State Counsellor, H.E Daw Aung San Suu Kyi | Keynote Address at the Launch of the Myanmar Civil Service Reform Strategic Action Plan

Jul 10, 2017

It is a pleasure to be here today at the launch of the Civil Service Reform Strategic Action Plan. I would like to congratulate Dr. Win Thein, Chairman of the Union Civil Service Board, his fellow Board Members, the staff of the UCSB, and all those who have made this event possible. I would also like to thank the United Nations Development Programme and all the development partners who have been supporting this important initiative.

The Strategic Action Plan will be a valuable framework for the implementation of wide-ranging, innovative, and much-needed reforms that will greatly benefit our country in the years ahead. The drafting process has taken many months, and has involved consultations across the country- a recognition that civil service reform is a matter that affects every citizen.

As I have noted in my foreword to the Strategic Action Plan, I believe that a capable and committed civil service founded on the principles of integrity, impartiality and accountability is the backbone of democratic governance.

All of us who have borne the responsibility of holding elected office understand the essential contribution that civil servants make to the well-being of the country. And as Myanmar moves further towards a truly democratic system of government, the role of civil servants is becoming of ever greater importance.

Members of elected governments will come and go, as determined by the will of the people. It is the civil servants who provide the continuity, the institutional memory, the subject-matter expertise, that enables the ship of state to maintain a steady course.

Democracy places upon civil servants new and demanding responsibilities. No longer are civil servants simply expected to enact orders from above. Under a democratic government, civil servants are expected to take initiative, to develop and submit policy options, to propose solutions to difficult problems. Civil servants are expected- indeed it is their duty - to speak frankly and with fearless impartiality to their Ministers, pointing out the benefits, but also the risks and mitigations, of a particular course of action. And civil servants are encouraged to come up with innovative ideas for improving the efficiency of government processes, cutting administrative waste, breaking down inter-departmental and inter-ministerial silos, and enhancing the effectiveness of government as a whole.

These new expectations cannot be met through organizational restructuring alone: cultural change is required. In a democracy, there can be no place for ‘m’louq, m’shouq, m’pyouq’. Civil servants are accountable to the government elected by the people, and must act with integrity, professionalism, intelligence and dynamism in delivering the government’s programme. Based on my experience, I believe that not only is Myanmar’s civil service capable of meeting these high expectations, it also has the potential to become one of the finest civil services in the world.

In my time in the Hluttaw, and now in the Executive, I have been privileged to get to know dedicated civil servants from all ranks and backgrounds, from cleaners and gardeners to those who have reached the highest rungs of their profession. So, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the civil servants who, today, are working across our nation, often in challenging circumstances, not for recognition or personal gain or glory, but simply to be of service to the public.

You should be proud of what you do, and of what you can contribute every day towards the realization of the aspirations of our people for a peaceful, secure and prosperous future. Our government also recognizes the duty of care we have to you. We will make every effort to ensure that all civil servants can enjoy fair pay and good overall benefits. We are acutely aware that many civil servants’ salaries remain low, particularly in comparison to counterparts in other sectors. On this issue, I will be frank: there are no immediate solutions. The raising of salaries must be an incremental process, carried out responsibly and sustainably, in accordance with the resources available under the national budget. While salary increases may not take place with the immediacy that our civil servants may wish for, there are other ways in which the government can and will support them. We will strive to provide a better environment at work and better living conditions for their families. As a beginning, we will be upgrading existing housing facilities and also constructing new homes for retired civil servants that they may live in security and dignity after long years of service to the nation.

As the Strategic Action Plan makes clear, we are also committed to building the capacity of our civil servants, equipping them with the skills and expertise they will need now and in the years ahead. Myanmar faces an extraordinary range of technical and social challenges, requiring complex policy decisions and difficult trade-offs. We must tackle in just a few years the issues that other countries have addressed gradually over many decades. In doing so, we must try to learn from others’ successes and mistakes, while seeking opportunities to use new technologies and innovative methods to ‘leapfrog’. And we must also, as a country, prepare for the changes and challenges associated with the future introduction of federal government.

