NLD calls bu­reau­cracy ‘stum­bling block’ in re­forms

The Myanmar Times - - Business - JOHN LIU, THOMP­SON CHAU busi­[email protected]­ All quotes from U Myo Nyunt in this ar­ti­cle have been trans­lated from Man­darin.

A spokesper­son for the rul­ing party has blamed “some in the bu­reau­cracy” for the coun­try’s poor eco­nomic re­form, say­ing ex­ces­sive red­tape is a “stum­bling block in Myan­mar’s demo­cratic tran­si­tion”.

U Myo Nyunt, spokesper­son of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) party, made the com­ments dur­ing an in­ter­view with Chi­nese me­dia group Caixin’s sub­sidiary pub­li­ca­tion Globus at the NLD’s head­quar­ters in Novem­ber, 2018.

He said the most press­ing need for Myan­mar is to “se­cure some eco­nomic break­throughs” to “al­le­vi­ate the eco­nomic woes for the masses... I hope our col­leagues [in gov­ern­ment] can tackle this is­sue in the near fu­ture.”

“This is be­cause with­out eco­nomic progress, it will be hard for us to win the 2020 Gen­eral Elec­tion. Peo­ple right now are un­der a se­vere eco­nomic bur­den. Even as mid­dle class, we can­not af­ford our own fuel costs, we can only ride pub­lic buses,” he said. U Myo Nyunt also high­lighted how en­trenched the mil­i­tary’s in­flu­ence and in­volve­ment is in the econ­omy.

“The mil­i­tary con­trols many big com­pa­nies in Myan­mar, in­clud­ing in avi­a­tion, bank­ing, en­ergy, im­ports and other ar­eas.”

Lack of ex­pe­ri­ence

The spokesper­son cited the the rul­ing party’s lack of ex­pe­ri­ence and the re­sis­tance within the bu­reau­cracy as two bot­tle­necks for the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

U Myo Nyunt em­pha­sised the bu­reau­cratic op­po­si­tion against the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship dur­ing the in­ter­view, ad­ding that he hopes the NLD can tackle this with “rad­i­cal” changes af­ter win­ning the 2020 Gen­eral Elec­tion.

“The bu­reau­cracy is slow to act [on re­forms] and this could be be­cause some pre­fer to go back to the old days.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Civil Ser­vice Per­son­nel Law, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have to be trans­ferred to an­other town if they do not per­form.

U Myo Nyunt said, in one in­stance, an of­fi­cial was trans­ferred to a more pros­per­ous and de­vel­oped town in­stead, which amounted to a pro­mo­tion and not penalty.

“We should have taken ac­tion ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively, but right now we are rather hes­i­tant,” said U Myo Nyunt, ad­ding wrong-do­ers need to be dis­ci­plined more ef­fec­tively.

Ef­forts to mod­ernise and re­form Myan­mar’s bu­reau­cracy are still at an early stage.

Hen­rich Dahm, a con­sul­tant in Yangon, ar­gued last year that the legacy of cen­tralised mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship has ham­pered re­form.

A NRGI re­port re­leased last Jan­uary re­vealed that Myan­mar’s pol­i­cy­mak­ing in­sti­tu­tions are “nascent”. The is­sue of bu­reau­cracy is man­i­fested through “the sparse statu­tory frame­work” and the ab­sence of clear guid­ing leg­is­la­tion or di­rec­tion from elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives or the Cab­i­net.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, many groups of pol­icy mak­ers within the gov­rn­ment have in­flu­ence over the re­form of pow­er­ful state-owned en­ter­prises, key driv­ers of rev­enue for the coun­try, but none is lead­ing the process.

Ul­ti­mately, the bu­reau­cracy pro­tects the sta­tus quo. Par­lia­ment also lacks the re­sources and au­thor­ity to hold it ac­count­able.

Bu­reau­cracy: an ob­struc­tion

“It is ab­so­lutely fair for U Myo Nyunt to say that the bu­reau­cracy has been an ob­struc­tion,” Kim Jol­liffe, an in­de­pen­dent re­searcher on Myan­mar, said.

Un­til re­cently, the Home Af­fairs Min­istry ap­pointed and con­trolled the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion Depart­ment (GAD) at each level of gov­ern­ment, which cov­ers more than 16,000 local dis­tricts and town­ships.

An Asia Foun­da­tion (TAF) re­port in 2014 de­scribed the GAD as the “back­bone of Myan­mar’s pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion” with more than 36,000 staff spread across the coun­try.

Mr Jol­liffe said the GAD acts as the main line of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween all gov­ern­ment depart­ments, houses many of the gov­ern­ment’s cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion struc­tures which over­see the ad­min­is­tra­tors at district and town­ship level as well as vil­lage tracts and ward ad­min­is­tra­tions. There­fore, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of any new pol­icy would de­pend on the co­op­er­a­tion of the GAD.

But the re­searcher ar­gued that the NLD-led gov­ern­ment “does not get a free pass on this [stalled re­forms]”.

“As with the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to Rakhine and other high­pro­file is­sues, the ques­tion is if the NLD has been try­ing to im­ple­ment all of these dra­matic changes and has sim­ply been blocked, why isn’t it com­mu­ni­cat­ing that to the pub­lic and other stake­hold­ers more clearly and why isn’t it us­ing other forms of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial cap­i­tal to push them through or at least to main­tain pub­lic back­ing.”

For most ob­servers, the re­la­tions be­tween the rul­ing party and the mil­i­tary “look far too com­fort­able and pleas­ant to be­lieve there is a huge bat­tle of wills tak­ing place in ev­ery sec­tor un­der the sur­face”, he added.

The NLD also un­der­stood the ar­chi­tec­ture of gov­ern­ment be­fore it came into of­fice and has had more than two years to ori­en­tate.

“It is worth ask­ing why they [the NLD] hasn’t had com­pre­hen­sive plans for get­ting their poli­cies through in such an en­vi­ron­ment,” he com­mented.

De­spite the ob­sta­cles, Enze Han, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in pol­i­tics and pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong, stressed that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is cru­cial for the elec­tion in 2020.

“If the NLD party can­not de­liver [on the eco­nomic front], then peo­ple’s en­thu­si­asm for democ­racy will fade,” Dr Han said.

Wait­ing and hop­ing for “some kind of eco­nomic break­through” to “mag­i­cally oc­cur” is not the solution, how­ever.

Mr Jol­liffe said “the ob­vi­ous ques­tion” is what the gov­ern­ment is do­ing firstly to im­prove the econ­omy in gen­eral, and – more im­por­tantly – to en­sure that eco­nomic growth is in­clu­sive and trans­lates into im­proved pub­lic wel­fare.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to im­prove the lives of the masses to se­cure pop­u­lar sup­port, which will not hap­pen au­to­mat­i­cally even with a for­tu­nate eco­nomic up­turn.

Photo: EPA

A monk walks in front of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) party head­quar­ters as work­ers pre­pare paint be­side the party build­ing in Yangon.

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