Newly Minted YCDC Members Finding Power Elusive

By Htet Naing Zaw 28 January 2015

RANGOON — The first elected representatives of the Rangoon municipal government in more than five decades say they have been granted little authority in their new posts since being sworn in earlier this month.

A total of 115 members were elected to three levels of the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) last month and assumed their positions on Jan. 6. Their approximately one-year terms will come to an end when a new Union-level government takes office in 2016.

A total of 293 candidates, including members of civil society organizations, community leaders and academics contested the election on Dec. 27, 2014, for the 115 seats on committees at the central, district and township levels of the YCDC, a municipal body that oversees Burma’s largest city.

Elected YCDC members told The Irrawaddy that representatives at the township level are tasked with improving drainage, roads, garbage collection, water supply and fencing, whereas district-level members deal with constituents’ concerns.

“According to the organizational structure, the township and district levels don’t have authority,” said Dr. Soe Tun, a member of the municipal committee for Rangoon’s East District. “All things concerning construction of buildings and roads, and sanitation, are handled by departments of the central body. We mostly handle complaints.”

The YCDC Central Committee is made up of nine members, of which four were elected in late December.

At the township-level, elected YCDC members are even subordinate to the jurisdiction’s municipal executive officers, who are appointed by the government and carry out instructions handed down from the YCDC Central Committee.

Myint Zaw, chairman of the North Dagon Township municipal committee, argued for more authority at the lower levels of city governance.

“Departments [of the YCDC Central Committee] assume full authority,” he said. “We have to go to Rangoon City Hall for most municipal issues. In reality, we can handle many municipal issues at the township level. If there were to be a decentralization, it would save the bother of going to City Hall.”

“We don’t have authority to handle administrative matters. License granting, tax collection and sanitation are handled by the upper level [Central Committee]. I asked for saplings to plant in my township, but was denied. At present, we can only work in cooperation [with the Central Committee],” lamented Htay Oo, chairman of the North Okkalapa Township YCDC.

Asked about the scope of the newly sworn-in YCDC members’ authority, elected Central Committee member Htay Aung said he was not authorized to take questions from the media and referred The Irrawaddy to YCDC’s Information Department.

Despite some elected officials’ complaints, Soe Tun took an optimistic view, saying the involvement of elected members in the workings of YCDC has contributed to better communication with constituents.

A five-member majority of the YCDC Central Committee is appointed by the government. Rangoon Mayor Hla Myint, who is chairman of the YCDC Central Committee, is directly appointed by President Thein Sein. The YCDC Central Committee is not accountable to the president, but to Rangoon Division’s chief minister, Myint Swe, who is also a Thein Sein appointee.