29 November 2020 - Source: Mizzima

Myanmar's democratic transition process and opening up of the economy coincided with the increased presence of development partners.

Apart from private sector-led development, reliance on external assistance in the form of grants, concessional loans from bilateral and multi-lateral agencies, concessional assistance and grants from international financial institutions, bilateral donors, and INGOs became an integral part of the economic policy pursued by the government since 2010.

Though the country is aspiring towards middle income status, external assistance still remains a significant portion of its development investments. Its public investment programmes are eligible for concessional financing windows from international finance institutions and donors are also keen to support human development efforts and private sector growth. Apart from infrastructure development, Myanmar needs capacity building of various institutions and communities to ensure inclusive and equitable development and effective functioning of markets for development.

Since the National League for Democracy-led government assumed office in 2015, there have been efforts to streamline and align development assistance to meet the sustainable development goals. Management of development cooperation has been accorded importance with setting up a centralized development assistance coordination unit (DACU in 2016) and also an accompanied policy framework (released in Feb 2018) which guided the government's donors, and INGOs who wanted to support the government efforts.

Based on the experience, a more revised and coherent framework for development assistance policy (DAP) has been released in this month (Nov 2020). Envisaging a future for the country – of reaching the status of a developed country bereft of development assistance – the DAP document outlines a vision of how development assistance ought to work for the country.

"Myanmar's vision for development assistance is one in which our country enjoys an enabling environment that maximizes the positive impact that development assistance can have in the lives of all people in Myanmar; and where development assistance may have a positive, catalytic effect through the promotion of knowledge transfer that strengthens the capacity of our people and institutions such that they may continue to wield the reins of our nation's development and steer the course toward the emergence of a prosperous, peaceful and democratic Myanmar."

This demonstrates the resolve of the country to use development assistance to fulfill the goal of building capacities for self-reliance. It explicitly seeks development assistance to meet the goals of Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan 2030. According to the policy document "this DAP shall be observed by all Government Entities and PID providing, receiving, managing, and/or implementing development assistance in/to Myanmar, at all levels."

It is a welcome step in streamlining the system so that Myanmar's partners in development would be able to identify where their support is most needed and valued.

The current COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath also signals the need for development assistance for enhancing the country's much needed health infrastructure, public services, WASH sector, other socio economic sectors, capacities of the government and systems of governance. It is also critical to build community capacities for demand creation, mutual accountability mechanisms so that a healthy relationship between the public service providers and communities can be established.

DAP deals elaborately with aspects related to principles of engagement, partnerships with bilateral and multilateral agencies, INGOs, and local agencies. Through the elaborate articulation of DAP of policies, procedures and formats, the government intends to enhance efficiency with regard to approvals and implementation, greater predictability in terms of policies, improved timelines and implementation, and reporting so that overall effectiveness of development aid can be enhanced.

Elaborate formats

There are few important takeaways with respect to coordination for effective delivery of development assistance. These are critical for ensuring that development assistance fulfills its strategic purposes.

One such aspect of the DAP is setting up of strategic coordination groups for each of the MSDP goals so that development assistance can be targeted and channeled through the appraisal and supervision of such groups. These groups operate under the overall guidance of DACU and detailed guidelines are framed in order to ensure inclusive membership, decision making and accountability. One important element of accountability, that binds all the development assistance to national development goals si the following: "The SCG Chair shall ensure that all activities within the remit of their SCG contribute toward national reconciliation, democracy and respect for human rights, gender equality and equality of persons with disabilities and inclusive economic growth."

Similarly, Cooperation Partners Group (CPG) is another important institutional arrangement devised in the DAP is to ensure development effectiveness and coordination among the partners in development.

"The CPG is the main forum for information sharing amongst CPG members on development effectiveness and coordination and for taking decisions on how PID can improve the way they work together, with the Government of Myanmar, and with others on such matters."

Further, "All CPG members are expected to ensure, through due diligence, that their funding recipients are spending money transparently, appropriately, effectively and in line with relevant overarching agreements with the Government of Myanmar."

DAP also identifies the roles for state-regional governments. For equitable and inclusive development and promotion of federal system of governance within the limited scope, strengthening state-regional governments is critical. DAP identifies this need and encourages Partners in Development to take up projects in accordance with the needs of the State/regional governments. And "…securing the inputs of State and Region Governments is essential to ensuring development assistance can facilitate inclusive, equitable, sustainable

livelihoods and economic growth. State and Region Governments also play an essential in the monitoring and evaluation of development assistance initiatives."

At the same time, one recognizes the need for strengthening the community voice and representation through capacity building and empowerment processes, that needs equal attention, especially in the context of democratic reforms, peace, national reconciliation that are identified as critical pillars for the country's inclusive development. This is sought to be achieved through technical assistance support. Delineating the role of technical assistance, DAP points out that "The Government of Myanmar is committed to strengthening the human and institutional capacities required to achieve our national development objectives, including through the use of development assistance funded technical assistance."

One would expect that such projects would be helpful for the local communities in terms of strengthening local governance. With the renewed mandate one hopes that the NLD government would be able to maximize the opportunities of development assistance to meet the myriad challenges of inclusive development.