On Oct. 28, The Asia Foundation, Australian Aid, World Bank and SMERU hosted a 4-day conference in Indonesia on “Sustaining and Mainstreaming Community-Driven Development Programs (CDD).” In contrast to standard development approaches, CDD programs provide funds directly to the village level, allowing communities to decide for themselves what development problems to address. The conference brought together participants from government and civil society from 11 Asia-Pacific countries. Read more.
Traditionally in China, domestic violence has been considered a private issue that should be kept within the household, with any outside interventions left at the doorstep. Despite efforts by the authorities and women’s rights groups to raise public awareness of the issue, domestic violence has long been absent from public or media discourse, and most victims of domestic violence remain silent. However, recent events and advocacy efforts are starting to shake this pattern of silence.
In late 2011, Kim Lee, an American woman, publicized her divorce from her celebrity Chinese husband and spoke out against the domestic violence epidemic in China, bringing it to the center of media and public attention. While Lee’s case has encouraged many abused women to seek legal recourse and has raised public awareness of domestic violence, her experience and victory are not typical of the processes and outcome experienced by many Chinese women who seek legal action. In a lesser-known case, Li Jianting, a woman from Shandong Province, sued her husband for personal injury in 2003 after he severely beat her in front of their young son. It wasn’t until 2010 that Li Jianting received a positive verdict for her case. During the six and half years of arduous legal proceedings, her case was rejected repeatedly by the courts due to insufficient evidence collection and verification; and she was periodically separated from her son.
Data released in October 2013 by a Beijing court indicate that less than 20 percent of domestic violence claims brought forth are recognized by the courts, partly due to similar difficulties of evidence collection and verification. Statistics from other provinces such as Guangdong and Shandong indicate even lower rates, ranging from 2-15 percent.
The latest comprehensive data on domestic violence in China was disclosed by the All China Women’s Federation in late 2011, and suggests that nearly one in every four women in China experiences domestic violence in her life in the forms of verbal abuse, assault and battery, restriction of personal liberty, economic control, or marital rape. Rural women are two times more likely to suffer physical assaults. Several surveys conducted in women’s prisons also revealed significant correlation between domestic violence and crimes committed by women. For instance, a 2005 survey conducted in women’s prisons in Liaoning Province showed that over 50 percent of women who committed crimes had suffered from domestic violence in the past.
Over the past decade, Chinese authorities have been gradually improving the legislative framework to support survivors of domestic abuse, but challenges remain. The term ”domestic violence” did not appear in Chinese law until 2001 when the amended Marriage Law of China included, for the first time ever, an article prohibiting it. However, this new article does not provide any specific guidance on litigation and does not include an official definition of ”domestic violence.” The lack of concrete procedures for the collection of evidence to verify ”constant and frequent” domestic abuse adds another layer of difficulty for litigation. However, progress is being made in the legislative sphere as the issue of domestic violence slowly gains more public and media attention. In July 2011, the All China Women’s Federation submitted the first-ever draft of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law to the National People’s Congress (NPC), which NPC included in its 2013 legislative agenda for debate and consideration after conducting research on the necessity and feasibility of this law. In the meantime, the government has launched a series of reform projects and policy experiments to enhance the capacity of legal institutions and empower justice sector stakeholders to intervene in and reduce domestic violence, such as the piloting of the orders of protection (also known as ”restraining orders”) for survivors of domestic violence by over 200 local courts across the country.
While developing stronger legislation is essential, it will be equally important to strengthen community-level awareness and collective responses to incidences of domestic violence. Currently, responsiveness and coordination on the part of relevant community-based stakeholders is weak. For example, domestic violence was not incorporated into the official scope of police interventions until 2008, and so far, police interventions have been ineffective in identifying such abuse and preventing it from leading to further tragedies. In a widely known incident in 2009, one victim called the police eight times before she was beaten to death by her husband. Many community stakeholders such as hospitals, civil affairs departments, resident committees, and the police have reported encountering cases of domestic violence in their everyday work, but there are currently no effective referral protocols or communication mechanisms to allow for a coordinated response.
