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New construction minister closes toll gates on first day on the job

A toll gate on the Rangoon-Naypyidaw highway (Photo: Wikimedia)

In a move calculated to please Burmese motorists, the Ministry of Construction announced on Friday that it would order the closure of more than half of the toll gates operating in most parts of the country.

The directive, which applies to all states and divisions in Burma except Chin, Kachin and Karen states, will see the number of official toll gates reduced from 302 to just 141, according to a statement released by the ministry of its official Facebook page.

Posted under the heading “First day, first move,” the statement appeared to signal the ministry’s intent to break with unpopular practices that were common under the quasi-civilian administration of former President Thein Sein.

In recent years, Burma has seen a proliferation of toll gates around the country. Most are operated by private companies licensed by the ministry to collect tolls for road maintenance.

The Facebook post also outlined the priorities of the new National League for Democracy government’s construction minister, Win Khaing, including a set of guidelines for improving the quality of civil engineering in the country and a focus on projects “for the people”.

The response to the announcement was generally positive, but some Facebook users noted that closing the toll gates was just a start to what many see as a system of legalized highway robbery.

“It’s also inappropriate to collect ‘entrance fees’ to towns. It would be nice to see that abolished too,” wrote Aung Kyi Soe.

Jp John, another Facebook user, wrote: “I hope this is not an April Fools’ joke. It said four checkpoints in Karenni State were going to be shut down but I’m also seeing new ones being built right now.”