Address by Ms. Emma Morley, Team Leader, Democratic Governance, United Nations Development Programme at the Consultative Workshop on the Civil Service Reform Strategic Action Plan

Aug 25, 2016

Excellency Vice-President U Myint Swe, Excellency Dr. Win Thein, Chairman of the Union Civil Service Board, Excellencies Union Ministers, States and Regions Ministers, Senior Officials, civil society representatives, colleagues from the international community and the United Nations, distinguished guests, Mingalabar.

Firstly, I would like to convey Ms. Renata Lok Dessalien’s, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator’s personal apologies for not being able to be here in person with us today.

It is a pleasure and an honour for me to join you at this important event on civil service reform in Myanmar. I would like to thank the Union Civil Service Board, under the leadership of the Chairman, Dr. Win Thein, for giving UNDP the opportunity to support this initiative, and to contribute to the development of a Strategic Action Plan for Civil Service Reform. I am also delighted to note the participation of government, academia, civil society and the international community, and am proud that the UNDP can contribute alongside them, today and in the future on important efforts to support the modernization of the civil service.

Last year at the United Nations, Myanmar was one of 193 countries who signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. World leaders set out an ambitious vision for what the world could be like in fifteen years’ time: a world free of poverty, a world free of hunger, and a world free of disease.  The17 Sustainable Development Goals guide us in the different areas of improvement we need to see in order to reach that ambition: from ensuring good health and wellbeing and quality education, to combatting climate change and safeguarding our natural resources on land and in the sea.

Ladies and Gentleman,

You might be asking yourselves now, what do the Sustainable Development Goals have to do with civil service modernization? As stated, by the United Nations Secretary Mr. Ban Ki Moon: “the efforts of women and men engaged in public service are crucial to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Ladies and Gentlemen, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Myanmar will be dependent on a strong, effective and innovative public sector. The performance and action of public and civil servants will be key to achieving Myanmar’s SDG targets.

During the formation of the SDGs, people around the world were consulted. Myanmar’s people consulted on the SDGs, ranked health, education and governance as being the top three issues facing the country.

Let us look at SDG 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, by ending the spread of disease, and ensuring that all people have access to medical care. How can this be achieved in Myanmar? More than half of people primarily use public health facilities. It is Myanmar’s nurses and community health workers, its doctors, hospital managers and clinic staff, who are providing basic healthcare and preventing the spread of communicable diseases through public health facilities. They need to have the skills, the motivation, and the right facilities and infrastructure to do their jobs if Myanmar wants to achieve its healthcare goals.

Meanwhile, the civil servants elsewhere in the Ministry of Health have to be able to identify innovative solutions to the nation’s health problems. They need to be able to consider the data, and make plans and policies which can help drive the achievement of important targets, like ending the preventable deaths of children under five, which currently stands at 42 children in every 1,000 live births. The public servants working in communities, and those working in offices around the country, need to be working under the right conditions to drive the needed change in Myanmar.

So what can Myanmar do, to improve the civil service to help achieve the SDGS?

Myanmar can invest in the motivation and morale of its civil servants, to ensure they are in a strong position to deliver on Myanmar’s SDG commitments. UNDP’s recent research from countries around the world shows that the morale and motivation of public servants is important to the achievement of development goals; we can see that the skills, knowledge and attitudes of civil servants are critical to the successful delivery of services, reduction in unethical behaviour, and implementation of important government policies. Enhancing the motivation and performance of Myanmar’s civil service will be critical for the achievement of the SDGs.

As mentioned by His Excellency Dr. Win Thein, UNDP supported the Union Civil Service Board to carry out the first Perception Survey of the Myanmar Civil Service. Through this survey, civil servants shared their experiences of civil service procedures, the everyday challenges of being a civil servant, and about their careers and hopes for the future. Their inputs can help generate ideas for how to strengthen the civil service. I would like to share some initial insights from that survey, which can help guide suggestions for how to enhance the motivation of civil servants, and strengthen the performance of the civil service.

