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On the right issue for reforming regional government
While the new Myanmar authorities are beginning to define their policy of reforms, the greatest need is for good leadership. The centralized army regime has been in power for many years, and the challenge for the state is twofold: to ease the influence of the army on civil service and to encourage governments to be more responsible and provide better welfare benefits.
Wherever the legacy of the tyranny overlaps most with the hope of transformation is community leadership, namely the fundamental civil service in Myanmar's counties and townships. 2. Myanmar's most conspicuous characteristic is the absence of a strong state. It is administered by the Interior Department through the General Administrative Council (GAD).
Before 2011, the army was directly engaged in the management of the municipal government with the assistance of the GAD. The states and territories should have some degree of oversight, but it should remain under the oversight of the Union's departments. The GAD became the most important authority, serving as administrator for the county and township, as the army dissociated itself from everyday integration into the area.
The least reformed part of Myanmar's governing structure is community leadership. Since 2011, the Union's administration has developed considerably with the elections of the House of Lords and the establishment by this House of a Chairman and a Chancellor. On the other hand, the states and territories have become more and more established thanks to the formation of their own administrations, with each sports minister, each sports chamber and their own regional assemblies represented.
Former President U Thein Sein's management has made some changes under the man-centered approach, in particular through the direct choice of municipal and rural administrations and the establishment of some consultative commissions at municipal level, in particular township councils, which have a certain degree of municipal autonomy. The CDU/CSU government departments, however, still predominate.
Myanmar's ordinary citizens will interact with the administration through the Union's ministry regional office. While the NLD administration is thinking about how it can enhance the provision of community service and promote societal equity, it remains attached to agreements between governments at the grassroots level that appear to be inconsistent with the hope of transformation.
This has resulted in a rather confused mixture of Union ministry chapters and a bewildering set of municipal administrative boards headed by municipal bureaucracies, but sometimes with a minimum of relatively flat municipal council. The new Myanmar administration may want to move quickly towards reform that allows for greater representativeness, accountability as well as openness and the provision of services, but its aspirations to do so are faced with the harsh realities of a bureaucratic lethargy and inefficiency that is its most immediate link with Myanmar's people.
The Yangon City Development Committee, Mandalay City Development Committee and community authorities are all part of more prestigious community work. But their very survival and the need to create them should promote a broader discussion on the introduction of an appropriate third level of communal administration throughout the state. Municipalities in most Länder have an important role to plays in the provision of primary public service and the democratic connection of municipalities to governance, for example through the election of councillors or major.
Myanmar does not care whether a community needs a strong sense of community leadership and better provision of people. It is a great scourge that the new administration will be faced with these two issues - what to do with the GAD and whether a type of municipal administration is needed.
This also makes it considerably more difficult to follow up and prioritise a policy leadership reforms programme. It' s no wonder that after so many years of junta domination, the country' s current policy debate is more about GAD reforms than about a more comprehensive reconceptualization of the Myanmar state. There is nothing new about the GAD reform: U Thein Sein's own administration had created the opportunity to remove it from the Interior Department without being able to make genuine progres.
Whilst responding to long-standing complaints about the armed forces regime and the continuing, very genuine concern about the roles of the army in civilian affairs, this intensive concentration on the GAD could miss a greater reflection and probably also a greater opportunity: the creation of a third level of governance that really responded to the ordinary people's desire for more grassroots scrutiny, greater accountability and better performance by the state.
To sum up, there is great interest among the general population in the GAD review, which must be weighed up by the new administration, but which should also take into account the larger issue of more comprehensive changes in the management of regional governments. Conceptionally and in a pragmatic way, it makes sense to shape this discussion on a longer time axis and around the overall image of what Myanmar needs in the end.
The GAD reforms, without defining in advance how the broader community - especially the urban area - should be transformed, run the danger of exiting Myanmar with a complicated, inefficient regime that remains overshadowed by the EU ministers and still cannot really provide what the locals want. Eventually, the Myanmar confused governmental structures at urban district levels will require GAD-involved reforms of the government and considerations of further democratization.
A more holistic approach, focussing on the bigger issue of whether Myanmar needs a strong GAD and avoids a closer GAD bias, can better serve to improve the country's own administrative environment. Mr. Arnold is Programme Manager at the Asia Foundation in Myanmar.