Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

When an ethnic minority in Myanmar says minorities suffered a lot under the oppressive rule of the former military junta, some Bamar people, the dominant ethnic group in the country, reply Bamar people also suffered under the former junta too. Of course, what they said is right, but the degree of oppression against ethnic minorities and the degree of oppression against Bamar are different. So those replies given by some Bamar people do recognize the intense suffering of the ethnic minorities in Myanmar. In essence they are saying, “Bamar suffered oppression, so it is not odd that ethnic minorities were also oppressed.”

The five-year term of Myanmar’s first post-military-rule national legislature, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, ended on January 29. Despite its many limitations, the parliament exceeded most analysts’ expectations in carrying out its legislative functions, particularly representation, lawmaking and executive oversight.

With the news that the United States Senate on Tuesday voted to unanimously endorse Scot Marciel, presently serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, to be ambassador to Burma, The Irrawaddy revisits an interview with Marciel from February last year during his visit to the country.

A mother of two children, 34-year-old Thuzar Moe originally hails from the Irrawaddy Delta’s Hinthada Township. She has been living for almost two decades in an industrial zone in Hlaing Tharyar Township on the outskirts of Rangoon, since her family migrated to the area when she was 16 years old.

She spoke to The Irrawaddy on November 8, the day of Burma’s general election, and exactly four months later in February, following the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) victory.

“My family voted for the NLD,” Thuzar Moe said, echoing the sentiments of nearly all those interviewed by The Irrawaddy in Hlaing Tharyar on election day. The township is reportedly one of Burma’s most densely populated, and home to tens of thousands of squatters like Thuzar Moe, who have eked out a living on industrial and government land for years.

Many feel that a solution to the issue of homelessness and illegal tenancy will be a test of Burma’s new government.

But for the time being, things have yet to improve in Shwe Lin Pan quarter, where Thuzar Moe and her family live. Despite recent bulldozing of squatter housing around Rangoon intended to deter undocumented settlements, even more people have arrived in Hlaing Tharyar in recent months: 600 families who Thuzar Moe said have come from Arakan State.

She said she has seen photos of the home demolitions on social media. On Jan. 26, local authorities in Rangoon hired 1,500 men and employed excavators to destroy about 500 houses in Kon Ta La Paung village in the city’s Pyinmabin Industrial Zone. They alleged that people living there were trespassers.

“I am also a squatter like them. I know how they feel,” she said. “If the authorities are going to remove us, we have no place to run.”

No Apartment, No Land

Near Thuzar Moe’s house, a white four-story concrete building towers over makeshift shelters. She said they have been built by the government and are classified as “low cost apartments.”

Chit San Ko, another squatter who lives near the building, said that government staff live there and bought their apartments through an installment plan. Many owners then lease their rooms to tenants, but the rentals still remain too costly for laborers like Chit San Ko.

“We can’t afford to rent those apartments,” he said. “Over 70,000 kyats (US$56) for a month is a burden for me.”

If migrants had the opportunity to rent space in these buildings, the number of those living on the land as squatters would decrease everyday, he said.

Homeless people have been encouraged to apply for subsidized apartments in Rangoon’s South Dagon Township, where Bandula Housing offers rooms for 30,000 kyats (US$24) per month. Yet the demand is much higher than the number of available units, and every applicant must provide a household registration form in order to be considered for tenancy.

“How can the squatters get one of these apartments? They don’t have a [household registration] form,” said Myat Min Thu, a newly elected NLD regional MP representing constituency number two in Hlaing Tharyar Township.

In Rangoon, this documentation requirement excludes most of the homeless population. The division’s electoral sub-commission chief, Ko Ko, estimated in 2015 that up to 100,000 people in the region had not been issued household registration certificates. He pointed out that no up-to-date list of squatter populations in Rangoon existed, but estimated that Hlaing Tharyar had an unregistered migrant population of at least 30,000.

With little hope of landing a government apartment, Thuzar Moe instead looked into renting a plot of land in Shwe Lin Pan quarter. When her family first arrived in the township, they had also rented land; at that time, the leasing fee was a mere 3,000 kyats (less than US$2.50) per month. Now the rate is 50,000 kyats (US$40) and any housing on the land has to be constructed by the tenant.

Mothers like Thuzar Moe end up choosing between schooling their children and paying for legal housing.

“I have to pay for my children [to go to school]. Instead of renting an apartment, I can spend that money on my children’s education.”

‘A Solution in Six Months’

If more opportunities existed in their native towns, fewer people would be tempted to leave them, Myat Min Thu told The Irrawaddy. He hypothesizes that development of the states and divisions outside of Rangoon would decrease the internal migration that leads to squatting.