Firstly, Myanmar’s civil servants value fairness, and equality of treatment and opportunity, and non-discrimination. Myanmar’s civil servants, surveyed by UNDP and the UCSB, demonstrated that they are in general highly motivated. The vast majority enjoy their work and are proud to belong to civil service. However, they also feel that greater fairness, transparency and equality in civil service procedures and processes- such as processes for recruitment, promotion, and allocating pay benefits- will be important to maintain their motivation in the face of challenges ahead. This was their perception. Like many people, civil servants above all want to be treated fairly: they wanted to see consistency across Ministries and departments in the use of rules and procedures, and in the allocation of benefits, and they want to see an end to discrimination and the use of bribery and personal or family connections for advancement. The perception that bribery, discrimination, and nepotism affect recruitment, promotion, and possibly even benefits, is harmful to the overall productivity and effectiveness of the civil service.

In terms of performance management and promotion, civil servants need to feel that- regardless of their gender, ethnicity, disability, age or personal connections- their good performance, competencies and attitudes can help them advance into more challenging and fulfilling roles in their own careers.Whilst the civil service in Myanmar has in place many measures to ensure that recruitment, posting and promotions are carried out on the basis of merit, civil servants are not unanimously confident that these procedures are being carried out in a fair and consistent way. For example, more than half of those surveyed noted that promotions and postings are not solely based on merit, but bribes and favouritism sometimes also play a part. Evidence from other countries suggests that building a stronger merit-based civil service is among the most effective ways of ensuring that not only are the ‘right people in the right place’ to do their jobs, but also that civil servants across the board are more incentivised to perform to the best of their abilities. One junior civil servant said that with a more merit-based promotion system “civil servants will be motivated to work harder... this will have a ripple effect on one's colleagues and all will work hard together.” If it is the performance of civil servants which will in large part determine the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, then likewise their performance should be valued, measured and promoted.

Similarly, the ethical standards upheld by the civil service, and the achievement of development outcomes are strongly interlinked. Bribes received by civil servants can have a detrimental impact on the achievement of the SDGs: money spent on bribes is money that could have been spent on food, on books for a child to read, on growing a business. There is also a danger that those poorest and most vulnerable, who can’t afford to pay, don’t get the same level of service and fall even further behind. Money lost through illicit practices is money which could be invested in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Myanmar’s civil servants, in our survey, indicated that bribery can happen an individual level. Civil servants felt that this behaviour is motivated by a number of factors- for many, an important cause is that pay is not sufficient to support family life (especially if the family is living in another location). For some, weak institutional mechanisms and leadership to prevent and address this behaviour were a key factor. For example, on survey respondent said “Abuse of authority depends on the environment. It may be due to the fact that corruption is not taken as a serious violation of the law and viewed as a normal phenomenon”. This indicates that, in addition to efforts to enhance pay and remuneration and improving the systems and processes to address corruption, there are further steps that Myanmar can take to enhance ethics and integrity in the civil service by promoting positive public service values.

So, what would the progress towards SDG 3 look like, if steps were taken to enhance fairness in recruitment, promotion and benefits, and if efforts were made to promoting positive public service values? You could be looking at public health staff who have hopes for a bright career ahead of them, where they will be promoted on merit and treated equally. You could be looking at civil servants in Nay Pyi Taw and offices around the country that are more motivated and have enhanced skills and knowledge to do their jobs. You could be looking at civil servants, and their superiors, listening more closely to the needs of people in communities and passing those messages on to policy makers. This could produce better results such as reduced spread of communicable diseases; at fewer people dying of chronic diseases. You could be looking at a country where nearly every newborn baby reaches five years old, and is happy, healthy, and looking forward to starting school.

In Myanmar, as in other countries, public servants are in a strong position to come up with new, creative and effective solutions to the challenges they face every day. This workshop is an opportunity for reform leaders to listen to the suggestions of civil servants from across government about how to strengthen and reform the civil service. It is my hope that these suggestions can inform a Strategic Action Plan for the Civil Service, which UNDP alongside other development partners can look forward to supporting. With a results oriented plan that includes fairness, enhancing the motivation of civil servants, and goes some way to promoting ethics and integrity, the UCSB can enable the Myanmar Civil Service to achieve its full potential- a civil service which can drive the achievement of the SDGs in Myanmar.

On behalf of UNDP, I thank you again for this opportunity and wish you productive deliberations over the course of the workshop. Che-zu-Tin-Bade.

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