Chinese government authorities have started to pilot projects that explore effective multi-sectoral domestic violence prevention and response models. Building on these efforts, The Asia Foundation is supporting project activities in Sichuan Province to build capacity of existing community-based women’s homes established by the authorities as a platform for providing direct services such as anti-domestic violence public education and counseling for survivors. The project in Sichuan also aims to engage other stakeholders (e.g., residents’ committees, police, hospitals, and shelters) to establish a case referral and transfer mechanism to support survivors more effectively. Another approach being explored by some local authorities and NGOs involves tasking social workers who are specially trained in domestic violence issues to work at the courts, women’s federations, and residents’ committees. Though the number of social workers who are trained specifically on these issues is very small, they have proven to be an important resource for survivors who come to them for help. They have also helped to improve the quality of services provided by their host institutions.
Thousands of abused women could have lived different and safer lives if more developed legislative and community support systems were in place. However, positive progress is slowly taking place. During the six and half years Li Jianting fought for justice, she created a website to support other Chinese women who are rebuilding their lives free of violence. The website shares Li’s personal experiences with domestic abuse, discloses details regarding her case, and disseminates information on current laws, provisions, and the latest reforms. She is only one of many who are working to increase awareness among the authorities and the public of domestic violence and gender equality. It is promising to see that survivors are increasingly making their voices heard and are encouraging each other to seek justice as well as the support of their communities in the process of rebuilding their lives.
Chen Tingting is a program associate for The Asia Foundation in Beijing. She can be reached at email@example.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
Justin Bieber may not have visited Asia’s newest state, Timor-Leste, yet, but as six Stanford law students found out earlier this year, his popularity has preceded him at the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL). The Stanford students were visiting UNTL with the Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (TLLEP), a partnership among The Asia Foundation, UNTL, and Stanford Law School. Mr. Bieber’s popularity was a light-hearted topic in a discussion between UNTL law students and Stanford Law students about legal education in Timor-Leste. The Stanford Law students solicited feedback from UNTL students about classroom instruction, language challenges, job prospects, and textbook needs.
Similar discussions that have taken place over the last five years, with representatives from Timor’s Court of Appeals, the Prosecutor General and Public Defender offices, the Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, private lawyers, and local NGOs informed the development of a just-launched publication from TLLEP: a nine-part series (free for download on TLLEP’s website), entitled Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste. The series covers topics such as criminal law, constitutional rights, family law, inheritance law, government contracts, petroleum extraction, and the petroleum fund law, as well as legal history and the rule of law in Timor-Leste.
The need for domestic legal capacity in Timor-Leste has never been greater. An 11-year-old island nation of 1.2 million people, Timor-Leste boasts a functioning democracy and significant oil and gas reserves. Beautiful beaches, diving, and rugged mountainous terrain dazzle tourists. No major incidents of violence have occurred since rebel-led attacks on the president and prime minister in 2008, and the capital city of Dili now has a multi-story mall and movie theater. Yet extreme poverty is visible immediately adjacent the mall, and only increases as one travels outside Dili, where subsistence living under the poverty line is the norm. In the legal sector, capacity for official law enforcement, prosecution, defense, and adjudication of criminal cases quickly dissipates outside Dili. Even less capacity exists for civil litigation and contracting.
By producing Timor-specific texts for law students, teachers, lawyers, officials, and NGOs, TLLEP supports the development of Timor-Leste’s domestic legal capacity. TLLEP publications are written in clear and concise prose using hypothetical legal situations, discussion questions, and current events, with the aim to make texts accessible to the largest possible audience. The texts are authored by Stanford law students and reviewed by Stanford faculty, civil law experts, UNTL faculty, and Timorese legal professionals. In many areas of law, TLLEP’s texts are the only available Timor-specific materials.
