Myanmar reform plan launched to strengthen civil service

By on 16/07/2017
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's State Counsellor and de facto head of government, unveiled her government's 4 year strategic plan for reform particularly tackling corruption (Image courtesy: Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

The government of Myanmar has launched a four-year strategic plan for reform of its civil service, placing a strong emphasis on tackling corruption.

The wide-ranging plan, which says it aims to make the civil service more ethical and inclusive, was drawn up by Myanmar’s Union Civil Service Board (UCSB) with help from the United Nations Development Programme.

The plan has four key objectives, aiming to strengthen governance; promote merit-based and performance-driven management systems; increase staff development and training opportunities; and improve transparency and accountability.

It comes at a critical stage in Myanmar’s transition from military rule to democracy, after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in the country’s 2015 general elections.

The NLD created the special position of State Counsellor for the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner, making her de facto head of government. The military had changed the constitution to bar her from becoming president – making use of the fact that her husband was a foreign national – and army leaders retain strong powers and enormous influence within the government and parliament.

Unveiling the plan at the state capital Naypyidaw last week, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “Corruption is difficult to measure and difficult to spot. But there is no doubt that it remains a problem.”

Myanmar faces “an extraordinary range of technical and social challenges” including the introduction of federal government, she said, and the administration is committed to equipping civil servants with the skills and expertise they need. As examples of this commitment, she named the opening of a Civil Service Academy and more overseas training opportunities.

Realising the goal of merit-based and performance-driven management systems will require the development of new HR procedures as well as the personal commitment of civil servants at all levels, the State Counsellor added.

“Promotions must be determined through objective and transparent criteria,” she said. “Every staff member should be assessed on his or her performance and potential. Every effort must be made to avoid even the perception of favouritism or nepotism. And there should be no place for discrimination in any form.

“It is also important that the civil service reflects the diversity of our country. No boy or girl at high school today should feel excluded from a future civil service career on the grounds of their birthplace, ethnicity, religion, wealth or gender.”

Initiatives to tackle corruption are to include strengthening the Civil Service Code of Conduct, boosting training in ethics and anti-corruption measures, strengthening grievance and whistle-blowing mechanisms, enforcing asset disclosure requirements for senior posts, and using technology to reduce bribery.

At Myanmar’s Assembly of the Union parliament complex in Naypyidaw Aung San Suu Kyi said: “Corruption is difficult to measure and difficult to spot. But there is no doubt that it remains a problem.” (Image courtesy: Mortenmost).

“We are acutely aware that many civil servants’ salaries remain low, particularly in comparison to counterparts in other sectors,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “On this issue, I will be frank: there are no immediate solutions. The raising of salaries must be an incremental process, carried out responsibly and sustainably, in accordance with the resources available under the national budget.”

However, she pledged to provide better working and living conditions for civil servants, starting by upgrading existing housing facilities and building new homes for retired civil servants.

UCSB chairman Win Thein, who will head the supervisory committee charged with implementing the plan, said it is based on four consultation exercises over the past year that involved more than 1,200 people across Myanmar.

He said the UCSB is now preparing, with help from the UNDP, a large-scale public survey of levels of trust in the administration. A steering committee with representatives of both civil society and government has been set up to oversee it.

The body is also working with international and local experts to design a senior and executive leadership system for the administration and to upgrade the civil service regulations and procedural review system, Win Thein said.

Myanmar is ranked the joint 32nd most corrupt country in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which includes 168 states. Its former military junta, which ruled from 1962 to 2011, was condemned by the United Nations for systematic abuse of human rights.

A ceasefire was signed between the army and eight ethnic groups involved in regional conflicts in 2015, but fighting continues in several areas. And the Muslim Rohingas, many of whom have been forced into exile over the border in Bangladesh by attacks widely blamed on government-backed forces, may not be impressed by the plan’s ostensible commitment to inclusivity. But if the UNDP-backed programme strengthens civil administration and helps create a non-political civil service, it will be seen as another step on the road towards building democratic institutions in a country dominated for decades by military leaders and their allies in Myanmar’s major industries.

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See also:

ASEAN states put civil services at heart of development goals

Indian anti-corruption agency investigates its former boss

Populism enables ‘endemic corruption’, report warns

India moves to protect retired officials from corruption probes

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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