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Open letter to Mongolian political leadership

By Julian Dierkes

I am traveling to Ulaanbaatar from Yangon, Myanmar, just as your ranks are being reconfigured into a new government. It is encouraging to see another peaceful change of leadership that responds to the will of parliament, and thus, signals the solidity of democratic institutions. While Mongolia may well be an example for Myanmar to consider as it embarks on its democratization, it is other similarities between the two countries that made me curious about Myanmar.
Some of the features that the two countries have in common: rich mineral endowments, a state-socialist past, and a similar geopolitical position wedged between two regional and global powers. But there are also very significant differences. Myanmar is a much more populous multi-ethnic and multi-religious society that is divided by conflict, often armed. While Mongolia’s erstwhile dictators have transformed themselves into a democratic political party, Myanmar’s military retains nominal and real power.
Learning just a little bit about the challenges that Myanmar faces leads me to implore you as leaders to do right by your fellow Mongolians, and to do your best to capitalize on opportunities (and the absence of many challenges) that have been given to you. Put quite simply, and in comparison to Myanmar, achieving a prosperous, healthy, democratic and stable Mongolia should be so easy!
Consider an issue like relations between communities and mining projects as an example, because the minerals sector is so central to Mongolian and Burmese development.
Myanmar is in the middle of a very enthusiastic journey toward membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a status that Mongolia has enjoyed since 2006. For Myanmar, this means not only collecting data about company payments to the state from large oil companies that will represent the bulk of the financial volume of EITI reporting, but attempting to include nearly 2,000 small and medium-sized mining companies from across the country, many if not most of whom are tightly interwoven with the military and regional militias and government.
In Mongolia, EITI reports have been reconciled consistently and have come to include a sample of 400 of the total 1,800 license-holders.
Another aspect: When conflicts over mining projects between local populations and miners arise in Myanmar, they are overshadowed by ethnic divisions and violence. No such violence has existed in Mongolia, which also has not seen a civil war nor a military that has been involved in civilian or economic affairs since the democratic transition.
Despite all the challenges Myanmar is facing, Burmese people seem hopeful that they will be able to achieve a measure of sustainable and equitable prosperity. A recent report by the Asian Development Bank (“Myanmar – Unlocking the Potential”) explicitly modeled different growth trajectories for Myanmar and noted that growth rates of seven to eight percent per year would bring Myanmar to the per capita GDP level of today’s Mongolia by 2030!
As would be clear to any observer, Mongolia enjoys so many advantages over a country like Myanmar that any degree to which Mongolia fails to achieve its objectives of economic, political, and social development, should be seen as an embarrassment by you, its political leadership.
As you are forming a new government, and because I have come to care very much about the fate of Mongolia, I implore you to prioritize the development of the nation over individual, family, business or political party interests. Corruption is a crime against your fellow citizens and must be rooted out from the top through impartial prosecution and by setting examples of transparent and evidence-based policy-making.
The state bureaucracy has to be reconfigured to allow it to develop the expertise to administer Mongolian political decisions effectively. The past two years of wholesale replacements of officials have been disastrous. This disaster is most evident in policies that have been enacted seemingly without attention to consequences that such decisions might have. This is most obvious in the macro-economic and investment sector, where foreign direct investment has been virtually eliminated by government policies, and where a significant foreign debt has been taken on with only limited plans for how to use the borrowed capital productively. Policy analytical capacity has to be built up in the public service to be able to advise politicians in their difficult decisions. This expertise and the public service has to be independent and free of corruption.
Most concretely, the development of and production at Oyu Tolgoi has to be brought back on track. This project is not only a very large microcosm of Mongolian development, but it is also of huge significance in providing revenue streams for funding further capacity development in regulation, education and vocational training, and infrastructure. It is also a symbol of Mongolia’s development that is watched much more closely from abroad than any other project. Persuading Rio Tinto to re-engage in development and production at Oyu Tolgoi must be one of your first tasks.
You are making a new start with a different government. Some of the individuals involved have talked about a professional or even technocratic government, cabinet members that wear only a single deel, and so on. I sincerely hope that this is not just talk and that you use the coming months to enact really beneficial policies for the country, independent of factional politics and an election that will begin to loom large.
Your decisions make the difference between a Mongolia in 2030 that will have achieved some of its potential, and a Mongolia that remains mired in complex webs of corruption and inequality.
I do wish you and all Mongolians the best of luck in this journey!

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=12591

Posted by on Nov 23 2014. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

1 Comment for “Open letter to Mongolian political leadership”

  1. Right on target. Perfectly stated. The rest of the free world would agree.

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