard of until Mayor Hla Myint's announcement.
The government of reformist president and former general
Thein Sein has vowed to fight graft and promote transparency to
lure foreign investment and help address urgent employment and
infrastructure needs. Many Western firms, however, remain
hesitant about making big commitments.
Under the military's 1962-2011 rule, business deals and
concessions related to energy, infrastructure, land and mining
were often extremely opaque, awarded without tenders to cronies
of the generals whose kleptocracy deterred competition.
The project, covering three townships in the west of Yangon,
seeks to address a shortage of affordable accommodation in a
city expected to swell far beyond its six million residents as
business and tourism grows, construction booms and investors
arrive from Thailand, Singapore, India and Japan.
It aims to provide 20,000 low-cost housing units, five
bridges to connect the area to the rest of Yangon, a school and
a home for the elderly.
"We just can't understand who is behind this and why they
did it secretly," said a minister with the Yangon region
government, who declined to be identified.
News group Eleven Media lashed out at the project last week
in several of its publications and posted an article on its
English-language website headlined: "Do you think the entire
Eleven cited public concern over the secrecy of the plan and
lack of information about Myanmar Say Ta Nar Myothit, including
the identity of its owner.
(Writing by Paul Mooney; Editing by Martin Petty and Jeremy