Mongolia’s Local Leaders Essential to Urban Service Delivery
September 6, 2017
In Mongolia’s 2016 parliamentary elections, the opposition party won a landslide victory—taking 65 of the 76 seats, on a promise to boost the economy and tackle poverty. In 2011, Mongolia’s economy grew by 17 percent and attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment. Now, the country is in a state of financial crisis.
For years, Mongolia’s resource-dependent economy outpaced most of the world. But a decline in commodity export revenues and foreign investment sent growth to just 1 percent last year. Many see the opposition party’s win as a reflection of citizen frustration with a slumping economy and rise in unemployment. In the capital, Ulaanbaatar, where much of the city’s growth is taking place within its ger areas, which are sprawling, unplanned neighborhoods now home to 60 percent of the city’s total population, poor access to public services has risen as another major concern. While elected leaders set their priorities at the national level, unelected community leaders are playing an essential role in the delivery of public services in local areas.
Mongolia’s civil service lacks a government-led, centralized personnel management agency, leaving the day-to-day management responsibility to respective budget and ministerial entities. Instead, Mongolia exercises the use of a Civil Service Council (CSC), which is an independent body that reports directly to Parliament. The CSC is tasked with personnel oversight, policy, and personnel management functions. This includes the monitoring of the civil service to assure adequate control of its functioning and the enforcement of its rules.
Ulaanbaatar has three levels of municipal administration: The Capital City mayor’s and governor’s office, nine district centers, and 152 khoroo offices. The khoroo represents the smallest sub-administrative unit within the city’s confines and is where citizens most frequently request services. According to a recent survey conducted by The Asia Foundation of 866 residents of Ulaanbaatar, more than half of respondents (53.2%) said that they seek out khoroo governors and staff if they need information and have complaints regarding public services. Interestingly, 42.5 percent of respondents said that they would seek out kheseg (neighborhood) leaders, who are community administrators serving local neighborhoods within a khoroo. According to the same survey, kheseg leaders are the preferred method for citizens to receive information regarding all government related public administrative services.
While the Capital City Governor and Mayor’s Four-Year Plan (2016-2020) places greater importance on training programs for its civil servants, there remain shortcomings. In the past, efforts to improve the performance of civil servants have lacked a comprehensive training framework to guide and provide continuous professional development to the city’s civil servants. Though training materials exist for some khoroo-level staff and administrators, they are neither standardized nor kept up-to-date. There is also no discretionary budget allocated at the khoroo-level for training.
Essential public services are delivered at the khoroo-level, including permanent address references, issuance of identification certificates, and reference materials for the unemployed. As a result, the lack of training at this level of municipality can impact the quality of services being rendered. Since khoroo staff receive ad hoc training, they often remain dependent on district staff for assistance, creating bottlenecks in terms of service delivery. Further, since kheseg leaders are not considered civil servants, they receive even less access to formal training and in terms of incentives, they receive modest remuneration, which can vary by district. Despite these administrators making barely above the minimum wage, they are often tasked with critical responsibilities such as gathering census data, registering citizens, health awareness, and as such, remain essential conduits for local support to citizens.
The Asia Foundation is working with the city to help train khoroo civil servants and administrators. In April and May of 2017, we organized the first-ever city-wide training for 1,412 kheseg leaders of the 152 khoroos of Ulaanbaatar, with a cost-sharing model with the Ulaanbaatar City government. The three-day workshop included trainings on improving workplace efficiency, communication skills, collecting data and evaluation skills, basic legal knowledge, and citizen participation and monitoring. Overall, the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive, and the Foundation plans to hold refresher trainings in 2018.
To ensure sustainable and inclusive growth, Mongolia must focus on improving its human capacity in the public sector. Trainings such as these are a critical first step toward empowering civil servants to better serve their communities. By enhancing the capacity of front-line administrators, this can systematically improve transparency and accountability of the government.
The Asia Foundation’s Urban Governance Project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Ariunaa Davaadorj was a recent program associate and Philippe Long is acting project manager for The Asia Foundation’s Urban Governance Project in Mongolia. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
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