Chin State residents identify potential solutions for better public services

Mar 26, 2014

A local government official showing the map of Chin State. Photo: Shobhna Decloitre/UNDP

Hakha - Long, winding narrow roads take travelers to Hakha, the major urban centre in the Chin State, situated to the North West of Myanmar. Counted amongst one of the most impoverished regions in the country, Chinpresents mountainous terrain, where people mainly depend on subsistence agriculture for a living. Electricity, even in Hakha, is limited to about five hours daily, water supply is poor.  Telephone connectivity as well as internet penetration are low. Different ethnic tribes with distinct languagescall Chin home. The tough geographical location and poor communication networks add to the isolation of this State.

It is against this backdrop that a team of enumerators visited some far flung locations in Chin – from Tonzang close to the Indian border, to Paletwa only accessible through the neighboring Rakhine State. Their task was to ask villagers about the services they received from government, their perception of governance as well as the extent to which they participated in public life. 

They were carrying out a Local Governance Mapping exercise, conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the General Administration Department (GAD) of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The local governance mapping team visited the region from November to January when temperatures were near freezing. The mapping exercise, which has also been completed in Mon State and will be rolled out to the remaining states and regions, aims to serve as a starting point for improved governance and service delivery at the sub national level in Myanmar. Through this process, UNDP and GAD hope to build a common understanding of the concepts of improved performance, good local governance and active citizen participation.Health and education sectors are used as examples to better understand the existing ways of how government and citizens interact and how participation, transparency and information sharing are organized. The objective is to better understand the present governance arrangements.The survey is also meant to introduce new space for dialogue in communities and townships.

In Myanmar,Government is organized at the Union (or national level), sub-national level (region or state), followed by the township or local government level, before reaching the citizens organized in village tracts (or groups of villages) and wards. Six townships in the Chin State were included in the mapping exercise, and 12 village tracts/wards were selected from these. Five hundred and seventy six citizens were interviewed using Citizens’Report Cards, along with 90 service providers such as teachers, doctors, nurses, and public works officials. Participation from all levels of the community was ensured through 12 community dialogue workshops at the village tract/ ward level, and six governance self-assessment workshopsat the township level.

The interim findings from the local governance mapping exercise was presented at a workshop in Hakha earlier this month, attended by more than a hundred residents of Chin State.

The Citizens’ Report Card indicated that the Village Tract/ Ward administrators are increasingly becoming the face of government for the community. They perform diverse roles –disseminating information, handling complaints and resolving disputes. However, the local governance mapping exercise revealed that public participation in decision making was low, with as much as 70% of the respondents never having been invited to a meeting to discuss projects and problems in their communities. 93% of the respondents had not even heard of the new Township level committees established by the government to improve the delivery of services and enhance citizens’ participation in governance.

 “We have never had such experience before,” said the deputy township administrator from Mindat, U Thet Moe, speaking in the Myanmar language.

“People do not know that they have the right to participate. The process of democratization is still new. We need to raise awareness amongst citizens about their rights,” he said.

The findings also revealed a number of priority development issues. The majority of urban dwellers included in the exercise identified access to clean water as an issue needing urgent attention. Access to clean water and access to electricity were also identified by rural dwellers as major challenges. For both groups, lack of employment opportunities was a significant source of concern.

The workshop provided a space to discuss the findings of the local governance mapping exercise and offered the state and local government officials as well as civil society an opportunity to identify short or long term solutions that could help in addressing the issues raised.

For example, in a bid to address the lack of participation from citizens, local government officials pledged to undertake regular public meetings that would serve to inform the citizens as well as listen to their voices.  The Union level government officials recognized that co-ordination and clarity on roles and responsibilities could be addressed with quick and simple procedures that could increase effectiveness at the local level.

As the Minister for Security and Border Affairs U Zaw Min Oo, who delivered opening remarks on behalf of the Chief Minister U Hong Ngai, said, the results of the local governance mapping exercise can start serving as the baseline data for development in Chin State.

 “In this workshop we will find out people’s views on the services they are getting. These views will be shared with development actors and will provide an opportunity to build trust and mutual understanding. With such understanding between development actors, Chin’s development aspirations will come true,” he said.

The final report of the local governance mapping exercise will be made available in April. While the exercise highlights many areas where co-ordination, clarity and increased participation is needed, it has also started the discussion on how Chin State can realize its full development potential.

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