The Ulaanbaatar Ger District Infrastructure Department and the Asian Development Bank’s Ulaanbaatar Urban Services and Ger Areas Development Investment Program (Ger Area Program) team held a joint conference on the topic of “Ger Area Re-Planning and Participation of Public, Private and International Organizations”. Deputy director of the Ger Area Program, member of the Ulaanbaatar City Council, and advisor to the Minister of Construction and Urban Development Ch.Gantulga spoke about the program and its importance in the following interview.
Ger area re-planning has become one of the most urgent issues in Ulaanbaatar. Public and private organizations and foreign investors discussed this matter from all sides last week. What were the conclusions they reached?
We’ve been discussing this issue for years and implemented all kinds of projects and programs to resolve it. Like I mentioned during my presentation, there were some 70,000 families living in ger areas but this figure tripled to nearly 220,000.
Right now, there are 80,000 apartments already supplied in the market. Around 30,000 of them have been commissioned, yet families aren’t able to move in. This is a reality. It might seem like apartments are being built from one side, but on the other side, ger areas are expanding every passing year. We’re spending a considerable amount of time for the price stabilizing program and other things for supporting small and medium-sized businesses. Then why are we in this state? All that money came from bonds. Basically, they’re loans. But we have yet to see results. This was a policy mistake. We were supposed to enforce these programs with a proper rule and regulation, which prohibits residents from purchasing another apartment in Ulaanbaatar. The program was initiated to house ger area residents and resolve air and soil pollution issues.
Unfortunately, the program didn’t reach its target group. The money for ger area re-planning is going back and forth between a few banks and construction companies. People doing business, who have reasonable income, have bought two to three apartments and some even bought four. Those people took away the apartments that were supposed to go to ger area residents, increasing apartment prices. Now, they’re even renting those apartment to our target group. I’m wondering if we needed to implement the program under strict regulation and terms in the first place.
The Housing Program has been ongoing for many years and has intensified in recent years. How many ger area residents were able to move into apartments?
In the last four years, apartments were built in 14 locations and over 20,000 families were expected to be housed. However, data shows that barely 2,000 families were able to leave ger areas. This is a very poor result. Through re-planning, land permits were issued and infrastructure was developed with state funds.
Unfortunately, construction companies are unable to build apartments for 500 to 1,000 families, sell them out, do profitable business, and repay their debt. This is an indication that ger area re-planning was done wrongly from the beginning. Now, we need to sit together, discuss and assess everything, find out where we were wrong, and determine what to do next. We also need to carefully consider what kind of a legal environment ought to be established and ways to raise funds and use it for projects.
The ger area re-planning is the most anticipated program by many, but it has temporarily halted. When will it resume?
Minister of Construction and Urban Development G.Munkhbayar stated that infrastructure for several subcenters, such as Bayankhoshuu, have been resolved. I believe it’s only right to re-plan these subcenters, build apartments and connect them to infrastructure. This is a form of solution. From another perspective, there’s also the issue about the location of ger areas. They are located in the western and eastern sides of the city, on the mouth of mountains and in areas with ravines. It isn’t right to build apartments on that kind of land. It would be too challenging to supply heat and hot water. First of all, we need to take this into account.
If it’s inappropriate to build apartments in these areas, we’ll need to discuss what to build instead, as well as what kind of technology we can utilize. It’s right to introduce new technology, but it needs to be able to withstand Mongolia’s extreme climate, it must be affordable, and practical. Mongolia has sunlight for almost 280 out of 365 days of the year. That’s why I think it’s a better choice to use solar power systems to build a macro city with everything people need such as the internet and state services. This way residents can live happily at their current location with low cost.
A research was conducted for this and it has been concluded. It’s possible to further discuss, improve and implement this research and idea with the Ulaanbaatar Administration, Ministry of Construction and Urban Development and the government. Mongolians are capable of constructing their own houses and live comfortably. We need to give and open the opportunity through policy for them to do this.
…Capital cities have the right to release bonds, trade, raise funds from it, earn profit, and use it to finance development programs and projects. This is how it should be…
Ulaanbaatar needs subcenters. If people are able to access state and other services from where they live, they wouldn’t have to centralize in one area and it will also reduce traffic congestion in the city. Don’t you agree?
Exactly. Today, all services and ministries are too centralized in the city center. We need to disperse them. The Action Plan of our party (MPP) specifies three policy-oriented strategies for subcenters, which are for Emeelt, Baganuur and Nalaikh Industrial Parks. We can also build a city next to the new international airport in Khushig Valley and Mongol Naadam Complex in Khui Doloon Khutag.
I know that there will be problems financially and time-wise. However, we need to find those solutions. The population density in the capital has increased too much. We will depopulate the city by making state services accessible. Residents living in Doloon Buudal and Chingeltei District access state services from the State Services Centers in Dunjingarav, Dragon and Misheel Expo. There are many issues that make it questionable whether they are smart solutions.
There’s nothing wrong with starting city development from khoroos.
Instead of having two or three people sit at khoroo offices to register the population, we should do staff training and capacity-building. In particular, they should be how taught to use various software and the internet so that we can improve online services and provide all state services at khoroo offices. Like so, there are several options to resolve some things with technology. I introduced them at the meeting. We’re getting ready to launch what3words for facilitating the addressing system. We will cooperate with a British company on this and it will be completed without spending much money.
Nowadays, we haven’t been able to fully address the nation. Addresses of residents in ger areas are disorganized. They can address their properties by simply installing and running the application. Whenever they’re in an emergency, the fire department, police, post office and hospitals can find their location immediately using Google Maps.
Mongolia isn’t in its best shape economically. Ger area re-planning and other relevant projects require a lot of funding. How will their finances be resolved?
Capital cities must have a financial status. Capital cities have the right to release bonds, trade, raise funds from it, earn profit, and use it to finance development programs and projects. This is how it should be. This needs to be discussed within the scope of the legal reform for the capital. As for subcenters, or small towns, that we plan to construct, we plan to build the first few through foreign investment.
Of course, commercial banks will participate, which will involve mortgage loans. Banks can give loans and financing to Mongolian construction companies that will work on this project. Overall, I want to show that it’s possible to execute projects by getting the main investment from an external source.
You said that you want to build small towns. Exactly where will they be established? Has it been determined?
These issues need to be negotiated with the city administration. New things always bring tons of risks. We plan to build these small towns near the city center to reduce risks. It’s possible to build them near Gandan Monastery or Nogoon Lake. However, we will carefully choose the location so as to prevent another policy mistake.