The Irrawaddy

Coalition Targets ‘Undemocratic’ Laws on Local Governance

A street-level view of the No. 11 ward administrator’s office in Pabedan Township, Rangoon. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The Action Committee for Democracy Development (ACDD) has released a report claiming that provisions in Burma’s Ward and Village Tract Administrative Laws are undemocratic, with the committee calling for amendments to provisions of the Constitution that pertain to local governance.

Although ward and village administrators, the lowest rank of the country’s administrative hierarchy, are elected by the people, their appointment requires approval from higher level officials appointed by the Home Affairs Ministry, said Ye Kyaw Thu of ACDD, calling the practice unacceptable.

“The way [ward/village] administrators are selected is not reasonable. They are elected by the people, but their appointment needs to be approved by township and district administrators who have the authority to reject [administrators-elect] if they don’t see eye to eye with them. Only a small proportion of current ward and village administrators were elected by the people,” he said.

He added that the eligibility criteria in the law afford an unfair advantage to retired civil servants, favoring them over other potential candidates in the selection of ward and village administrators.

ACDD is comprised of 18 civil society groups engaged in social and political affairs. Its public opinion survey pertains to two laws enacted in 2012.

The committee interviewed more than 1,600 people in 72 townships across three states and six divisions from June to August, gauging public awareness of the laws and surveying whether people ultimately had the right to elect their ward/village administrators.

The survey found that more than 75 percent of respondents did not know of the existence of the Ward and Village Tract Administrative Laws and only 9 percent had studied the legislation, said Aung Myin, who took part in the survey.

“The respondents think that the selection method is not fair. Again, most of the people do not even know of the very existence of this law,” he said.

A provision in the laws requires ward/village administrators to follow any instructions communicated by the Home Affairs Ministry, Aung Myin said, leading some local leaders to make decisions based on the dictates of Naypyidaw and not in the public’s interest.

The ACDD said it hoped the survey would contribute to discussions about amending Burma’s controversial 2008 Constitution, with the committee putting a focus on Articles 288 and 289 of the charter, which deal with local administration.

Article 288 states that township and district administrators are to be appointed, and the subsequent Ward and Village Tract Administrative Laws have given these appointees the final say in who serves as village and ward administrators. Article 289 states that village and ward administrators “shall be assigned in accordance with the law to a person whose integrity is respected by the community.”

A ward administrator from Thingangyun Township in Rangoon said he could accept that ward administrators are required to follow instructions from higher up, likening the post to that of civil servants. He acknowledged, however, that some of those instructions were not in wards’ best interests.

“For example, we have to accompany [police] in conducting surprise checks on vehicles. This is in no way concerned with the ward’s interests. It is like we are asked to accompany them so that we can appear as a witness in court in case something happens,” he said.

“We are paid, so let it be. But 10-household and 100-household administrators, who also have to accompany us, receive no remuneration at all. We have to arrest reckless drivers, but what if one of them stabs us? What they are doing is not effective at all,” he said.