Delving into the complexity of Mongolian local governance and parliamentary support

30 June 2018
Camille Barras
UN Volunteer Camille Barras (Switzerland) serves as a UN Volunteer Knowledge Management Officer with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Mongolia. Through her volunteering assignment, she supports a project to strengthen representative bodies in the country, engaging people in remote parts of the country. On the International Day of Parliamentarism, Camille shares her experience and insights into local governance and parliamentary support.
Camille Barras (Switzerland, left), UN Volunteer with UNDP Project 'Strengthening Representative Bodies in Mongolia', interviewing Hural representatives to capture training outcomes in Tuv aimag, May 2018.
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Finally, we are reaching our destination, after nearly 700 kilometers on a bumpy road. The jeep approaches a small town laid in the midst of the endless steppe. There we meet E., an elected representative from a Citizens’ Representative Hural, which is the name for local self-governing bodies in Mongolia.

E. was elected for the first time in the last local elections held in 2016 like many of the representatives of his Hural. He shares, "most representatives were nominated by their party. At the time of elections, they had very limited knowledge about what it implies to be a local representative, what functions the Hural is supposed to fulfill, and how to engage with citizens."

The turnover in the last local elections was as high as 57 per cent –  in other words, more than one in two local representatives is holding office for the first time.

Many newly elected representatives were not fully aware of the importance of their responsibility to represent their constituents' interests and of the mechanisms to do so, nor did they possess the necessary knowledge about budgeting, the legal environment and existing procedures.

A few months shortly after the 2016 elections, E. attended an induction training which covered all these topics, as one of close to 7,400 local representatives. He explains that the training played a crucial role, not only in terms of imparting knowledge but also raising awareness and motivation.

This training was implemented by the project "Strengthening Representative Bodies in Mongolia" (SRBM), which I have served with now for about a year as a UN Volunteer Knowledge Management Officer.

SRBM is a project jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Parliament Secretariat, with financial support from the Swiss Development Agency for Cooperation (SDC) from 2016 to 2020. Strengthening Hurals across the country is one of its main objectives.

Overall this posting has allowed me to build upon technical and cross-cultural skills previously acquired across project management, evaluation and communications functions in India, Germany, and Egypt, and deepen my understanding at the technical level. The nature of the work provided me with a unique opportunity to delve little by little into the complexity of Mongolian local governance and parliamentary support, and at the same time to gain fascinating insights into the dynamic environment of a young democracy. --UN Volunteer Camille Barras (Switzerland)

Hurals were established in the wake of democratic transition with the 1992 constitution to support the shift to a more decentralized system, giving citizens more say in local matters. In a country with one of the lowest population densities in the world and remote, isolated communities, Hurals bear crucial responsibilities for addressing local problems, such as local public service delivery in education and health, sustainable pasture management, and oversight of mining activities.

Hurals have to cope with significant challenges to fulfill their regulatory, representation, and oversight functions. In addition to the high turnover and subsequent limited knowledge among representatives, Hurals face overlapping legal provisions, unclear accountability lines and delimitations of powers with their presidiums and local executives, as well as strong party polarization.

Elected Hural representatives of Selenge aimag attending the Women Leadership Training (left) and others in Dornod aimag brainstorming on the Ladder of Citizen Participation during leadership training. Both activities were organized as part of the UNDP project 'Strengthening Representative Bodies in Mongolia'. (UNV, 2018)

Women representation in Hurals remains at a low 27 per cent. A 2015 perception survey revealed that citizens had low understanding about Hurals. On the whole, few rated positively the activities of lower level Hurals (19% in Ulaanbaatar and 34% in rural areas).

The SRBM project addresses these various needs via a holistic approach. After the induction training, the project offered a range of training opportunities to strengthen the capacities of representatives, including the first time ever nation-wide training for chairpersons of baghs, the lowest administrative unit in Mongolia.

Besides individual level interventions, SRBM also tackles the organizational development needs of Hurals. For instance, the project created and mainstreamed standard meeting procedures to foster effective decision-making. A small-grant scheme is used to encourage the emergence of best practices every year.

These interventions have gone a long way in revitalizing Hurals, thereby enabling more effective local governance and strengthening democratic institutions. On top of this, the project brings inputs to the improvement of the legal and policy framework of local governance and helps reinforce capacities of the Parliament of Mongolia. --Camille Barras

My scope of work within the project is very diverse. In close cooperation with project colleagues, I have developed a four-year sustainability strategy for ensuring the gradual institutionalization and the project’s long-term sustainability. I have taken a nodal role in setting up and facilitating bilateral cooperation between the parliamentary administrations of Mongolia and Switzerland in the areas of legislation and parliamentary oversight and evaluation.

Through conducting research on local governance systems of a range of countries, I contributed to harnessing relevant international experience for decision-makers in view of upcoming constitutional and legal reforms. Recently, I designed the scopes of assignment for a Hural performance management framework and the project mid-term review.  I furthermore regularly support the team for reporting and monitoring missions.

Overall this posting has allowed me to build upon technical and cross-cultural skills previously acquired across project management, evaluation and communications functions in India, Germany, and Egypt, and deepen my understanding at the technical level. The nature of the work provided me with a unique opportunity to delve little by little into the complexity of Mongolian local governance and parliamentary support, and at the same time to gain fascinating insights into the dynamic environment of a young democracy.

The view of U laangom, Uvs aimag, November 2017. (UNV, 2017)


30 June is the International Day of Parliamentarism. #WorldParliamentDay