UNTL, as the leading academic institution in Timor-Leste, is a logical hub in these urgently needed capacity-building efforts. Enrollment in UNTL’s law school has rapidly increased with demand, but slots are limited by faculty capacity and resources. Many Timorese seek education in non-accredited law schools or in Indonesia, graduating with little understanding of Timor law or the Portuguese language in which the Timorese legal system primarily operates. These students routinely fail the entrance exam for the mandatory certification courses at the Judiciary Training Centre.
TLLEP’s texts are an important resource for these students. In addition to the new introductory series, TLLEP has produced books on professional responsibility, constitutional rights, and contracts (all available at http://tllep.stanford.edu/). TLLEP has plans to complete a new textbook in early 2014 entitled An Introduction to Criminal Law in Timor-Leste. Most texts are available in Tetum, Portuguese, and English.
As the Timorese who use TLLEP’s texts attest, programs aimed at supporting and increasing Timor-Leste’s legal capacity are a welcome aid to the new nation whose future remains uncertain. Within the broader national imperative in capacity building, TLLEP aims to help build the legal capacity to maintain peace and orderly governance, stimulate economic development, and deliver quality of life improvements to its citizens. TLLEP is helping to build and support legal education at UNTL and throughout Timor one textbook at a time.
Erik Jensen is the senior advisor for The Asia Foundation’s Governance and Law programs, professor of the Practice of Law at Stanford Law School, and senior research scholar at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Affairs at Stanford University. He is the faculty advisor for TLLEP and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sam Saunders is co-director of TLLEP, holds a Ph.D. in Engineering, and is a 2014 JD Candidate at Stanford Law School. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
As civil society in Asia has made significant progress over the past several decades, the need for a forum that brings together the major players to focus on key challenges to inclusive and participatory democracy has become increasingly important. The Asia Democracy Network (ADN) – launched in April 2013 at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies (CoD) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – just held its Inaugural Assembly from October 21-22 in Seoul, Korea. The event, organized jointly by the Korea Democracy Foundation (KDF) and The Asia Foundation, took place in conjunction with the Seoul Democracy Forum under the theme of “Challenges of Inclusive Democratization to Civil Society in Asia: Linking Democracy to Peace and Development.”
Although there have been attempts at organizing civil society organizations in Asia into a broader network, the Asia Democracy Network is positioned to be more active and have a more enduring impact. The network is made up of over 100 NGOs and civil society organizations from 26 countries around the region working in fields ranging from media freedom to human rights. The network aims to promote and consolidate democracy and democratic governance, making use of international cooperation and solidarity in the fields of information sharing, capacity building, and research and advocacy. ADN will also engage actively with the CoD, the UN Human Rights Council, ASEAN, and SAARC in its efforts to promote democracy in Asia.
“The different CSOs and networks in Asia usually work separately on sectoral or thematic concerns – human rights, media, women and gender equality, as well as elections,” said Melinda de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility in the Philippines and a member of the ADN International Organizing Committee. “A democracy network should help us to see these separate values as parts of the whole and to come to a clearer understanding of what democracy should involve for the system to work for the people.”
The Inaugural Assembly was attended by close to 80 prominent civil society members from over 20 countries, including Myanmar, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Nepal. Other leaders also spoke at the inaugural ceremony, including Min KoNaing, one of the main leaders of Myanmar’s democracy movement, the “88 Generation Students Group,” Maria Leissner, the first secretary general of the Community of Democracies, Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, and Suren Badral, ambassador-at-large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mongolia.
The conference plenary and panel discussions covered critical issues, including peace-building, defending civil society space, strengthening democratic governance, civic and democracy education and poverty, and the changing landscape of official development assistance (ODA). During these conversations, participants took a hard look at some of the challenges facing Asia today, including corruption and failure of accountability mechanisms and poverty and social inequality, while acknowledging gains made over the past few decades, including in South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Despite many Asian countries having reaching what one speaker called “Democracy 1.0,” there was a general acknowledgement that many of the region’s countries had far to go before reaching “Democracy 2.0.” In fact, Democracy 2.0 remains elusive for many of the world’s consolidated democracies. Some of these challenges or threats to democracy include rising inequality even as overall growth rises, shrinking space for dialogue, impunity, corruption, and weak institutions.
