On 31st March 2019, Yangon citizens go to the polls in the city’s first municipal elections on the basis of one person-one vote. The candidates for the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) are already working hard to woo their constituents with grand promises to clean up the city, provide better public services and improve living standards. We take a step back from the campaign excitement for one moment, to find out exactly how YCDC is formed, what its functions are, and what exactly is the point in voting.
The YCDC election is in fact two elections: every Yangon citizen will be able to vote for their favoured candidate for the city-wide YCDC Committee, as well as for township-level Committees. (Previous district-level committees will no longer exist.)
The city-level committee has eleven members, of which five – the Mayor, Secretary, Joint Secretary, and two other members – are appointed by the Regional Government. So only the six remaining positions are to be to be filled through the election process. This system is quite different from other democratic countries, where municipal councils are wholly elected, and if there is a Mayor they are directly elected by the people (see our forthcoming feature on systems of local government). After the election, the newly formed committee will vote for one of the six elected members to fill the role of Vice-Mayor.
Each township committee will have five committee members, only three of whom will be elected by the people. The Township Administrator and Deputy Township Administrator will be automatically installed as members, with the Township Administrator holding the position of Secretary.
At the end of March voters will be invited to cast four votes. There is one vote each for City Committee candidate, and three votes each for Township committee candidates. In the new Yangon City Development Law the concept of universal suffrage has been applied, granting voting right to every adult over 18 years old (except members of religious orders, persons serving prison terms, persons determined to be of unsound mind and persons who have not yet been declared free from insolvency, and persons disqualified by election law). This is a significant departure from the previous municipal poll in Yangon in 2014, which was on the basis of one vote per household. In that regard, many see this contest as the first genuine local election in Myanmar since 1949.
What does YCDC do?
Yangon is the commercial capital and former administrative capital of Myanmar, with a rapidly growing population of well over seven million people. The municipal functions of YCDC are many, diverse and often struggling to keep pace with the rapid growth and development of the city. Members of the YCDC will have their work cut out to keep the city running whilst also trying to address complex challenges like urban poverty and inequality, air and water pollution and traffic congestion. All whilst trying to manage the demands of an ever-growing urban middle class with a taste for shopping malls, condos and private cars.
According to the Yangon City Development (YCD) Law, there are 48 main functions of YCDC, each of which are further sub-divided.
There are functions related to land, public works, disaster prevention, vehicles, water distribution, public health, sanitation, cemetery management, slow vehicles, street vendors, motels, boarding houses and advertisement. Additionally, YCDC has a responsibility to take care of people with mental health problems, people with leprosy, homeless children, and beggars. In fact, you could say that YCDC is a real ‘cradle to grave’ organisation, taking care of every aspect of life right up to the cemetery gates!
In the Yangon City Development Law, the diverse duties and responsibilities of YCDC are simplified into the following 5 categories:
(a) City Planning, zoning and management, (b) land management, (c) building, maintenance and managing of playgrounds, parks and gardens (d) building, maintenance and managing public buildings, and (e) maintenance of Heritage buildings.
Finally, YCDC have a responsibility in the law to inform the public about their activities, make press releases on a regular basis, manage YCDC-owned Enterprises, conduct research and training, and so on.
How they can implement all of these duties?
As there are numerous duties and responsibilities of YCDC, YCD Law allows the formation of working groups to support the YCDC Committee, and Departments to manage the delivery of YCDC’s many public services.
There are seven working groups responsible for: city planning and land administration; buildings; roads/bridges; water supply, water flow and sanitation; public health; markets and environment management. In the YCD Law, it is stated that in forming such working groups, a suitable committee member should be appointed as a chairman, suitable staff as a secretary and three external professionals appointed as members. Whilst no clear function of the working groups is set out in the law, they function as advisory to the YCDC Committee.
Implementation of YCDC policy and day-to-day management of the city’s public services falls to its many Departments. According to the website there are 21 YCDC Departments across 23 offices. Departments include: Administration; Public Relations and Information; Security and Disciplinary; Budget and Accounts; three Engineering Departments; Playground, Parks & Gardens; Pollution Control and Cleansing; and so on… You can find out detail jobs of the departments and task forces by following the links in ycdc.gov.mm website (much of which is available in Burmese and English).
It is much more difficult to get a clear picture of the duties and responsibilities of township-level committees, their members and their services, from either the YCD Law or the YCDC website.
Since there are so many duties and responsibilities in YCDC, it is natural that the number of employees is also very high. Mayor U Hla Myint has previously reported in the media that the number of employees in YCDC was 17,185 in 2015. This is high even compared to the largest companies in the private sector in Myanmar, but is still small compared to other governments of large cities such as New York, where 325,000 people work for the city.
Compared to city-level government in some other the democratic countries, the duties of YCDC are relatively limited. For example, the government of New York City is responsible for education, the police force and fire protection, in addition to other municipal duties. In other countries, local authorities have fewer responsibilities. There is arguably space for a greater public debate in Myanmar on the form and functions of sub-regional local government, and the most appropriate balance of decentralised or devolved responsibilities. It is important that the distinct needs of big cities like Yangon are represented in any forthcoming debates about regional or state-level autonomy.
