An Inside Look at Changes at the Formerly Military-Run GAD

By San Yamin Aung 13 June 2019

YANGON—In December, the National League for Democracy took a significant step in its transition toward democratic governance by ordering the transfer of the military-controlled General Administration Department (GAD) to a newly created ministry, the Office of the Union Government. The backbone of the national administrative mechanism, the GAD oversees local governance from the village and ward levels to the Union level, dealing with people’s day-to-day needs including registration of births and deaths, land management, tax collection and budget planning.

The minister of the Office of the Union Government, U Min Thu, said in January that the aim of the transfer was to bring administrative procedures in line with the political system the country is working toward, and to ensure good governance. With the transfer process now nearly six months along, The Irrawaddy interviewed Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw, a consultant to the World Bank and the Asia Foundation who has been working closely with the department on its capacity building and reform processes, about the recent developments and the challenges involved in reforming the agency.

“Some have concerns over the reforms. [Minister] U Min Thu also always urges in his speeches not to be overly concerned over the reforms as they are doing their best [to reform the GAD]. But as they are implementers of government policies, they surely feel insecure,” Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw said about the reactions of GAD officials to the changes. In recent months, these changes have included reviews of everything from the GAD’s mission and core functions to the handbook issued to department personnel. Existing directives and protocols and the GAD’s code of conduct are also being reviewed for any necessary amendments.

But despite the changes and the addition of new tasks for the department (including enforcing the rule of law, community peace and tranquility; implementation of government policies; establishment of good governance and conducting people-centered regional development works), Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw says many GAD officials are enthusiastic about the reforms.

One development that has made GAD staff more willing to adapt is a change in training methods. “The government’s training institutes are important [to the reform process]. In Singapore, civil servants can apply their training in the workplace immediately. But here, we are weak in this area. What civil servants [in Myanmar] learn in training has not always been useful in the workplace. Now, the training institutes are reforming to include lectures that are useful to trainee officers,” Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw said.

To achieve this, the GAD is revising the curriculum at the Institute of Development Administration (IDA), where Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw lectures, to meet international standards, she said. The revised curriculum emphasizes subjects such as public administration, leadership and case studies.

In particular, she stressed the need to provide training to ward and village administrators, who are the ones that work most closely with the public. They are also the main source of data collection for budget planning, communicating local development needs to the township level.

Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw said it is important that these local officials have a good understanding of existing laws and regulations, are able to monitor data collection well, and have long-term visions for development. “But now,” she said, “they are being offered very little training. Some ward and village administrators only get one training session, and that only lasts for two days.”

The IDA does not currently train anyone below the rank of deputy township administrator, she said.

As a long-term reform plan, the GAD is also discussing the development of a new competency framework. The framework will define the tasks, duties, and required abilities and skills for each position in the department from the level of director general down.

The framework will help reduce workloads on key overburdened GAD staff, particularly those at senior levels such as director generals, by allowing them to delegate more tasks, Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw said. It will also help in measuring performance efficiency, which will in turn make the process of promoting and transferring officials more transparent.

“I think the framework can only be implemented after 2020,” she said.

Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw, who works as a consultant to the World Bank’s Myanmar public sector modernization program and the Asia Foundation, sees the changes at the GAD as a very important step in the country’s public administration reform.

“Indeed, not only the GAD, but all departments need [wholesale] reform,” she said, adding that when implementing the changes, the government should consider incentives for civil servants and find ways to motivate them.

“But I am an optimist on the reforms. The whole institution was demolished [during the decades it was under military control],” she said. “The reforms will take time. But now we are on our way.”

Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw has lectured in public policy, case studies and urban safety at the IDA in Yangon since 2013. The IDA provides leadership, administration and management training to GAD staff. She also lectures at the GAD’s head office in Naypyitaw on how to conduct research and assists officials in deciding what research to undertake; in addition, she is involved in mainstreaming citizen engagement with the agency. A graduate of the Executive Master of Public Administration program at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in the U.S., Ma Kyi Pyar Chit Saw has published reports on local governance, public administration reform and decentralization.

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