A Bright Vision: Recommendations for Chin State’s Chief Minister
MOST people recognize that, with the new political openings – albeit limited, there is a great need for a strong vision for the short term and long term development of Chinram and the people of Chin State. That vision now is well within reach, especially in light of the new power structure that allows for an ethnic Chin leader at the top of the levers of power in Chin State. The Chief Minister, in spite of his constitutionally limited and constrained mandate, does have much leverage to make certain visions a reality. Before him are full of opportunities and potentials. But a strong vision and bold actions are needed to unlock the potentials that are waiting to spring out. In this essay, I outline some recommendations for the leaders of Chin State, particularly the Chief Minister in the hope that they may be considered in some way towards the development of relevant policy formulations that can help steer the course towards a holistic and healthy development of the country’s poorest state.
In putting forward these recommendations, I am keenly aware that some of the challenges cannot be met overnight or even within the span of the entire tenure of the Chief Minister and Chin State Government. I can also appreciate that the premiership is no easy task and that there is no magic wand to quickly fix the longstanding underdevelopment of Chin State. Yet, any action to start addressing important issues need to begin with a vision, and a bright one for that matter.
This is why it is critically important to practice civic engagement in governance, as has been acknowledged by the Chief Minister when he took oath of office, and to take advantage of the many people who have valuable experiences, knowledge and skills. Underlining this is early consultation with key stakeholders – such people as experts, intellectuals, academics, business people, technicians, politicians, religious leaders, farmers’ representatives, leaders from student organizations, community leaders, INGOs, CSOs-CBOs and women leaders – aimed at gathering inputs towards policy development. Of course, in addition to an effective and capable cabinet, other institutional and technical supports will also be needed to ensure that policies are carried forward for effective implementation. One idea is to have a sort of Technical Advisory Body, or policy think tank which can provide evidence-based policy input and technical support that reflects local needs and contextual reality on the ground. In this regard, there are a number of key issues that are likely to emerge that are worth considering for policy action going forward:
1. Education; Significant attention is needed to reform the education system from primary to university levels within Myanmar and Chin State. The free education policy for primary to high school level needs to be boosted with special focus on all children and also people with disability. To do this, it requires empowerment of teachers and school staff. They need regular capacity building to help them to more effectively deliver quality education to our children, and not just simply perform their ‘duties’. Also, the teaching, learning and examination system should be over-hauled, so that by-heart rote learning is replaced by a system that rewards children for their merit and their discernible progress through the curriculum. The state budget should be mobilized to foster the learning and teaching of Chin languages starting at the primary level. Girl education should be a priority and concern for all responsible persons in the education sector. At the same time, curriculum and courses should be set which are relevant to Chin State such as Tourism, Agriculture, Horticulture, Environmental and Natural Resource Management, Irrigation, Human Resource Management, and Service Sector Business from high school level to higher education. Much more attention should be given to univeristy admission on the basis of merit and area of interest. Affirmative program such as quota system should only be on economic grounds for disadvantaged children. Lastly the Chin State Government should invest in providing scholarships for further studies domestically and abroad, and support exposure trips and research initiatives.
2. Agriculture and Livestock Sector: The focus of agricultural and livestock development should be on strategizing for the best use of small scale agriculture, climate resilient agriculture and commercial-scale agriculture based on findings from research on soil type/quality and crop suitability. Since our livelihoods in Chin State rely heavily on agriculture, loans, technical support and access to finance is of critical importance so that farmers can produce for the local market, national markets and export purposes.
3. Human Security and Border Security: The people of Chin State deserve to enjoy full “freedom from fear and want”. Human security in Chin State would mean freedom from threats by the State and non-State actors, rights abuses, inequality, violence against women, and freedom from hunger, endemic diseases, man-made conflicts, natural disaster. Border security must be put on high up policy agenda for the safety of the people of Chin State and to ebb the illicit flow of people, guns and drugs.
4. Health: We need to bring affordable health care to the people regardless of how remote their villages are. The poorest and the most isolated places should be able to access nurses, doctors and medicines. A strong public distribution system of healthcare and medicines could further supply essential commodities to the poor at subsidized rates while more nurses, health staffs and doctors need to be deployed in the field.
5. Transportation and Communication: Though the previous government (2010-2015) prioritized roads construction like high ways and village-to-village connection and telecommunication, more continued construction of the highways, village connection roads, and mobile phone satellite towers are needed. Investment from companies with transparent monitoring systems should be encouraged. At least four national highways should be constructed in Chin State. In this way, every village can reasonably access roads and mobile phones.
6. Electrification and Energy Sector: The time has come for the people of Chin state to strive in a concerted effort toward sustainable energy plans. Chin State is at a crossroads. Many scholars and activists have criticized the current government’s invitation to international investors without proper workshops, seminars and consultation. The energy problem in Chin State is severe and a critical part of the state’s development. Hydropower done right has the potential to transform this state. But we need a smart policy and strategy. A smart energy plan would consist of two to three medium hydro-dams in Southern and Northern Chin (built only after free prior and informed consent is obtained) from affected communities and both environmental and social impact assessments are carried out. Sustainable energy can also be harnessed through solar power in villages, self-reliant mini hydro, biomass and wind power.
