RANGOON — The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has confirmed that it pays US$87,000 per month to rent its Rangoon headquarters from the family of a former Burmese military official.
The Irrawaddy first reported this week that the UN agency’s large new office in Bahan Township’s up-market Golden Valley neighborhood is rented from former Gen. Nyunt Tin, who served as minister of agriculture under the country’s military regime.
A “news note” that appeared on the website of Unicef East Asia and Pacific on Thursday was titled “Rising costs in Myanmar put strain on UNICEF’s resources in Yangon.” It recounted that after being asked to move from its office in Traders Hotel in 2012, the agency undertook an extensive city-wide search for a new office, amid “spiraling real estate prices” and scant choice of suitable properties.
“The current office premises, in Inya Myaing Road in Bahan Township, was then offered at a competitive rent of US$2.90 per square foot. The owner agreed to bear the additional expense of ensuring the new building was suitable for UNICEF’s work and provided a 3000sq ft side-building free-of-charge. This space is 33,000 sq.ft at a steep rental of $ 87,000 per month,” it said.
The statement compared the cost to the $45,000 per month cost—at $1 per square foot—that Unicef was paying for its space in Traders Hotel.
“However the rent is fixed for 7 years and it is a competitive commercial price in a tough market. Some international agencies have had to pay considerably more than our $2.9 per square ft for suitable space to avoid halting their programmes.”
The agency’s Burma representative Bertrand Bainvel wrote to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday to clear up “misconceptions” from the story, but did not address the detail of the agencies office rental. Bainvel told Agence-France Presse that the reported figure for the rent—$80,000-$90,000—was “not correct.”
The Unicef statement on Thursday also admitted that the property is rented from the family of a former military official. Given the monthly rental of $87,000, Unicef will pay the landlord more than $1 million per year for at least seven years.
“Standard due diligence on the owner and her family concluded that none of the international sanctions in place until recently had been levied against the landlady or her immediate family and no criminal charges were extant,” it said.
“Although allegations against a member of her family who was once a member of the previous military regime surfaced, the official had since left public office and was not subject to any criminal charges or international sanctions. Consequently, the best interests of the children we exist to help would not be damaged through this commercial engagement.”