Participants agreed that while these issues at times may seem insurmountable, ADN can serve as an important voice across Asia and globally, drawing not only Asian, but also global attention to internal country and regional threats to democracy and human rights. ADN’s strength is its clear terms of reference underpinning its Charter of Principles that sets priorities, both in terms of countries and issues, and sets forth specific terms for its own governing body.
The ADN, strengthened by the expertise and experience of its members who come from a range of disciplines, including academia, think tanks, media, political parties, and labor organizations, reflects a maturity among many of its members in terms of capacity and understanding of what it takes to move such a network forward. Many of the network’s members have themselves built their own countries’ nascent civil society networks to become formidable and active networks, working with networks in less open societies while protecting and sustaining the democratic gains they fought so hard for over the past few decades.
Barbara Smith is senior director of The Asia Foundation’s Governance and Law programs in Washington, D.C., and Peter Beck is the Foundation’s country representative in Korea. They can be reached at Barbara.Smith@asiafoundation.org and email@example.com, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
Bali, Indonesia, October 29, 2013 — Today in Indonesia, The Asia Foundation, Australian Aid, World Bank and SMERU are hosting a four-day regional conference on “Sustaining and Mainstreaming Community-Driven Development Programs (CDD).” In contrast to standard development approaches, CDD programs provide funds directly to the village level, allowing communities to decide for themselves what development problems to address. CDD has quietly become mainstream over the past decade—there are now some 90 CDD programs worldwide, and they represent 10 percent of World Bank funding globally. The conference brings together dozens of participants from government and civil society from 11 Asia-Pacific countries (seven ASEAN countries plus Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands), who are meeting to share their knowledge and experience for the first time.
As the country with the world’s largest community-driven development program, Indonesian Minister for People’s Welfare, Dr. Agung Laksono, offered the keynote address. In his words, “When ordinary people are given access to productive resources, they can make their dreams come true. CDD offers the opportunity for communities to implement the activities they need, not the ones government thinks they need.”
Participants in the conference are sharing knowledge on challenges of sustaining, mainstreaming and scaling up community-driven development. The afternoon session, for instance, allowed a representative of Myanmar, whose pilot program is $13 million and one year old, to learn from Indonesian counterparts whose mature $2.7 billion CDD program is now in its 15th year, largely paid for through the national budget.
Learn more about the lessons from Community-Driven Development and Indonesia’s CDD program in Bali in an upcoming edition of our In Asia blog. Read more about The Asia Foundation, its work in Indonesia, and the World Bank’s Community-Driven Development projects.
Mongolia is now one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and nowhere is this growth more evident than the bustling and energetic capital, Ulaanbaatar. Expensive high rises, luxury stores, and modern apartment buildings are common in this city of 1.5 million; tower cranes dot the rising skyline, harbingers of even more cutting-edge development projects to come. But in the shadows of the cranes and high rises, are the city’s ger districts, where more than half of the capital’s residents live without access to basic public services like water, sewage systems, and central heating.
In 1989, 26.8 percent of Mongolia’s population lived in Ulaanbaatar; by 2006 that number had risen to 38.1 percent; and by the 2010 census, 45 percent of Mongolia’s population lived in the capital. Looking forward, population growth in the capital is expected to continue at the same pace, and with little affordable housing available, most of the newcomers ultimately settle in the ger areas.
Dealing with the ramifications of such large settlements in unplanned locations and effectively delivering services to all the city’s residents, particularly in Mongolia’s extreme weather conditions, is a massive challenge. Given the fluid nature of the areas, and the very limited data on demographics and availability of services for the neighborhoods, or khoroos, citizens’ participation in decision-making and planning has been limited. In addition those managing the city have faced significant information deficits when making decisions on how to invest their limited public resources.