7. Religious Freedom: It is well within its sphere of influence for the Chin State Government to ensure religious freedom within the State. It is imperative that this issue is placed on top of all policy agenda given the history of violations, discriminations and persecution suffered by the Christian majority in their own State under successive Burman-dominated regimes. The government must start granting licenses and ownership titles to religious buildings and infrastructures.
8. Border Trade: This issue needs to be seriously considered for the economic development of Chin State. Border trade between India and Myanmar through Chin State is currently quite low and cannot compare to other trade in other states like Kachin to China, and Shan and Karen to Thailand and China – which reaches nearly a billion dollars per year. Chin State could harness the benefits of trade if at least five border gates could be safely opened.
9. Defense of Minority Right (Inner Line permit): An inner line permit is an internal immigration system being practiced in Mizoram State, whereby non-Mizo people from mainland India have to apply for special permits to enter and stay in Mizoram State with specific reason and limitation of stay. An important policy for the state is the defense of Chin identity from assimilation from the Burman majority in the future. It would be wise to consider the current system used in Mizoram State of India for this particular issue.
10. Natural Resources and Environment: With the environment as one of the important resources in Chin State, a committee in Parliament should be developed to prepare relevant and effective laws, rules and regulations for preservation, conservation, and management on land, trees, water, wind, stones, mountains, and wild animals. These precious resources must be well managed to help preserve the natural home on which the people of Chin State depend and also so the promotion of eco-tourism could be an economically viable option in Chin State.
11. Anti- Corruption Committee / Investigative Review in State Parliament: Rule of law is needed in Chin State. In 2014, it was reported by the Chinland Post local new agency that Chin State had the highest rate of corruption in Myanmar. To end this devastating culture of bribery and corruption, a government body should be formed to investigate report of corruption and to bring charges against corrupt government officials from past and current governments.
12. Eco-Tourism Promotion/ Economic Plan: In order to promote the eco-tourism sector, the important ingredients are cultural heritage conservation, respect for nature, protection of bio-diversity, and development of local products. These special natural resources can be harnessed to develop the state and help it maintain its unique cultural identity.
13. Chin State Border Demarcation: Clear state boundary is imperative for the peaceful co-existence and sustainability of the state since it is related to ancient boundaries, natural resources, land, customs and way of life.
14. Private/ Public/ Service Sector/ NGOs, CSOs, CBOs: A strong state economy will see the promotion of the private sector in development according to the laws, rules and regulations while better, transparent and accountable public services are being developed. For the public convenience, compliant centers should be established so that the people can monitor the services and control corruption. NGOs, CSOs and CBOs should be freely allowed to set up, operate and coordinate with the respective government agencies. Their work with local communities makes them well placed to serve as a change-mechanism, platform or bridge between the government the local people. They can also serve government as watchdogs.
15. Town or City Planning: As researcher and social worker for many years in Chin State, I found that there has been no systematic town planning at all for the cities in Chin State. Invitations to experts on town planning, urban development, environment and other specialists should be sent as to spark the sustainable development of urban centers.
There is no magic formula that can bring Chin State up to the level of Yangon in Myanmar and Singapre or Korea in a few years’ time. Yet, a visionary Chief Minister could utilize strategic thinking, bold action, local participation, and respect for culture, rights and environment to acheive genuine development for the state.
16. State Constitution: An important step would be to initiate the drafting of the Chin State Constitution under the current Constitution of Republic of the Union of Myanmar. This can help to guarantee the state’s power of self-rule, freedom, self-reliance and sustainable development from Schedule-2 (refer to Section 188) in a broader sense since the Union Constitution does not prohibit doing so according to Article 11 (b), 12 (a) and 13. Without self-determination, freedom, human capability and capacity, genuine peace, development (such as infrastructure development) can be undercut by conflict and political instability as the past examples from around the world and inside the country.
Above all, it is imperative for the political leadership of Chin State to have a bold and bright vision to initiate holistic development programs of Chin State beyond the status quo while raising the moral standards of the people, protect them and their rights, promote their capacity and make them more patriotic. Only then will a healthy sustainability and development of Chin State be achieved.
Van Bawi Lian holds a Master of Arts in International Development Studies at Faculty of Political Science from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. He previously worked as Program Coordinator of Chinland Development and Research Society based in Sweden and Hakha, an organization that has worked in the local context with specific focus on water, natural resource management, and livelihood and children education in remote areas of one of Burma’s most isolated regions. As a person growing up under the military regime, he has been active in political activism in Burma for the last many years, and played a key role in organizing and mobilizing local NGOs in his capacity as Field Coordinator for Prague-based People In Need (PIN). Currently he has been working with International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) – Myanmar as Country Program Officer and Give2Asia Organization based in America as Country Advisor.