Sittwe, Myanmar. 13 September 2018 - “A landmark milestone in how international and local communities can engage in Rakhine”. With these words, Rakhine Government Chief Minister H.E. U Nyi Pu welcomed the signing of a Letter of Agreement with the United Nations Development Programme. For Peter Batchelor, UNDP’s Country Director in Myanmar, this is “a first step in a long and enduring partnership for working together to improve the lives of all people living in Rakhine State”.
The agreement comes to fill an important gap in participatory planning processes in Myanmar, where decentralization is still incipient and allocation of resources is top-down from Union to local level, with rare opportunities for real participatory and inclusive planning. Peoples’ representatives rarely have a say in deciding what they need. People feel disempowered while township administrations, which deliver the bulk of public services, have no local decision-making power nor any cross sectoral and discretionary funds to respond to people’s priorities and needs.
This will start to change thanks to the UNDP’s Township Participatory Planning and Local Development initiative which is part of a larger joint programme with UN Women funded by the Government of Japan to address the complex development challenges in Rakhine State.
Grants that respond to people’s needs
The funds will go directly to the government budget to support township development. The projects, from bridge and road constructions, to new schools and health centers, have been identified by the people and their representatives through a series of participatory planning workshops with the Township Planning and Implementation Committees (TPICs).
For this first phase, the project has already started working in five townships (Gwa, Ponnagyun, Thandwe, Toungup and Ramree), which were selected in close consultations with the state government, the Hluttaw and the various communities in Rakhine for having very high development needs, a mixed demographic and ethnic composition and being particularly vulnerable. If this first phase proves successful, it is expected that additional townships will be invited to participate next year with the aim to reach all townships in Rakhine State in the coming years.
With this approach, UNDP’s aim is to develop the government’s capacity to deliver public services to the people in an inclusive, efficient, transparent and accountable manner. Since 2016, UNDP has been working with this local development and local governance model across Myanmar, starting in Mon state and Bago region. The approach brings together key local governance actors in the annual township planning and budget cycle: heads of sector departments, elected ward and village tract administrators, members of the state and region parliaments, civil society representatives and female ten-household leaders. On average a grant of 1 US dollar per capita is provided to participating townships but for Rakhine, a multiplier of 3 has been used to respond to the underdevelopment in the state. This was made possible with the generous contributions from the Government of Japan.
A first step towards prosperity and peace
The approach provides development grants to townships and aims to promote greater fiscal decentralisation, accountable local service delivery. In addition, UNDP pursues to enhance the nature and quality of interaction among actors whose collaboration is required for accountable and effective service delivery. With UNDP’s support in improving these capacities and interactions, the relevant actors will be better equipped to engage and implement decentralisation when more resources and greater decision-making power are allocated and delegated to the sub-national levels.
U Kyaw Aye Thein, Minister for Planning, Finance, Tax and Economy, described the projects upon which the peoples’ representatives have agreed to be prioritised and funded: ten bridges and road constructions, four schools, three health centres, one water supply system for a station hospital and its surrounding villages, and one water pond renovation. Through a transparent and open procurement process, local contractors have been invited to submit their bids. These projects will also generate new job opportunities and employment in these townships.
As part of the agreement, the government has committed to internalize this modality of participatory planning in its own budget process in order to better respond to people’s needs such as basic infrastructure, access to health services, education and livelihoods. As Peter Batchelor explained, UNDP hopes this will be “a first step for peace and prosperity for everyone in Rakhine State”.