Friday, August 18, 2017

Team to investigate contractors as Shwedagon to undergo repairs

Refurbishment of Shwedagon Pagoda, normally done every four years, is to start in early 2017, at least a year before it was initially scheduled, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has announced. The ministry is to set up a committee of goldsmiths to look into claims that some of the gold plates used to sheath the iconic stupa during the last renovation were of poor quality, leading to their premature deterioration.

Buddhist devotees fix gold plates onto Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on March 21, 2015. Photo: AFPBuddhist devotees fix gold plates onto Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on March 21, 2015. Photo: AFP

Religious affairs minister Thura U Aung Ko has summoned the newly constituted board of trustees of the pagoda and gold experts to a meeting later this month to discuss possible action to be taken against contractors who may have supplied defective materials. The contractors who were involved in supplying the materials have not yet been identified or publicly named.

“An expert committee will look into the situation and ask contractors about possible damage to the gold plating. Once the committee has been formed and the examination has taken place, we can determine what, if any, action should be taken, ministry director U Aung San Win told The Myanmar Times.

The 100-year-old gold plates at the very summit of Shwedagon, each about one inch square, are of the purest gold and are not thought to have suffered damage from the weather. Each weighs six ticals (one tical equals 0.576 ounces) and is polished to the greatest possible smoothness.

However, the larger plates further down are of lower and varying quality, resulting in differences in weight, colour and appearance. Some of these have reportedly suffered damage, including scratches caused by birds snatching insects off the surface. The ministry’s team will review if the degradation of the plates has occurred more rapidly than anticipated because of faulty materials.

During repairs next year, the government says it intends to improve and regulate the quality of the gold plating on the entirety of the Shwedagon Pagoda stupa, the country’s pre-eminent religious site and one of its major tourist destinations, as well as a pilgrimage site for millions of Myanmar and foreign Buddhists.

“We never consulted experts on this before, so it’s time to establish a committee,” said U Aung San Win.

The last full resurfacing was completed in 2014, with some plates redone in March and April 2015. The next full-scale renovation work was not due until the end of 2018. But the government has decided to carry out the work next year, alongside an inspection of the gold plating, at a cost of about K4 million. Minister Thura U Aung Ko announced the move on his social media account.