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COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY

Approximately 67 percent of Mongolia’s total population lives in urban areas today, and 40 percent of urban residents live in Ulaanbaatar.
The reason why the population of our capital city has doubled since the beginning of this century is that people migrated here seeking employment opportunities, looking for better education, trying to get closer to the market, and to improve their livelihood.
It has been long since the movement of poverty from rural areas to the capital significantly increased the pressure exerted on infrastructure. Unless we develop our countryside, especially province and soum centers, by resolving basic infrastructure issues such as providing people with running water and improved toilets, we might end up not being able to handle the workload placed on city infrastructure and see the countryside become empty.
Our rural areas are not really developing because of a lack of action to involve the community.  The public needs to be inspired to put in effort and establish initiatives, in turn, making their lives better within their own province, soum, or bag center.
Although the government is planning a wide range of development in the countryside, the outcomes of these projects do not prove to be sufficient. If all the policies, programs, and plans they’ve announced at all levels to develop provinces and soums came to pass, people would not be moving to the city – they would be leaving to live in the countryside.
It is time for us, as a society, to look at the reason why there is increased migration to the capital and how we can turn it around.
The community development policies created and implemented today are not based on human needs, nor do they support business operations. The policies have become so political that they focus on distributing an allocated sum from the public budget to irrelevant projects, such as building a stadium for a soum large enough to seat more people than its entire population.

GOVERNMENT-CENTERED DEVELOPMENT POLICY

Mongolia actually has a big number of policies and plans to develop the countryside. One of them is Mongolia’s 2007-2021 National Comprehensive Policy, based on Millennium Development Goals, which was approved by Parliament in 2008.
In line with this policy, Ulaanbaatar and all 21 provinces revised their development objectives and plans. However, this policy was centered on the government rather than the people. The interests of the authorities who directed the operations of the citizens’ representatives at the capital and province levels were dominantly reflected in the document.
Local soum, bag, and district governments only follow directives that come from above. They have very little idea about what the people who are living in the bag or district want, how they see the development path going forward, and how the community can be involved.
Community development starts with bathhouses, clean toilets, and community centers where people can gather together and spend their leisure time. Today the term “community” has already become a legal, distant concept used to describe an administrative unit.
When we translate the English word “community”, it is as if it includes the governing body of a group of people. It would be more fitting if it conveyed the message “a group of citizens”, or “khui khamtlag”, as translated by senior diplomat B.Gombosuren.
The current development program at the province level includes targets such as increasing the number of physicians and hospital beds per capita, increasing the number of schools and kindergartens, becoming regional centers of development, building paved roads, and even raising province GDP.
However, there are no reports that involve input from people and discussion of how programs progress, or what benefits the investments have brought to the lives of residents.
Provinces and cities do not have their own system of collecting taxes. All taxes are centralized for the public budget at the national level. It has been criticized for many years that the provinces send a lot of collected taxes to the central government and only receive a small amount for their local budget in return. Ulaanbaatar has recently started collecting a one-percent tax from alcoholic beverage sales.
It was a progressive step when it was decided in 2013 that the local authorities would have their own development funds, with the right to manage the local budget allocated from the national public budget. But there are large differences in how provinces are spending the allocated capital on community development.
For example, some senior officials at the local level, such as citizens’ representatives of numerous provinces, traveled to many countries, claiming to have studied the experiences of others. Chairmen of the citizens’ representatives’ assemblies in some provinces bought Land Cruisers worth 140 million MNT to develop their community.

HUMAN-CENTERED DEVELOPMENT POLICY

The concept of community development is misinterpreted in Mongolia, which is why it is not being engrained in the mentality of the people. For example, every province puts up a huge sign that says “Local Government Palace” on their headquarters.
However, it is not meant to be a building where the senior officials of a province get seated, but a public place where the people can meet and interact with the representatives they have chosen and observe their meetings.
It showed understanding when the Governor of Tunel soum in Khuvsgul Province hung a sign reading “Center to Serve the Citizens” on their government building. It fit the purpose of the building.
A large political party that held ruling power, almost uninterruptedly, for the longest time in our history had a ten-story building built with public funds and named it “The Independence Palace”. It is also the political party that developed and passed most of the nation’s development policies.
Would these governing bodies, which have declared their independence from the people, have the ability to be successful at community development?
The center of community development policies must be the people, because they know best what they need.  They understand how to work together with their neighbors, how to improve labor productivity, the optimum time to work, and when to take leave.
If a community lacks funding and needs support to improve productivity and competitiveness, this is when the government can step in to assist. This way we will have human-centered development.
When we succeed in that, our communities will start diversifying their products and services. Well known products such as Saikhan’s airag (Saikhan is a soum in Bulgan Province) and Khovd’s aaruul (dried curd that comes from Khovd Province) can become brands.
An immediate action required from the government is to register land and other immovable property at the local level, regardless of whether it is state-owned or has private ownership. It would allow community members to acquire loans from banks and at least have some working capital.
A community can only exist when there are local businesses that create value. Down the road, businesses can expand, access bigger markets, and start selling products not only to the domestic market but also consider exporting to international clients.
We need to change the angle of the policy intended for community development.

Trans. by B.AMAR

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=16889

Posted by on Nov 16 2015. 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.

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