February 1, 2014 — On October 23, 2013 The Asia Foundation’s Washington office hosted a forum on the findings of its major subnational governance study, State and Region Governments in Myanmar.
The study analyzes the functioning of state and region governments created under Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, assesses their impact on the ongoing governance, peace, and decentralization reforms, and makes recommendations on strengthening fiscal planning, capacity, and responsiveness.
Co-authors Dr. Hamish Nixon, a governance specialist, and Dr. Matthew Arnold, an Asia Foundation expert on conflict and state fragility, as well as Dr. Zaw Oo, executive director of MDRI-CESD and a senior economic adviser to Myanmar’s president, presented their perspectives on the challenges of decentralization and the opportunities it presents for progress toward inclusive and accountable democratic governance.
Dr. Arnold gave an explanation of Myanmar’s constitutional features, noting that the country’s states are primarily areas with large ethnic minority populations, while regions have a Burmese majority. Dr. Nixon highlighted the three main avenues for decentralization – administrative, fiscal, and political – and outlined key challenges including clarifying responsibilities, distributing public resources, and delegating decision-making. Dr. Zaw Oo discussed the country’s long history of hierarchical governance, and the current leadership’s commitment to decentralization reform. In his remarks he emphasized the importance of minority inclusion within existing ministries, and of delegating increased authority to sub-national levels, particularly in policy areas such as education, natural resource extraction, and rural development.