Era of reform neglects decentralisation

Under five decades of what was essentially military rule, the armed forces became the strongest institution in Myanmar at the expense of all other institutions. Another consequence of military rule was the centralisation of political and economic decision making.

Myanmar is soon to reach a turning point in its unexpectedly speedy democratisation process for a number of reasons. The strict centralisation of the past will need to be relaxed, thereby allowing other institutions, such as regional parliaments, to develop and take the place of the military. Local governance can become an important element in Myanmar’s political landscape, and allow for ethnic minority groups to have a greater say in how their regions are to develop. The 2008 constitution provides for the creation of these institutions – 14 regional parliaments and 14 regional governments, one in each state and region – but many challenges will need to be overcome for this decentralisation of decision making to occur.

The 2008 constitution sets out roughly the areas of responsibility for regional governments and parliaments. While the level of decentralisation outlined in the constitution is not perfect, and regional parliaments and governments still remain under the thumb of their national counterparts, it is important that they begin to test the waters. Legislation and taxation are the two areas where these institutions should start to exert some authority. To complement this, a specific policy of decentralisation should be developed and adopted to build on the authority the constitution grants to regional bodies.

Source: Myanmar Times. Date: July 16. 2012