Yangon cracks down on illegal rental of street space to vendors
Officials have put up dozens of downtown signboards announcing that street-side space is not a commodity, while the city’s mayor says he will take action against anyone who unlawfully taxes vendors.
YANGON authorities put up dozens of signboards in the city’s six downtown townships earlier this week, banning a well-established and lucrative trade in pavement space, and warning against the informal taxation of street vendors.
For many years, pavements in Yangon’s downtown area – and to a lesser extent the entire city – have been viewed as a commodity to be traded between street vendors and home owners, with some prime spots selling for up to K1 million.
On August 14, Yangon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe met with vendors to learn more about unofficial tax collection and the trade in street space, according to a post on his Facebook page.
He said he would create an environment for vendors to sell freely, and would take action against anyone who took advantage of them.
Shortly afterward, on August 16, Yangon City Development Committee put up more than 200 red signboards on main roads in the six downtown townships. They state that roads and pavements are public space, and clarify that nobody has a right to own them or to rent them to vendors.
Signs will soon also be put up along busy roads in other townships, U Maung Maung Zaw, head of YCDC’s administration department, told The Myanmar Times.
“Nobody is allowed to sell or rent public land. We need to let everybody know that this is illegal. People are making money by pretending to own space on the pavements and we are worried that they are taking advantage of vendors,” he said. “We have not taken any action; the announcements are simply intended to clarify and control the situation.”
Under municipal law, street selling is forbidden, he said. Nobody is allowed to display products for sale or block a street without the permission of the committee. However, the previous government allowed vendors to sell along the main roads between 3pm and 8pm.
U Maung Maung Zaw said YCDC understands that vendors need to make a living, and will continue to allow people to freely sell their goods between these hours each day, until new markets can be built.
The trade in street space began in 1999 when YCDC, under the State Peace and Development Council, issued identity cards to vendors, to bring some order to street-side sales and make it easier to collect taxes. Each card allowed its holder to trade in a certain township.
This card and taxation system continued until U Thein Sein’s government took power, when YCDC officially stopped collecting taxes from vendors.
However, many cardholders had already staked out territory, which they sold or rented to other street sellers, for as much as K5 million for a prime spot.
Other people, claiming to be officials, also collected taxes, though they stopped around the time that the National League for Democracyled government took power earlier this year, vendors told The Myanmar Times.
“People who were not wearing uniforms used to collect taxes of around K500 every three days, but they have not come for a few months,” said Ko Aung Naing, who sells clothing and shoes on Anawrahta Road.
“Until now, it cost between K300,000 and K500,000 to buy the right to trade in a good place. I am very pleased that YCDC has put up these new signs.”
The price of renting a space is highest in Latha and Lanmadaw townships, where the street markets are most concentrated, said Daw Sein Myint, who sells fruit on Mahabandoola Road in Lanmadaw.
“I bought this place for K500,000 around three years ago. People used to collect taxes every few days, but did not give us a receipt. They have not come during the past week,” she said.
Other vendors, who are paying rent to house owners, say that fighting frequently breaks out over the right to sell.
“I have been selling here for five years through an agreement with a local house owner. I have to give them money and I pick up all my rubbish. People from YCDC also collect tax, though they have not collected it recently,” said U Tin Myint who sells snacks near to Pansodan bus stop on Anawrahta Road in Pazundaung township.
“I have heard that some people are paying up to K1 million to sell their wares in a good place. But the street belongs to everybody – why should we have to pay to use it?”
‘People who were not wearing uniform used to collect taxes of around K500 every three days.’ Ko Aung Naing Clothing and shoes seller
A vendor counts banknotes at her street stall in Yangon.
A sign warns against unlicensed street selling on Sule Pagoda Road.