YANGON — The National League for Democracy government’s civil service reform strategic action plan (2017-2020) puts a strong focus on tackling corruption and working toward decentralization, while encouraging ethical practices in the civil service.
The government shared the plan at a launch event in Naypyidaw on Monday, where they also hosted a three-day “knowledge forum” on “public service motivation.”
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stressed in her opening speech that corruption undermines democracy.
“Corruption is difficult to measure and difficult to spot. But there is no doubt that it remains a problem,” she said.
“Corruption has a corrosive effect on trust and on good governance, and on the reputation of the civil service and its staff,” said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. “Moreover, corruption places the interests of the few above the interests of the many and thus undermines the central principle of democracy: government on behalf of the people.”
“Tackling corruption will contribute to a wider objective of the Strategic Action Plan: the development of greater trust between civil servants and the communities that they serve,” she added.
Started one year ago in July 2016, the Union Civil Service Board (UCSB) held numerous national and regional consultation workshops from Aug. 2016 to May 2017 concerning the reform of the civil service, inviting stakeholders from both governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Myanmar has about 900,000 civil servants working in the government’s ministries and departments, at both the Union and state levels, according to the UCSB. During the consultation workshops, the government drafted logistical framework detailing actions and measures to reform the civil services. Most of these actions are centered on conducting pilot studies, creating policy recommendations, and reviewing the civil service personal law, as well as bylaws, rules and code of conduct. There is also a follow up survey.
The strategic action plan has four key aims: to develop new civil service governance; uphold merit-based and performance-driven cultures and systems; enhance people-centered civil service leadership and capacity development; and improve transparency and accountability within the service.
The plan also aims to enhance public participation in civil society.
With technical support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UCSB conducted the 2016 UCSB-UNDP Perception Survey on Ethics, Meritocracy and Equal Opportunities in the Myanmar Civil Service and held consultations on the action plans. They will follow it up every two years.
UNDP country director Peter Batchelor said on Monday, “With this strategic plan, Myanmar cannot only ensure a more inclusive and representative civil service, it can also promote diversity for the benefit of the country and all its peoples.”
He added, “Myanmar can achieve success if the same civil servants who dedicated their time and energy to developing the plan also dedicate themselves to applying the principles of ethics, diversity and meritocracy contained in the plan, to the civil service.”
Despite the government’s efforts to enhance accountability mechanisms and to combat corruption and abuse of authority, the strategic action plan stated that the a survey “identified deep concerns about integrity, meritocracy and accountability in the civil service and barriers to taking action to address these concerns.”
For transparency, the action plan outlines a bid to strengthen the assets disclosure procedure for all senior officers and other officers in at-risk positions of being bribed.
The action plan also details the need to strengthen protections for whistleblowers and complainants, as well as grievance recording and feedback provision mechanisms within the services.
The government will form a supervisory committee on the implementation and monitoring of the action plan. It will be led by the UCSB chairman U Win Thein and will be co-chaired by the deputy minister of home affairs and an anti-corruption commission board member. The other members will include deputy ministers and permanent secretaries and directors general of key agencies.
In Myanmar, insufficient salaries of civil servants are often cited as a key reason for continued bribery and corruption.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi added that the government is aware of the low salaries of many civil servants, compared to the staff in other sectors, but stated plainly that pay increases are not scheduled at this time.
“On this issue, I will be frank: there are no immediate solutions yet. The raising of salaries must be an incremental process, carried out responsibly and sustainably, in accordance with the resources available under the national budget,” she said.
Generally speaking, clerks serving within a government office earn around 150,000 kyats (US$110) per month, while a director general may earn 500,000 kyats ($367) per month. Comparatively, staff in the private sector typically can earn around 250,000 kyats ($183), and a manager may earn 1.8 million kyats ($1,321).
The State Counselor emphasized that while salary increases may not take place in the immediate future, there are other ways in which the government can and will support them. She pledged to create better working environments and by upgrading existing housing facilities and constructing new homes for retired civil servants so that they may live in security and dignity after their years of service.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi added that in a democratic system, there is no place for those who have no interest in work, but keep their jobs by avoiding confrontation. She said that the public servants must be responsible to the elected civilian government and that the government is trying to keep the civil servants in the “right places with the right people.”
Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report from Naypyidaw.