These major tasks will require intellectual rigour, complex planning and coordination, and robust implementation. And it is the civil service that will be at the heart of these endeavours. That is why I encourage all Ministries and government bodies to place priority on developing the skills and capabilities of your most valuable asset: your staff. The opening of the Civil Services Academy earlier this year is one tangible example of our government’s commitment to this objective. We are also pleased that more and more civil servants now have opportunities for training overseas. When properly planned and focused on practical outcomes, such opportunities can equip our civil servants with valuable new skills and policy insights.

The Strategic Action Plan also notes the importance of ‘merit-based and performance-driven culture and systems’. Realising this aspiration will require not only the introduction of new HR procedures, but also the personal commitment of civil servants at all levels. Promotions must be determined through objective and transparent criteria. Every staff member should be assessed on his or her performance and potential. Every effort must be made to avoid even the perception of favouritism or nepotism. And there should be no place for discrimination in any form. Through this approach, we can truly harness the motivation of our civil servants, and ensure that capable people are in the right
positions.

It is also important that the civil service reflect the diversity of our country. No boy or girl at high school today should feel excluded from a future civil service career on the grounds of their birthplace, ethnicity, religion, wealth or gender. The civil service must develop recruitment systems that can attract and retain the brightest and best, whatever their background. Ensuring a truly inclusive civil service not only promotes the right values, it also delivers practical benefits. Research has shown that organisations that make positive use of diversity create better policies and deliver services more effectively to the communities they serve.

The Strategic Action Plan does not shy away from the challenges that we must overcome on the path to civil service reform. Central among these challenges is corruption. Corruption is difficult to measure, and difficult to spot. But there is no doubt that it remains a problem. Corruption has a corrosive effect on trust and on good governance, and on the reputation of the civil service and its staff. Moreover, corruption places the interests of the few above the interests of the many, and thus undermines the central principle of democracy: government on behalf of the people.

The Strategic Action Plan sets out a number of initiatives in this regard: strengthening the Civil Service Code of Conduct; improving training on ethics and anti-corruption; making grievance and whistleblowing mechanisms more effective; enforcing asset disclosure requirements for senior positions; and introducing new technology into administrative processes to minimize opportunities for bribes.

Tackling corruption will contribute to a wider objective of the Strategic Action Plan: the development of greater trust between civil servants and the communities that they serve. Building trust requires civil servants to act with integrity, impartiality and accountability in all that they do. At the same time, civil servants themselves have the right to be treated with respect and courtesy by the public. Establishing this mutual trust may take time, but will bring real and tangible benefits for all concerned.

Before I conclude, I would like to briefly congratulate all those involved in the UNDP’s ‘Global Study on Intrinsic Motivation in Developing Countries’, which is also being launched here this week. I am sorry that I will not be able to attend the upcoming Knowledge Forum discussions on this topic over the next three days, but I am sure you will have a stimulating dialogue, and I thank all those who have travelled from afar to share their own countries’ experiences. I am pleased that Myanmar will be one of the first countries in the world to participate in this Global Study, and I look forward with interest to seeing the results.

Civil service reform is always a complex undertaking- but especially so in a country such as ours, where we seek to change not only the existing structures and processes, but also to reform a deep-seated institutional culture, while at the same time preparing for the opportunities and challenges of a federal future. Yet we cannot and will not shy away from this endeavour. As the saying goes, ‘wun-dan koun-hma naingan koun deh’. If our country is to truly realise its potential, then our civil servants must be given the opportunity to realise their own individual and collective potential.

That is why we are launching the Strategic Action Plan today, and why we will welcome the ongoing support of our friends here in this room for the implementation of the Plan.

As we embark on this path, we are united behind our collective goal: to establish a civil service of which our civil servants, and all of our people, can be truly proud.

Thank you.

 

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