Working together with activists and kheseg (local) leaders, the mayor’s office and The Asia Foundation have partnered to map each and every khoroo in the ger areas, and then used that data to carry out spatial analysis to identify service levels and gaps in accessibility and coverage of public services. Using eight indicators, the maps measure the availability and accessibility of services in five sectors: water, health, education, transportation, and safety. The data collected by the local leaders is plotted onto local maps that can be used by citizens and city officials. The mapping process is also designed to activate local citizens and leaders to engage in discussions of the availability of public services in their communities, and to form clear ideas for the prioritization of resources and investment by the city and the community members.
The process started in 2012 as a pilot project in 11 khoroos, but at the Ulaanbaatar mayor’s request, the Foundation and city municipality extended the project to cover all 87 khoroos of the Ulaanbaatar ger area. Last week, the mayor’s office and The Asia Foundation presented the results and analysis of their joint community mapping initiative to officials from the City Municipality.
Feedback on the results was positive. Mr. Bat-Uul, the capital city governor and the mayor of Ulaanbaatar, said that, “previously all decisions were made based on statistics. However, statistics are not ‘live’ numbers; they may not always reflect the reality. Now we have community-made maps, which clearly show us where schools and kindergartens are located, where we need additional water kiosks, and what the optimal locations are for infrastructure development across the city.”
Ulaanbaatar’s city manager, Mr. Badral, reiterated the importance of community mapping for future budget discussions and city planning, saying that “the mapping process should continue, given its positive implications not only for the community, but also for decision-makers.”
The mapping process turned out to be a useful process for community members as well: they may know about their gudamj, or street, they may know where the nearest shops or water kiosks are, but they may not know much about their entire khoroo area. After seeing this information on a map, many people discover the bigger picture and start to make comparisons between advantages and disadvantages of neighboring khesegs or khoroos. These maps are helping ger residents to understand how their community relates to the wider surrounding environment and to build stronger community relationships in their neighborhoods, where they often live close together, share common goods, and need to work toward the community’s well-being as a group.
The results and analysis of the community mapping process will be used in discussions of the city’s five-year investment plan, as well as the parliamentary budget sessions for 2014. It will be the first time that spatial analysis is used as a basis for the political level budgetary discussions. We are also supporting the city on a new website, which will be launched soon as an online resource with community maps available to citizens. The site will serve as a database for Ulaanbaatar city officials to update the maps and track progress over time. The Foundation will also support the city to make community mapping a sustainable tool through training and planning for regular updates of information as well as through further discussions on the strategic use of the data generated by the maps.
Since May 2012, The Asia Foundation has been implementing the Urban Services Project for the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar (USP) project as part of its Strategic Partnership with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
Ariunaa Norovsambuu is an Asia Foundation project coordinator and Munkhtsetseg Ulziikhutag and Enkhtungalag Chuluunbaatar are project officers for the Foundation’s USP project in Mongolia. They can be reached at Ariunaa.Norovsambuu@asiafoundation.org, Munkhtsetseg.Ulziikhutag@asiafoundation.org, and Enkhtungalag.Chulaanbaatar@asiafoundation.org, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
When Indonesians head to the polls six months from now, they will have a record number of women candidates to choose from. Hard-won reforms by activists pushing for increased requirements for women’s representation have resulted in a new high for women candidates, who comprise 38 percent of the 6,608 registered contenders. The General Election Commission (KPU) now strictly enforces a 30 percent quota for women’s representation in political party structures and candidate lists, and has even disqualified parties for failing to meet the requirement.
The 2014 general elections will see 2,282 women compete for seats in the national legislature. A recent assessment of legislative candidates conducted by The Asia Foundation’s local partner, the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), found that 56.4 percent of women candidates for the national parliament are from the private sector. Three-quarters (75.8 percent) hold a university degree (bachelor or post-graduate) and most (62 percent) are between the ages of 31 and 50.
Earlier this year, the KPU disqualified 77 candidates from five parties in seven electoral districts because they did not attain the 30 percent threshold. The KPU’s strong stance managed to see the 30 percent quota upheld in nearly all electoral districts, including Aceh, where parties had previously failed to comply with the regulation, leading to very low levels of women’s representation.
But before we rejoice about the implications this could have for improving women’s status, it is worth reviewing the recent history of women’s representation in Indonesia.
