‘It Will Be Hard As It’s the First Time Committee Members Are Elected’

By San Yamin Aung 11 December 2014

On Dec. 27, elections will be held in Rangoon Division to determine who will fill four new seats created on the Rangoon Divisional Municipal Committee, the highest body governing the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC). The latter runs the day-to-day affairs in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and commercial capital.

It will be the first exercise in a limited form of democratic governance in the city after decades of military rule, and the mayor and four remaining seats on the committee will still be directly appointed by the central government.

Mae Ohn Nyunt Wai, 63, is one of three women running as a candidate for the vacant positions—a unique situation as it is believed that no woman ever had a place in Rangoon Municipality’s highest governing body. Another 29 women are running for positions on Rangoon’s four district and 33 township-level municipal committees come Dec. 27.

Mae Ohn Nyunt Wai worked for 23 years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and as a freelance consultant for local and international NGOs working on child rights, women’s rights and human rights.

The former assistant director at MoFA, who earned a Master’s in Development Management from the Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines, is competing for a seat on the Divisional Municipal Committee and represents Rangoon’s West District constituency.

She spoke with The Irrawaddy about her ambitions and what she will do for Rangoon if elected.

Question: Firstly, why did you enter this election?

Answer: I read about the YCDC elections in the newspapers. I was interested and the restrictions for the candidates are that they must be apolitical [i.e. not a political party member], interested in the city’s development, not over 65 years old, and both parent must be citizens [of Rangoon]. Since I matched all of these criteria, I applied with the election commission and got approval to enter the elections.

The main reason for me to enter the elections is that I would like to use the academic knowledge I have and the [working] experience I gained to serve the public.

Q: Among the divisional, district, and township-level committees, you are competing for the divisional committee. Why? Does the divisional committee have more power and what is the role of divisional committee in YCDC?

A: It is the decision-making body and [committee members are] the policy makers of YCDC. So, I chose to enter this election.

In this committee, there will be nine members. The mayor is the committee’s chairman. He is appointed and also the other four members are appointed. Among them, two will be the secretary and joint secretary. The other [four committee members] will be elected.

If an issue comes up, we will make considerations and a decision. YCDC is now under the Rangoon’s Division government. So, all projects and budgets are reported to the division government.

There are 33 townships and four districts in Rangoon. In YCDC, there are 20 departments…. According to the [governance] structure, the divisional committee has to manage the townships committees and departments in YCDC. But it is still unclear what the elected committee members’ duties and powers are.

Q: Let’s say you are elected. Which problem will you first solve for Rangoon?

A: Yes, there are problems and we mention these, but I think we need to handle the root causes to solve the problems. Our term is only one year and three months. So within that period, what can I do? … I think the real question is how to develop the performance in the policy-making body and [performance] of the YCDC staff.

I don’t want to make promises to the public that within one year I can clean all garbage and there will be no more flooding. But I will focus on implementing existing projects and programs and to develop the [management] system.

There is a Strategic Urban Development Plan for Greater Yangon. Its goals are set [on a time schedule to] 2040 and involves collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It includes all [management] solutions to solve current problems.

But the strategic plan still runs too far into the future since it is set on schedule running to 2040; so we need to try to make some adjustments during this coming period.

Q: Among nine seats in Rangoon Divisional Committee, the five members including the mayor, the committee’s chairman, are appointed. So do you think the four elected members can have any impact on the decision-making?

A: I hope it will be the first step [to democratic governance]. Everyone is mentioning this [limitation]. My friends asked me why I would run in the election, and what I can achieve there.

I will do whatever I can and try to do what I want to do when I am elected. Something will happen. And if we’re lucky, the persons on the committee will have the same attitudes. If not, it will be harder. I know it will be hard as it’s the first time [that members are elected]. It is the next challenge for me, if I am elected.

Q: Thirty-two women are running in the elections. Among them, only three women are competing for Rangoon Divisional Municipal Committee. So the women running on the highest level are few; does this pose any difficulties for you?

A: Some people want to underestimate women. Most men don’t want to pay attention when women try to speak [in public]. I found that out while campaigning. They are not interested when a woman comes and speaks to them, so I need to take more time to get them to listen to my words.