Mandalay MPs take on ‘limbo hotels’ issue
THE future of Bagan’s “limbo hotels” hangs on Mandalay Region MPs. They are expected to recommend changes to a 1998 law so as to clarify the status of the hotels, some of which are still under construction. Local villagers are also complaining they have been caught in the legal crossfire.
U Win Myint Khaing, chair of the hluttaw’s Religious, Social and Cultural Affairs Committee, said this was its first attempt to untangle the complex legal situation that has confused landlords, hoteliers and local residents. The seven-member committee undertook a three-day survey from July 6 to 9 and is now preparing to report back to the region parliament.
“We’re investigating those issues in Bagan at the request of Mandalay Region Hluttaw’s chair. This is the first time the committee has done an investigation on the ground from a regional point of view,” said U Win Myint Khaing.
“We will concentrate on the weaknesses of the 1998 cultural law. Hluttaw members will decide whether or not it requires amendment, and make representations to the Union-level hluttaw,” he said.
The 1998 law establishes three zones: the Monument Zone (MZ), the Ancient Archaeological Zone (AZ) and the Protective Zone (PZ). It does not stipulate an urban zone where local residents would be allowed to live and work.
The long-running “limbo hotels” problem arose when the 42 hoteliers were cleared to build in Bagan by the Archaeology Department in 2013, but subsequently ordered to stop work and not to take in guests.
The guesthouses, mostly modest establishments run by local residents, are deemed to be too close to Bagan’s famed temples, a factor that could put at risk the city’s bid to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage listing.
As a result, the Ministry of Culture reinstated a zoning ban put in place in 1998 but rarely enforced since then. Earlier this year, 129 properties deemed to be operating too close to the ancient site were given a 10-year edict to move to a special hotel zone, including the 42 guesthouses.
U Khin Maung Myint, chair of the Regional Business Development Association, told The Myanmar Times, “We would never have started building the hotels if we hadn’t received permission initially. We’ve lost a lot of money because of this ban. We’re very upset that they’re treating us like squatters.”
A representative of local villagers, U Win Ko, said even some of his neighbours in Myin Kapar village had been caught in the legal crossfire. Those who lived opposite Ma Nu Har Pagoda had been forbidden to build on their own land. The former military regime had compensated the owners of 96 houses on about 34 acres of land seized to make way for a road between new Bagan and old Bagan in 1990, he said.
“We would like to build on the land because the population is increasing, but the Archaeology Department threatened to take legal action if we did that,” he said.
Another villager, Ko Aung Min Khaing, said, “We’re afraid to stay here because we can’t afford the rent. The Archaeology Department is banning us from living here.”
He said his family had bought a 40-by-60-foot plot for K3 million earlier this year. Three families, comprising 11 people, are living in one small house.
“We’re just day labourers on construction sites. We knew this land was not completely clear and there was a risk. But we would be very happy if we were allowed to stay,” he said.
The department has targeted 30 houses because it needs to establish a village boundary between the prohibited zones, said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of the Bagan Archaeology Department.
“We can’t allow houses or buildings to be constructed on the legal boundary. Anyone who breaks this rule is considered to be a squatter and we will submit the matter to the Bagan Ancient Archaeological Management Committee,” he said.
“An urban zone for residences may be included when we change the 1998 law, but I can’t confirm that. People must obey the law on the conservation of ancient cultural sites whether there is an urban zone or not,” he said.
Several of Bagan’s ‘limbo hotels’ were nearly finished construction when they were told they could not open to visitors.