The 2009 general elections saw Indonesia achieve its highest-ever level of women’s representation in the National Parliament (DPR). Some 101, or 18 percent, of the 560 parliamentary seats were secured by women. In provincial and district level parliaments, women’s representation reached 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively, also record highs for regional government. These impressive numbers can largely be attributed to tireless advocacy efforts by civil society that began immediately following the fall of President Suharto and leading up to Indonesia’s first democratic election in 1999. Despite a relatively free and fair electoral process, the 1999 election only saw 45 women (9 percent) elected to the 500-member strong national parliament. Leading up to the 2004 elections, women activists successfully pushed for affirmative action to redress this balance, and a requirement was introduced for one in three candidates to be a woman, and alternated on the ballot paper in a “zipper” fashion.
Although the results achieved in 2009 were impressive, examining the profiles of these women representatives tells a more complex story. A study by the Center for Political Studies at the University of Indonesia (Puskapol UI) found that 41.7 percent of women elected in 2009 were heiresses of political dynasties. To meet the increasingly stringent requirements for women’s representation, political party elites have tended to place female family members on the candidate list instead of recruiting or nominating more women through the party structure. They have also resorted to parachuting in female celebrities. This pattern is encouraged by Indonesia’s political party system, which requires potential candidates to contribute substantial funds to the party should they wish to run for office. The pool of women with the financial resources to support expensive campaigns – and pay for adequate domestic support while they are occupied with politics – is limited. This means that women candidates tend to be elites, too, and rarely have pro-poor or gender inclusive perspectives.
Indeed, civil society’s expectation that increased women’s representation would result in gender-responsive policies have been premature. Although more women are serving as elected officials, the National Commission of Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has recorded a steady increase in the number of regulations that discriminate against the rights of women and minorities over the past five years. This year, Komnas Perempuan recorded 342 discriminatory regulations, more than double the figure recorded in 2009.
For example, in West Java, women’s representation jumped from 9 percent in 2004 elections to 25 percent in 2009. Yet the province still suffers from significant gender inequality, with higher than average rates of trafficking and maternal mortality. According to Komnas Perempuan, local parliaments in West Java issued 35 discriminatory regulations in 2012, more than most other provinces studied.
The number of high profile women embroiled in corruption cases recently has certainly not helped the situation. The governor of Banten, Ratu Atut Chosiyah, and the political dynasty her family has created in the province, looks in serious trouble following the arrest of her younger brother for alleged bribery this month. This followed the conviction of Angelina Sondakh, a Democratic Party lawmaker and former Miss Indonesia, early this year for her role in two corruption cases. These incidents – and many others – have confirmed to the public that women are just as likely to participate in the transactional politics previously dominated by male legislators. A 2011 Asia Foundation survey revealed that respondents perceived women legislators as just as corrupt as male representatives.
While the signs look good for an increased percentage of women representatives in parliament post-2014, the past five years have taught us that strengthening gender equality requires much more than increased representation. Political parties and other political institutions need to be supported to improve their understanding of gender and women’s empowerment. Women representatives also have a great need for ongoing technical assistance and capacity building so that they are able to perform as legislators. These are systemic problems, and will require a broader focus beyond women-specific issues and recruiting male representatives into the cause.
Natalia Warat is a program officer in The Asia Foundation’s Indonesia office. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
On Friday, the Ulaanbaatar city municipality will celebrate Ulaanbaatar City Day to highlight the various works being undertaken to improve the capital of Mongolia, home to more than 50 percent of the population. The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Mongolia, Meloney Lindberg, recently interviewed Capital City Governor and Mayor of Ulaanbaatar, Mr. Bat-Uul Erdene, on the occasion of the Foundation’s 20th anniversary in Mongolia. Read the full publication, “20 Years in Mongolia: Perspectives of 20 Mongolian Leaders,” which is also available in Mongolian.
You have a long and distinguished career in politics, and in 2009, you were awarded the title of Hero of Mongolia for your leadership in the democratic revolution. In what ways has Mongolia changed since that time?
