Myanmar city gets high-tech makeover

Many credit Mandalay Mayor Ye Lwin, a former eye surgeon turned politician, with overseeing a turnaround over the past two years. Shutterstock)
Updated 04 August 2019

Myanmar city gets high-tech makeover

  • Authorities in Mandalay are tapping social media and new technologies such as artificial intelligence software and drones to revamp a lethargic bureaucracy

YANGON: Once a seat of kings, the city of Mandalay in northern Myanmar has seen turbulent chapters in its 162-year history — the fall of Burma’s last royal dynasty and decades of colonial rule. Now, officials are attempting to transform the former royal capital into Myanmar’s first “smart city.”

In a country where officials still largely labor with pen and ink, surrounded by stacks of moldering papers, authorities in Mandalay are tapping social media and new technologies such as artificial intelligence software and drones to revamp a lethargic bureaucracy.

Under the secretive military junta that ruled Myanmar until 2011, people in the country’s second largest city rarely had any contact with those who governed them. Now, they talk to the mayor on Facebook and pay for services with QR codes, something not available in Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon. Authorities track garbage disposal with GPS and control traffic flows with remote sensors.

“It is very good that we can communicate with the mayor like this,” said 55-year-old taxi driver Kyi Thein. “Before, we could only see their motorcades.”

Formerly dominated by military-linked men and regarded as a hotbed of graft and mismanagement, the city’s first municipal government with an overwhelmingly civilian background has driven the plan, which is part of a regional initiative.

The pace of change has won plaudits in regional media and from overseas Myanmar nationals — the mayor was given the Citizen of Burma award by a US diaspora organization in May — underscoring opportunities for Myanmar as the country emerges from half a century of isolation into a world dominated by rapidly evolving technology.

But some of the attempts to push through change have met with resistance, not only from corners of the creaky bureaucracy, but from activists concerned that smart technology, deployed without regulating legislation, could allow authorities to more closely surveil them.

In April 2018, Singapore, then the chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations, proposed the creation of a network of 26 “smart cities” that would harness technology to tackle some of the challenges created as the region’s once mostly rural population converges in cities.

Three Myanmar cities were chosen, but it is in Mandalay, in the center of the country, where authorities have done most to embrace the proposal.

Locals there say issues are myriad. The tap water is not drinkable. Congestion is increasing as the number of vehicles has skyrocketed since the liberalization of imports in 2012. The roads are potholed and pavements littered with trash.

Many credit Mayor Ye Lwin, a former eye surgeon turned politician and the first appointed to the post by a civilian government after elections in 2015, with overseeing a turnaround over the past two years. He responds to gripes on his Facebook page daily, tagging subordinates and issuing directives.

He declined an interview request by Reuters, referring questions to officials in his office.

“Our goal is to create a city which doesn’t damage the environment, is liveable for people, with a good economy and friendly environment,” said Ye Myat Thu, an IT expert who created Myanmar’s most popular Burmese-language font and now works alongside the mayor in the Mandalay City Development Committee. “We get there using technology.”

Saudi energy giant to invest $3bn in Bangladesh’s power sector

Updated 27 min 1 sec ago

Saudi energy giant to invest $3bn in Bangladesh’s power sector

  • Experts say deal will usher in more economic and development opportunities for the country

DHAKA: Saudi Arabia’s energy giant, ACWA power, will set up an LNG-based 3,600 MW plant in Bangladesh after an agreement was signed in Dhaka on Thursday.

The MoU was signed by ACWA Chairman Mohammed Abunayyan and officials from the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), officials told Arab News on Monday.

According to the agreement, ACWA will invest $3 billion in Bangladesh’s energy development sector, of which $2.5 billion will be used to build the power plant while the rest will be spent on an LNG terminal to facilitate fuel supply to the plant. Under the deal, ACWA will also set up a 2 MW solar power plant.

In recent months, both countries have engaged in a series of discussions for investment opportunities in Bangladesh’s industry and energy sectors. 

During the Saudi-Bangladesh investment cooperation meeting in March this year, Dhaka proposed a $35 billion investment plan to a high-powered Saudi delegation led by Majed bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, the Saudi commerce and investment minister, and Mohammed bin Mezyed Al-Tuwaijri, the Saudi economy and planning minister.

However, officials in Dhaka said that this was the first investment deal to be signed between the two countries.

“We have just inked the MoU for building the LNG-based power plant. Now, ACWA will conduct a feasibility study regarding the location of the plant, which is expected to be completed in the next six months,” Khaled Mahmood, chairman of BPDB, told Arab News.

He added that there are several locations in Moheshkhali, Chottogram and the Mongla port area for the proposed power plant.

“We need to find a suitable location where the drift of the river will be suitable for establishing the LNG plant and we need to also consider the suitability of establishing the transmission lines,” Mahmood said.

“It will be either a JV (Joint Venture) or an IPP (Independent Power Producer) mode of investment, which is yet to be determined. But, we are expecting that in next year the investment will start coming here,” Mahmood said.

BPDB expects to complete the set-up process of the power plant within 36 to 42 months.

“We are in close contact with ACWA and focusing on the successful completion of the project within the shortest possible time,” he said.

Abunayyan said that he was optimistic about the new investment deal.

“Bangladesh has been a model for the Muslim world in economic progress. This is our beginning, and our journey and our relationship will last for a long time,” Abunayyan told a gathering after the MoU signing ceremony.

Economists and experts in Bangladesh also welcomed the ACWA investment in the energy development sector.

“This sort of huge and long-term capital investment will create a lot of employment opportunities. On the other hand, it will facilitate other trade negotiations with the Middle Eastern countries, too,” Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), told Arab News.

She added that Bangladesh needs to weigh the pros and cons before finalizing such contracts so that the country can earn the “maximum benefits” from the investment.

“It will also expedite other big investments in Bangladesh from different countries,” she said.

Another energy economist, Dr. Asadujjaman, said that Bangladesh needs to exercise caution while conducting the feasibility study for such a huge investment.

“We need to address the environmental aspects, opportunity costs and other economic perspectives while working with this type of big investment. Considering the present situation, the country also needs to focus on producing more solar energy,” Dr. Asadujjaman told Arab News.