A New Approach to Participatory Township Planning Tested in Bago Region and Mon StateMar 23, 2017
Not so long ago it was unheard of for communities in Myanmar to have a say in public sector investments and development planning. Budgets for infrastructure were allocated by the Union or State/region government without, or with little, consultation with representatives from the communities. At the township level, roads, schools or water supply systems were designed and built, using these funds but without consulting the people it affected most. This often left the public’s expectations unmet and led to frustrations with how the government was managing public sector investments.
People living in Bilin township in Mon State and Kawa township in Bago Region recently tested a new way of planning for public services and infrastructure. Since 2016, the United Nations Development Programme has been supporting Bago Region and Mon State governments to develop a new model for township development planning building on good governance principles such as transparency and inclusiveness. By facilitating a process that brought together the elected ward and village tract administrators, the heads of township departments, Hluttaw members and representatives from civil society, township plans were developed in a more participatory and inclusive manner where the different stakeholders held consultations with their communities and other groups in society.
Together with the township administrations, ward and village tract administrators, Hluttaw members, people living in Bilin and Kawa played a key role in deciding what their townships needed through a participatory planning process that included public consultations during which information about available budgets were transparently communicated. The consultations were conducted by the elected ward and village tract administrators in the townships.
Before the consultations took place, the heads of the departments, the ward and village tract administrators, the Hluttaw members and civil society representatives went through a set of intensive training and exercises. These emphasized the importance of a planning process using good governance principles, modern development planning techniques such as situational analysis, and the use of data, and consultations with the public when formulating development plans. Such a process also enhanced communication between different levels of government and between different departments, and contributed to avoiding overlaps and improving public service delivery.
Nyaung Pa Lin is home to some 6000 people and is one of 51 village tracts and 5 wards that form Bilin township. U Pe Soe is its Village Tract Administrator.
“I gained useful knowledge about the whole situation of Bilin Township through the exercises. Before, when village tract administers prepared development plans, we knew only about the situation of our villages or village tracts and our main focus was to respond the needs of the people in our areas. I now know the importance of looking at the bigger picture and planning development in an integrated manner.”
While the schools situated in his area were not listed for renovation, U Pe Soe was satisfied with the development priorities identified through the consultative township planning process.
“I learnt how to prepare a plan and am fully aware of the steps involved. Now I understand the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ clearly and I am confident about prioritizing projects that really reflect the needs of the people in my area.”
The township planning exercises in Bilin and Kawa are part of a pilot project being financed by the Governments of Sweden and Finland, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Participating townships are receiving a capital grant for public infrastructure using a formula based allocation of an average of $1 USD per capita. Through the three year cycle of the pilot project, township administrations get the opportunity to learn more about and put into practice participatory development planning based on situational analysis, allocate funding for development activities agreed through the participatory approach, as well as procure for and implement these projects.
Both Bilin and Kawa township prioritized investments in the social sectors. In Bilin the refurbishment of schools, a new rural health center and a township road connecting village tracts were prioritized. In Kawa township schools and rural health centers were prioritized.
U Phone Naing, the Ward Administrator for Phoe Yarzar in Bilin Township said that while the funds provided by UNDP for development in Bilin were allocated for projects in rural areas this time, the people in his ward were satisfied with the results.
“Through the planning exercise, we got to know about the different kinds of available sources of funding for our township. We were well informed about the proposed projects and which funds would be used to finance them by the Township Planning and Implementation Committee during the planning workshops. I conveyed this message to my community. This was very transparent.”
In February, the Kawa Township Planning and Implementation Committee, chaired by the Township Administrator, presented the development plan to the public in Kawa township. The plan was also presented to the Chief Minister and Bago Region government, and heads of region sector departments. The Chief Minister, HE U Winn Thein expressed his appreciation for the support from UNDP. “The pilot project to improve participatory township planning is well in line with the policy of the government. Bago Government welcomes this cooperation for the region’s development. Ward and village tract administrators are key focal persons for people’s participation and it is important to strengthen their capacities as peoples’ representatives in local development, and not only focusing on rules and regulations, so they can become effective ward and village tract administrators.”
UNDP Country Director, Peter Batchelor who attended the presentation said the local ownership of the development plan was very clear.
“It is the power of inclusive participation which has made the ownership of the development plan by the township so strong.”
He added that UNDP would raise additional funds for the project so that it could be replicated across Myanmar and help strengthen the linkages between the Union, State/Region and ward/village tract level development planning processes.
Both U Pe Soe and U Phone Naing expect Bilin township to continue with its more inclusive and participatory development planning approach for years to come. They both acknowledge that such methods better reflect the needs of the people in their township and at the same time have improved the capacities of village tract administrators to plan better and work more closely with both the people and the township department officials.