The most important achievement of the last 20 years is that our elections, by which the people of Mongolia directly elect their own government, have become routine and customary. We have had six presidential elections, as well as parliamentary elections and local elections.
You have been elected to Parliament three times, yet during the last parliamentary election in 2012, you decided not to run for Parliament but instead for mayor of Ulaanbaatar. Why did you make this decision?
I began to worry about poor governance in local communities, and I began to understand that the most important starting point to improve and protect democracy is governance at the local level. For example, in Ulaanbaatar there has been a growing influence of powerful, elite groups who pursue their own personal and private interests. They kind of forgot to represent the people of the local communities. In order to improve that situation, I decided to run for mayor.
In the year that you’ve been mayor, we have seen some dramatic changes in Ulaanbaatar –improved leadership, improved infrastructure, and improved transparency. What are some of the achievements of your first year as mayor, and what challenges do you see going forward?
The most worrying thing has been about the state of poor governance over the last decade. The purpose of a local government is to serve the people of the local communities – in a transparent manner, without excessive bureaucracy, like the service provided by commercial banks and shops. Nowadays, citizens are changing. They truly believe that the Ulaanbaatar City government is here to serve the public. People are now actively participating in government functions related to construction permits, land use, and budget issues. For example, we are currently planning to make the construction permit process open to the public. We have a construction permit technical committee that meets on a regular basis, and we are planning to broadcast these meetings live to the public in order to increase transparency and openness. We are making similar plans regarding land use decisions.
During your election campaign, you focused a great deal on revitalizing the city’s ger areas, and The Asia Foundation has supported the city municipality with our Urban Services in Ger Districts program. What is your vision for revitalizing these areas, and how can the Foundation support the improvement of ger area services?
First of all, I would like to express my thanks to The Asia Foundation for helping us and providing us with the community mapping tool, which will be an important basis for our other planning activities. The Foundation has extensive experience in improving local government services. You were the first to understand that the issues of Ulaanbaatar could not be resolved without solving the problems in the ger districts. The Asia Foundation is helping to build the capacity of newly established ger area units, and this is an important job. So, I am very happy that The Asia Foundation first identified these issues, even before we did, and began working to improve these things.
We are also working with the Ulaanbaatar City municipality to develop anti-corruption action plans. What is your view of corruption in Mongolia now, and what are your key priorities for reducing or eliminating corruption?
In recent years, under the leadership of H. E. President Elbegdorj, anti-corruption activity has really improved. Parliamentary anti-corruption legislation has helped strengthen a number of laws. In terms of preventing corruption in Ulaanbaatar, the most important step is to involve citizens in decision-making. For example, budget planning and implementation, or granting a permit to build a building or sell alcohol in a local community, now requires citizen participation. At the same time, we will have transparency with the objective of keeping the public informed. In the past, for example, heating pipelines and sources of electricity were concealed from the public, and there was corruption in relation to that. We must improve government services so that bad service won’t make the public start giving bribes.
It is a reality that in any government there will be some selfish people who take bribes. In most foreign countries they have a few corrupt people, but they have learned to hold them responsible for their actions. In Mongolia, however, corruption is so common that it has become a kind of social norm. In the end, it makes the state turn against the interests of the public. The state becomes the enemy of its own people. It ruins the main principles of democracy. So, I would advise the young generation that if they choose a political career, they must use it to serve the public. Because a politician is like a monk: monks don’t serve their own interest; they serve the people and think about their welfare. Politicians, like monks, must think not only of themselves but also about the public good. They should understand that you will be successful and live better when other people around you live better.
The Asia Foundation is calling for applicants for its Asia Development Fellows: Emerging Leadership for Asia’s Future program, a new initiative designed to bring together next-generation Asian leaders interested in the region’s social and economic development challenges. The year-long career advancement program will provide highly qualified, young Asian professionals (under 40 years of age) with an opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills and gain in-depth knowledge of Asia’s critical development challenges. Applications will be accepted Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, 2013. Apply here.
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.