NLD Must Address Local Governments’ Woeful Performances

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 15 March 2019

In its latest move against those who disgrace the nation and fail to meet voters’ expectations of clean, effective government, Myanmar’s anti-graft agency recently charged the Tenasserim (Tanin Tharyi) Region chief minister with corruption.

The move was widely welcomed by the public because it demonstrated a willingness to take action against a ruling National League for Democracy-appointed chief minister by the Anti-Corruption Commission, a body set up by the NLD government. In other words, it reflects favorably on the NLD’s “without fear or favor” commitment to fighting corruption.

In addition to keeping corruption in check, however, the Union government should now consider reviewing the performance of regional governments led by chief ministers across the country, as pubic complaints of incompetence against some state and regional governments have emerged from Kachin State in the north to Tenasserim in the south.

The NLD has now been in power for nearly three years. But some regional governments have not only failed to live up to people’s expectations—their performances have been downright questionable. When she tours the country to hold discussions with local people, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is frequently bombarded with questions about how and when citizens will have access to safe drinking water, electricity, transportation and healthcare. Answering such questions on basic necessities is supposed to be the responsibility of the respective state and regional governments. Indeed, the State Counselor has at times seemed annoyed, responding that, “These are questions for state and regional governments.” But the questions were raised precisely because local officials have failed to address the problems. It shows what a poor job the local governments have been doing in terms of connecting with the public, and also demonstrates their failure to improve people’s daily lives. This is a source of shame for the NLD government, which likes to think of itself as the people’s government.

The NLD government needs to be more proactive in resolving the controversies surrounding so many state and regional administrations. Here are some examples:

In Kachin State, local people rarely glimpse their chief minister, U H Khet Aung. Some say he only appears when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in town. Among other complaints, he is accused of failing to address the spread of Chinese-backed banana plantations that have become a source of concern among local people for abusing labor rights, land ownership and the environment. The chief minister has put the total area of such plantations at 60,000 acres, but CSOs on the ground say the actual number is nearly three times that.

Farther south in Kayah State, the current chief minister has become a disgrace to the Union government and the NLD for his unreasonable persistence in planting a statue of General Aung San in the state capital, Loikaw. When local ethnic Karenni people strongly resisted his plan, he cracked down on them, sending in the riot police. This has only made the task of national reconciliation between the Union government and the country’s ethnic groups, including the Karenni, more difficult.

In Yangon, people wonder aloud about when the regional government will take responsibility for its mismanagement of public funds after the local Auditor General’s Office found that billions of kyats in revenue had been lost. The public only became aware of the issue when lawmakers questioned the local government about the losses incurred by land leases, investment in public transport services and other projects. So far, the public is still in the dark as to where that revenue went.

The Union government should consider embarking on a serious review of local governments’ performances—the complaints from the public should be seen as indicators that there is something wrong with local administrations.

After their recent tours of the country, during which they met with local people and administrations at every stop, both President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can be in no doubt that some local governments have failed to do their jobs properly; everywhere they have gone, they have been met by crowds of people jostling to submit complaints either verbally or in writing.

A government that fails to serve the people neglects its primary duty and insults voters. With the 2020 election looming, the NLD government should be aware that poor performances by the current state and regional governments could hurt the party’s electoral chances at the Union level. Reforms should be implemented where needed. This would be in the best interests of not only the party but also the many voters currently enduring incompetent local leadership.

Three years of suffering is enough.