YCDC Members ‘Not Decision-Makers,’ Says Rangoon Mayor

By San Yamin Aung 26 December 2014

RANGOON — The first elected representatives to Rangoon’s municipal government in more than five decades will not be involved in any major decision-making, according to the city’s mayor, who has sought to downplay the policymaking role of the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

A total of 293 candidates, including members of civil society organizations, community leaders and academics, are running in a poll that will be held on Saturday for 115 seats on committees at the central, district and township levels of the YCDC, a municipal body that oversees Burma’s largest city.

These 115 seats had been appointed by the country’s former military regimes since a military coup in 1962.

But Rangoon Mayor Hla Myint, who heads the YCDC, said at a meeting with local media this week at City Hall that the municipal body is not empowered to make policy decisions.

“We are operating under the instructions of the president, Rangoon’s chief minister and the regional government. So we committee members are not policymakers or decision-makers,” he said on Wednesday.

His remarks are discouraging news for Mae Ohn Nyunt Wai, one of 38 candidates competing for a seat on the nine-member YCDC Central Committee, who told The Irrawaddy earlier this month that she was competing for a chance to reshape policies in the city. The YCDC Central Committee will still be comprised of five appointed seats, including the mayor.

“As far as I understand, YCDC has their own by-laws and laws and the [Central] Committee members have the right to decide on these matters. If it is not, why are they having the elections?” she said on Friday, adding that elected committee members should have the right to make decisions or at least advocate on behalf of the public’s needs.

“I hope all other candidates will expect that as well. If it is not the case, how we can guarantee the public that we can effect change?” she said.

While acknowledging the supremacy of the divisional government over YCDC, Mae Ohn Nyunt Wai said issues like municipal budget allocations should first be decided at committee levels before being submitted to the divisional government for final approval.

“If the committee members are just obeying instructions, they might as well directly appoint the [committee] instead of holding elections,” she said.

Win Cho, a former political prisoner and well-known rights activist who is competing for a seat on the Central Committee, questioned who was making decisions on municipal matters, if not the committees.

“Up until now, I have been just a citizen. But I tried to change the policies and I have done it. If we didn’t do anything, there wouldn’t be any change. So if I become a committee member, I will definitely also try [to change policies],” he said.

The landmark YCDC elections have faced criticism as details of the poll have been made available, including the Central Committee’s undemocratic appointment of a majority of its members. Additionally, the municipal voter rolls will be limited to one vote per household.

Hla Myint said a more democratic municipal government would depend on reforming the 2013 Rangoon Division Development Law.

“To have a fully elected municipal body will happen at a later date,” he said, adding that he hoped the committee members elected in Saturday’s poll can serve as liaisons between YCDC and the public.

“Since they are elected by the public, they will find out the public’s needs and they will find out about difficulties faced by YCDC too.”