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Burma Peace Process displays high expectations with low outcomes for the local community services: The Case of Local Gov’t discourse

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The people of Burma regardless of race, gender, religion or social-economic status have been expecting an end to the internal war with increased health and well being in each village, town and city over the past 70 years. However, the next 100 days will be critical to the outcome of the new Myanmar Peace Conference. The armed ethnic leaders seek new legitimacy to the people of Burma, also known as Myanmar, after 70 years of unresolved peace processes and will be searching for a ‘common ground’ in the next 100 days government representatives, delegates from the military officials and political leaders meet in late August. The process is for peace but the action is to end the war.

Recently I have been living in exile, in a western democratic country under a progressive federal system called Australia; this is a small contribution to the debate for peace with the core key action plan benefitting local people in each village in Burma. It is a process of local government reform by the local stakeholders including armed ethnic leaders and its affiliated persons. There are over 21 armed ethnic leaders, 61 registered political parties, 10 militia forces (Border Guard) and over 35 active Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), in the country as listed by the BNI’s Peace Monitor Report in 2015. As estimated, there will be close to over 1500 stakeholder individuals in the peace process including MPs and officials from the military (Tatmadaw). These representatives have core roles and responsibilities to the people they represent at the table.

Ethnic leaders at Mai Ja Yang summit (Photo: MNA)
Ethnic leaders at Mai Ja Yang summit (Photo: MNA)
Local governance is not based on the power of a group but rather operated under a set of rules, (as also known as – Local Government Act) in many parts of the western democratic world. Australia’s local government system is a vital part of its own model of federation. Its three units of government, federal, state & territory and local council have been operating since 1902. There has been over 100 years of action. The outcome of Australia’s federation is well regarded amongst modern political systems as Australia is one the top 20 countries on the developed nations register or OECD.

The ethnic armed leaders have publicly and loudly advocated for over half a century on the matter of ‘self-determination’ or ‘federal model’ governance but they have failed to put the rhetoric into action after the early cease-fire process during the late 1990s. However, the newly elected government re-opens the Peace Process with the agenda on a ‘federal model of state’, in early April this year.

Ethnic leaders have been seeking a formal administration to the local populations in each area but the structure of governance has been placed in the hands of Union (Myanmar’s race) people since the nation gained independence in 1948. A federal model of state has been proposed in the first amended constitution but the governance structure has lacked sharing roles, power and responsibilities between the Union and ethnic state government. The role and function of local government has never been addressed nor has it been designed and developed into practice for action. However, a claim for legitimacy has been widened within both the Myanmar race of political elites and the non-Myanmar race (historically referred to – Burmese and ethnic race) in previous literature.

The constitution of Myanmar, was first adopted in 1947, the second version passed in 1974 and the last model was adopted in 2008. These legal documents lacked the formal structure of local government legislation. The armed ethnic leaders likewise have failed to present an alternative model of local government under the principle of ‘core responsibilities’ that they have been advocating for over half of the century. The Myanmar race of military leaders equally lack the knowledge of structural local governance (local government Act), despite having access to the resources during the transitional period from the late 1990s until 2010.

For the next phase of the governance reform process, after the peace process is sealed in the next 1-2 years, the armed ethnic leaders have a daunting task of forming a local government structure. It is a process that will require technical knowledge and legal frameworks for a better operational plan. Each village, town and city including each suburb will be having its own local governance structure under the local government legislation when it passes to the State and Territory parliaments in due course. Each village, town, suburb and special zone will be electing its own local administration (councillor) and other council members for providing local services such as landcare, waste management, road construction, infrastructure projects, water resource management and local healthcare services but the list goes on as the populations required services.

There are different models of local governance in western or eastern countries alike. Australian Capital Territory’s Government (as known as locally ACT Government) in Australia rules under the Self-government Act. The population of the ACT is less than 400,000 in the small city but the local government is well managed through the Assembly and Ministry of Government. In the 2015 – 2016, financial year, the ACT Government used its state budget through a wide range of public services such as $4.3 billion for state services, $1.6 billion for health care, $1.1 billion for education and schooling, $810.1 million for municipal/council services, $510 million for justice and emergency services and $319 million for recreational, roads and park services etc. The key local services on environment and housing services are also funded by close to $620 million in Australian currency.

It is not only the interest of the armed ethnic leaders for better services and governance to the local populations but the interest of the entire nation under the climate of environmental issues and protecting the local, social, cultural and traditions of each community. A model of a federal state (federalism) is only functioning effectively when local ownership, local action and local services by the local council is operating. It is also called ‘Local Government’, as a selective term.

A model for a federal state of Myanmar could be shaped when local government and State government are fully functioning under the legal and administrative process. The Union of Myanmar shouldn’t operate from the capital; rather it should operate from the local village, town and suburb and then move up to the capital. The role of local government, State and Territory (Region) government should be re-formed and reviewed as its part of the peace agreement and process. This is what ‘matters’ to the entire social, political and constitutional process of the nation.

The ethnic armed leaders have a few options when they advocate for ‘self-determination’ but they lack legal and administration knowledge to propose local government legislation at the table. They have failed to so, in the next Peace Conference or other formal negotiation meeting, a hope of win-win political situation is un-realistic. As Sai Wansai (2016) asserts, “we cannot just jump on to the rule of law issue without clarifying or agreeing on the ownership of the country’s sovereignty. The ruling Bamar-dominated, National League for Democracy (NLD) government, including the military, considers itself to be the sole ownership of the sovereignty, while the ethnic nationalities staunchly believe that it is a shared-ownership, which has been robbed by the majority Bamar that led them to the political and armed resistance in the first place”.

Over the past 10-15 years, during the cease-fire and peace process, the ethnic leaders and representatives have called for sharing power, legitimacy, amending the constitution, reformation of the nation military force (Federal Army), and other political agendas, but the process has lacked on proposing to re-structure local government administration when each village, race and gender could be part of the entire process. In many parts of the country, especially in each major village, town and city, a population of mixed race and religion has been established for over half of the century. The role of local Council (Local Government) is simple; to serve the entire population regardless of race and religion as the Australian and American local governments do to immigrants in their countries. Each community has access to equal healthcare, educational services and welfare as well as opening language schools, cultural dances, religious centres and other community programs.

Ethnic leaders and other representatives have failed to draft the Local Government Act over the past 30 years whilst still advocating for federalism and self-determination in an all-inclusive political conference. It is the bottom line that ethnic leaders, the NLD’s policy and legislatures including leaders from the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) should outline the key principles of local governance structures over the next 100 days if the nation itself is committed to the model of federal governance. Ethnic armed leaders have the critical task to draw up a new local government act as they propose the new Union of Myanmar/Burma model. Otherwise, a summit for peace, a conference for political settlement, will be as mucky as what has occurred in the past when leaders hold high emotions and low practical plans on the ground to serve the public. A Local Government Act must be drawn as ethnic leaders propose to be the rulers of their own territory or state with the consent of the local public. It is the public’s verdict when it comes to politics, not the leaders alone.

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