Civil rights activists call for civilian control of local administration

May 15th, 2018  •  Author:   The Myanmar Times  •  3 minute read

Civil rights activists have called on the government to place under civilian control administrative bodies such as the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the General Administration Department, which supervises ward and village tract administrators.

The Action Committee for Democracy Development and the Progressive Voice said administrative offices remain under the control of the military.

In a briefing paper released on Sunday, the groups noted that the current system of governance falls short of basic standards for democratic elections.

Aung Khaing Min, executive director of Progressive Voice, said a key reform needed in the  Ward and Village Tract Administration Law is to end military control over the General Administration Department, which gives the armed forces power at the village level, making it the most powerful institution in Myanmar.

“The law has not helped the people since it was enacted. There is a need for comprehensive local administration reform,” he said.

U Sann Oo of the committee said, “It is important to place the Ward and Village Tract Administration Law within the broader political, institutional and legislative framework of Myanmar.”

“One of the most significant aspects of this law is its position within the mandate of the department, which is under the Ministry of Home Affairs, one of the three ministries assigned by the 2008 Constitution to military control. This gives the military a ubiquitous presence and influence in the everyday affairs of the country. The department has “sweeping administrative functions that affect the country at every level,” he said.

The paper, which is based on analyses and recommendations proposed by civil society initiatives, outlines the community’s concerns, views and recommendations on local democracy, community representation and participation with regard to the Ward and Village Tract Administration Law. It included input from local governance experts in nine regions: Yangon, Bago, Magwe, Sagaing, Mandalay, Kachin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.

The Ward and Village Tract Administration Law is implemented by the department. The township administrator is accountable to the department.

The Ward and Village Tract Administration Law was enacted in February 2012 and amended in March 2012, January 2016 and December 2016.

The present government held its first ward and village elections in December 2017. Some places are still choosing administrators.

The civil rights activists said the proposed Township Administration Law, which has not yet been passed, will only cement the power of the military.

The paper pointed out that even though the Township Administration Law would be passed eventually, changing the mode of choosing township administrators from appointment to election will not matter much since the ultimate authority over these officials remains with the military via the ministry and department.

“Although ward administrators are elected, they have to do what township administrators ask them to do rather than serve the people,” said Saw Hla Ngwe, a village administrator who was recently temporarily relieved from his duties by Hpa-an township due to a road controversy.

“If they do not do what township administrators ask them to do, they are terminated,” he added.

The paper suggested that the responsibility for local elections be  transferred from the department to an independent election body and that the management of local administrators be transferred to agencies under civilian control.

The groups called on the parliament to amend the Ward and Village Tract Administration Law.

This article originally from the Myanmar Times.