Friday, August 18, 2017

Yangon’s traffic raises tricky power sharing problem

Should state and regional governments be given more power to solve local problems and stimulate local development? Has the union government over-centralised its authority? And how can the balance be righted between the centre and the states and regions?

These are some of the questions that have started to arise as the country continues to tread the path towards greater democracy.

The transfer of power to a civilian government brought a division of responsibilities between the central government and the state and regional authorities. Some observers are now questioning whether the states and regions have enough power, or enough funding, to do the job the central government wants them to do.

Recently, the government of Yangon Region set up the City Public Transport Services Committee to solve the city’s traffic congestion and reduce the number of traffic violations. But some observers are wondering why the regional government’s existing ministries have not been given that job.

U Kyaw, the Thingangyun representative of the Yangon Region hluttaw, said: “The Yangon region government doesn’t seem to have the authority that the former Yangon Region Council had to look at traffic problems. Why hasn’t the Yangon Region ministry of transport taken on this responsibility? Why do we need a separate committee? There seems to be a weakness in the ministry in this region.”

“We don’t know what the minister’s rights and responsibilities are, and we have not been able to get an answer to that question in the regional hluttaw,” he said, suggesting that over-centralisation of power in the union government might be the reason.

However, U Zaw Aye Maung of the Yangon Region Rakhine ethnic affairs ministry said that while the ministries’ authority and responsibilities were weak, outside experts were also needed to resolve traffic congestion.

“Chief Minister U Myint Swe set up this committee because the experts can devote more time to fact-gathering than the minister, but I think they should also have involved the hluttaw MPs too,” he said.

U Zaw Aye Maung said the union government should concentrate on national-level matters, such as foreign affairs, and be prepared to grant more authority to the states and regions to carry out local policies.

Returning to Myanmar after 20 years of absence, former student leader Moe Thee Zune said government staff had declined in quantity and quality while he was away.

“Government staff need more training to boost their capacity. Departments should have more freedom of action, not just wait for orders from senior officials,” he said.