Regardless of how sub-national government is structured in future, it should be noted that a common feature of most city governments around the world is a culture of civic engagement, a requirement to hold council and committee meetings in public, and to frequently use meaningful public engagement and consultation to formulate policy.
Where does the revenue of YCDC come from?
Since YCDC must provide a lot of services to its many millions of citizens, it requires significant and reliable revenue streams. YCDC is a publicly-funded organisation, and so is accountable to its citizens. YCDC has three main sources of revenue: a grant from central government; taxes and charges collected from the general public and businesses; and income generated from YCDC sales and business operations. According to YCD Law, there are 12 major income sources for YCDC. These are
- Taxes, fines, and penalties
- Rental fees, service fees and sales of items from YCDC owned businesses
- Taxes from motor vehicles on Committee owned roads
- Factory and Public Business License, extension of license, registration fees and other business-related taxes
- Sales of items and income from capital investments
- Government grants
- Profits and incomes from YCDC owned business and investments
- Portion of income tax received from Internal Revenue departments of respective townships in YCDC area according to Income tax law
- Income Received from respective department for stamp duties when people signed transfer of non-transferable items in YCDC area
- A certain percentage received from total amount of tariffs and dues of Myanma Port Authority every year
- Donations from local and foreign entities
- Foreign income from rental fees by renting buildings or land to foreigners
Charges or taxes collected by YCDC according to 2018 Yangon taxation law
- Property tax, land tax and Land fees
- Water tax, Water bill, Sanitation tax, sanitation bill, garbage and waste tax, public toilet fees and general taxes
- Vehicles related charges such as Wheel tax, Night sleep tax, parking fees and road fees
- Private markets, shops, cinemas, theaters, recreation centers, commercial areas, health centers, training schools, Wedding halls, parking buildings, private stadiums
- factories, industries, shopping malls and warehouses
- Ports and shipyards
- Companies, private hospitals, clinics, golf clubs, private schools, boarding school, Guest houses and pawn shops
- Petrol and diesels filling stations, oil warehouses and oil tanks
- Private banks, warehouses, buildings in industrial zone, business related land and building
- Hotel, motel, inn, and services apartments
- Apartments, condominiums, residential houses
- Building telecommunication towers
- Selling commodities by moving vehicles
- Temporary theater and carnivals
- Slow vehicles related issues
- Services related businesses
We know from looking at published statistics that the revenue of YCDC increases year on year. In 2014-15, (under the previous Regional government), revenue was less than expenditure, indicating a budget deficit. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, however, (under the current Regional government), there is no longer a budget deficit and income is greater than expenditure.
What do you expect from YCDC?
We could be forgiven for thinking that the city government does little more than collect taxes and garbage. However, as we can see from the above, YCDC does a whole lot more and handles a lot of resources on behalf of Yangon citizens – their activities touch upon virtually every aspect of our daily lives. A better understanding of the duties and responsibilities of YCDC will enable citizens to hold the new committee members to account, and to judge whether or not they are successful in providing essential services to your township.
Ask specific questions to the candidates
The candidates are actively campaigning in many different ways. Some have been staging ‘meet and greets’ with the general public. Others have peppered the city with giant billboards of their faces and campaigns slogans. Many candidates make grand promises to reform the current system. But often they only speak in general terms, such as promising to improve garbage collection, or the water supply. Now is the time for the public to ask specific questions of the prospective candidates, to find out how well they understand how to implement their grand plans.
For example, will they implement their improved garbage collection system only in public areas, such as parks and office buildings, or in Yangon citizens’ residences, or in commercial areas? When they talk about water supply to the City, are they referring to the Gyo Phyu water supply system, or the tube wells installed in most houses in Yangon? Or are they talking about policies to control our water bills? If proposals are to improve one particular service, how will that be funded? Will the money be taken from another department’s budget and what will be the impact of moving funds in this way? A UK politician once said “there is no such thing as a magic money tree”. We must pressure the candidates to be clear what they mean when they make promises, and how they intend to fund their proposals. If they have innovative ideas to improve how things are managed, let’s hear them!
A further reason to question the candidates is to examine if their ideas and priorities fit with your priorities, and the requirements of your family, your community or your township. We want to understand what motivates the candidates. Do they understand the experiences of women, or poor street children, or the elderly? By asking these questions we will be able to choose YCDC representatives who share our values and will strive for continually improving municipal services.
Vote in the YCDC Election
Yangon citizens cannot escape the hands of YCDC, from birth to death. The hands of YCDC employees await us when we are born at the hospital, and the hands of a YCDC employee may one day bury us in a YCDC-owned cemetery. Your vote will determine whether these hands are tender and nurturing hands, supporting all citizens to achieve their ambitions, or whether they are grasping, careless hands that take our taxes but give little in return.
Therefore, if you are an eligible adult, please ask your candidate lots of questions, and more importantly, get out there and vote!
Written By Aung Tun Lin
Yangon City Development Law