Better law enforcement will be integral in learning how to address the issue in Hlaing Tharyar, where, he said, many squatters live under the protection of gangs, who collect “tax” in exchange for protection from authorities.

Myat Min Thu also lamented the acceptance of bribes by the local administration in exchange for residency or roadside shop permits, both of which contribute to growing squatter settlements.

Aung Ko Oo, the third Hlaing Tharyar township administrator to serve in the last five years, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Although Myat Min Thu did not describe an NLD strategy to address the squatting issue, he promised to reveal a plan soon.

“I will submit a proposal for the squatter problem within six months,” he said.

Hlaing Tharyar is now represented by NLD MPs in the Lower and Upper Houses and in the two constituencies in the regional parliament.

Thuzar Moe believes better living conditions will accompany the party’s leadership over the next five years.

“All I need is space to live here,” she said.

Link: http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/space-to-live-rangoons-squatters-place-housing-hopes-in-nld-govt.html


Burma’s local legislatures elected speakers and deputy speakers on Monday, with lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) assuming the posts in all but two parliaments—in Arakan and Shan states.

Mandalay witnessed a distinct changing of guard yesterday as its new hluttaw took office, with the newly appointed Speaker stressing the importance of being accountable to the public. He added that human rights and economic and social development will be priorities, and promised to annul outdated laws.

The first session of the Magwe Region Hluttaw was held yesterday, with U Tar from Salin township elected as hluttaw Speaker and U Zaw Myo Win from Myothit township as deputy speaker.

A 29-year-old man from Britain has been held in Myanmar’s most notorious jail for 14 months without formally being charged with any crime, he has told the Guardian.

The Farmers Development Party organised a protest on February 8 against a local reporter for Eleven Media Group (EMG) who reported about farmland disputes between local farmers and the Kaung Myanmar Aung Company, owned by Khin Maung Aye, who is also the chairman of the Co-operative Bank and an economic adviser to President Thein Sein.

A plan is underway to continue clearing squatters from parts of Yangon Region, said Col Tin Aung Tun, the regional Security and Border Affairs Minister, on February 8.

A man who threatened to assassinate Aung San Suu Kyi in a Facebook post apologized to the National League for Democracy (NLD) yesterday, the Anadolu Agency reported on 8 January.

In a move to bring lasting peace to Nagaland, a group of people representing civil society in the state have gone to Myanmar to convince the Sagaing based National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) back on the peace path, IANS reported on 8 February.

Clad in distinctive traditional orange jackets and tops, dozens of National League for Democracy (NLD) representatives walked into the legislature buildings of Yangon and Ayeyarwady regions on Monday to begin their work as new parliamentarians.

A senior military MP has ruled out changing or suspending the constitution to allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to become president while denying reports that the Tatmadaw is negotiating over the issue.

The interests of the country and its people must be placed ahead of party, ethnicity, ideology and religion, MPs heard today. The representatives elected last November attending the opening of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw were addressed by Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than.

Local broadcaster SkyNet has moved to clarify a news piece that aired on Sunday which many viewers interpreted as expressing support for the suspension of a constitutional clause which effectively bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

The Lower House of Burma’s Parliament convened for its fourth day on Monday, with lawmakers approving the members of two more parliamentary standing committees.

Lower House Speaker Win Myint read the nominated candidates for two 15-member committees—the Lower House Rights Committee and the Government Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee.

Lower House Deputy Speaker T Khun Myat of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will serve as chairperson of the Rights Committee, while National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Dr May Win Myint of Rangoon’s Mayangone constituency will assume the chairmanship of the latter body.

State and divisional parliaments also convened on Monday to select speakers and deputy speakers. Members of the NLD filled the majority of the postings, with the exception of the Arakan and Shan state legislatures.

In Arakan State, San Kyaw Hla, an Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker from Ponnagyun Township was selected as house speaker and the ANP’s Phoe Min from Rathedaung Township will serve as the deputy speaker.

In Shan State, the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s Sai Lone Hsai of Kengtung Township claimed the speakership role with Sao Aung Myat, the current Shan State chief minister, to serve as his deputy.

Link: http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/lower-house-approves-members-of-two-more-standing-committees.html

In an 18-point statement released on Feb. 5, the Union Parliament Office set out guidelines for the media which reporters say limit their ability to cover parliamentary affairs.

The Central Bank of Myanmar announced on Tuesday that 13 foreign banks have applied to operate in Burma in a second round of licensing.

Burma’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened an investigation into nearly a dozen coffee factories in Rangoon over rumors of malpractice.

Next Page »