E.Bat-Uul: Mongolian democracy is in the same position as a hospital patient waiting for his death
The President of Federal Union of Mongolian Journalists, State Cultural Merit Worker, and journalist B.Galaarid has started running “Galaaridyn Tsag” (Galaarid’s Time) program on Molor TV. Below is a translation of his interview with the Ulaanbaatar City Governor, E.Bat-Uul regarding the governor’s opinion on various pressing issues in the city and his duties.
-How did you feel about governing a city with a population of a million people at first, and how do you feel now that you are accustomed to your work?
- I feel a lot different now. At first, I was quite worried about being appointed as the Ulaanbaatar City Governor, but now I am getting rather immersed into my work. I started to better understand the current situation of the city that I live in after I took up my position. I care about Ulaanbaatar in the same way that a head of a family worries and wishes the best for their family.
-Did your new job come with more issues than you expected?
-Yes, it did. Most of the problems were connected to households and social structures, as well as awareness of the city residents. While residents are littering at Tuul River bank, Korean or Japanese volunteers are seen picking up garbage. It is a paradox. Mongolian territory and Tuul River are treasures that Mongolians must be taking care of.
-What actions did you take to change this fact?
-I want to raise awareness of the public about the importance of good treatment of the environment. We have conducted several landscaping projects to improve the city’s facade. Once we have started planting flowers in public areas, even little children will not want to spoil them. Also, we are replacing corroded and narrow pipelines in Ulaanbaatar that were built in 1960s and 1970s. It is a must project that has to be addressed, or the city runs the risk of freezing as major heating pipelines break in the winter.
-Would citizens agree to move if a new another city is built?
-I don’t think they will. Ulaanbaatar is not just a mere city, but a gigantic market and economy. The fact that province residents are moving to Ulaanbaatar is not a bad thing. The reason why China’s economy is very powerful is due to its dense population.
Market of a populous city develops faster. But the problem for Ulaanbaatar is that a high number of province residents are moving in to the city are burning logs and coal for heating as distribution pipelines cannot meeting demands. Their children are not able to enter schools and kindergartens because there isn’t enough, and it is a big concern. But migration to the capital shouldn’t be seen as something negative.
-You have issued an ordinance on information transparency in 2012. Why do you give so much credit for it?
-Firstly, when ordinances or regulations are newly issued, the public lacks awareness because they weren’t informed, big businesses are able to make profit off of it because they are informed. A lot of real estate and lands were privatized without the knowledge of the public. Secondly, residents have to participate in the city management themselves. But without transparency, they are not able to do that. Thirdly, it is dangerous for anyone who is in a higher position to hide information from the press media or citizens as it may cause suspicion or defamation. Misinformation is the most powerful weapon of Mongolian politics and business sectors. But transparency can prevent such misunderstanding.
-You released an ordinance that makes it mandatory for authority figures to inform the public of their orders or decision within 72 hours after its implantation. How do you implement the ordinance?
-I made it able for the public to acquire official orders and decisions through the websites of state organizations. If an important decision hasn’t been informed on the website, the public will know that the decision wasn’t approved.
-Single Window Service was made available since your appointment of governor. How would you evaluate the fulfillment of duties by state bodies?
-We have to rely on a good management, instead of good personnel. Every service personnel must think about their function and duty. State services must focus on providing equal service tor all citizens of Mongolia regardless of position or income. We plan to reform structures of service organizations in 2014. By the end of next year, state services will be provided faster without complicated procedures.
-Will this plan work? How certain are you of the results it will bring?
-During community times in Mongolia, people lived for the sole purpose of serving their superiors. But we fought for democracy in 1990s which put an end to that system. But bit of that system still remains, even after more than 20 years. Difference between the state back then and now is that state officials can have private businesses and property, which was prohibited during communist times. The state has become an instrument of the greedy to stealing and dupe. At the moment, the democracy we sought is in a disgraceful condition.
-Do you ever regret taking part in the democratic revolution?
-I have seen many who fought for democracy, regretting their decisions later, which is a cause for great distress for me. My decision to become the Governor of Ulaanbaatar was directly influenced by this.
Unless we fix it now, democracy in Mongolia is in a fatal condition, like a hospital patient waiting helplessly for his death in bed. A great danger is ahead if we don’t change the state into one that serves for the people. We want to plan state budget and use tax funds in collaboration with the people.
-I think it is a good plan to let the people have more say in how the state budget should be spent. What kind of measures are you taking to increase support for this proposal?
-We are working with residents in Ulaanbaatar. We listen to opinions on whether to establish a school, bus stop or anything that concerns the public. For instance, we informed the public that the Office of the Ulaanbaatar City Governor (UCGO) has a budget of 200 million MNT for one project and listen to their proposals.
-Hypothetically, what will happen if residents don’t want a building that the Ulaanbaatar City Administration wants to construct?
-The city administrative organizations are responsible for providing just policies in order to develop the city in the correct fashion. Greek had a government-debt crisis because the people had no say in the state decisions. When the people have no say in state decisions, they only turn into demanding and complaining parties.
-The parliament and government have more power than the city administration. Are there any occasions when your plans is not implemented due to lack of power on the part of your organization?
-Conflict is inevitable for even a team with just two members. Conflict means that they are working. Only those who are idle have nothing to say and no conflict.
-The UCGO supports the policy that elementary schools must have their own premises. What will happen if households have already established homes in areas intended for school premises or a company plans to construct an office in the same area?
-We will make demands for them to leave the area. If they do not comply, we will have no other option but to force them out of the area.
-Some ger district residents refused to leave areas planned for other development projects. How do you dealing with them?
-Initially we weren’t able to resolve the matter, but we have talked to residents in similar situations. In the end, they agree to move out voluntarily out of areas designated for development projects because it will benefit them in the long-run. Houses near to a school costs around 40 million MNT and state services are cheaper for them, while others far from schools are valued much less.
-So understanding each other’s interests is vital for dealing. Who do you understand better, residents or the authority?
-Residents, without a doubt. They don’t have any hidden agenda as politicians do. They only focus on improving their living standards.
-Ulaanbaatar road traffic notably improved compared to the recent past. What is your thought on this?
-The UCGO is implementing a set of projects to reduce traffic congestion. Vehicle restriction through license plate numbers was implemented without a delay and public transportation vehicles started operating on only the first lanes and others drive on other lanes. A foreigner told me, “If this management was to be implemented in my country, it would have taken at least six months to start.” It shows that nothing is impossible if we understand and deal with our residents.
-How long will it be until participation of residents in authority decisions is a regular matter? Can residents make the right choices?
-They do, and I can see it. It is the politicians and businessmen who complicate things.
-Did you receive complaints from residents about the demolition of cultural heritages for development projects?
-Khan-Uul district residents opposed the decision to demolish the White Gate in the 19th micro-district to make way for road expansions. But after the road project ended, residents were glad that the roads were expanded because it improved traffic flow. After that, residents didn’t make as much fuss when the other White Gate near the Chinggis Khaan International Airport was demolished for road expansions as well.
-Do you have any project in mind that you fear you might not be able to complete within your duty period of the Ulaanbaatar City Governor?
-The plans for development projects are made thoroughly and they have definite deadlines. For instance, cycling tracks will be build along Tuul and Selbe Rivers, and unpaved areas which cause a great amount of dust in apartment towns will be fixed in 2014.
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