RANGOON — The first of a series of regional civil society forums wrapped up in the Mon State capital Moulmein on Friday, where some 180 representatives from 75 organizations presented a list of recommendations to the central and state governments on issues such as democratization and political reforms, the peace process, human rights and socio-economic development.
Six Mon State lawmakers, including the state parliament speaker, attended the forum to listen to the recommendations, as did the state agriculture minister Myo Nyunt, according to the organizers.
“Each MP reacted to the discussed issues and we didn’t really have differing opinions,” said Min Min Nwe, a member of the forum’s organizing committee. He added that the minister, who attended for a half day, told the forum that he would study their suggestions and bring them to the attention of the Mon State government.
However, like any other state and division in Burma, Mon State is run by a chief minister appointed by the president and local parties have limited influence. Under the military-drafted Constitution, the central government holds a great deal power over decisions made in any state and division.
Min Min New said the Mon State civil society organizations are aware of this situation and are requesting the central government to consider their recommendations.
“Some of the suggestions can be done only by the union government,” he said. “We have strong hopes that the government will implement our suggestions, but I think it’s unlikely in a country where there is still so much centralization [of power].”
The list of recommendations that was concluded by the forum participants—who represented various different ethnic groups in Mon state—focused on a range of issues.
A joint statement asked for “a system where the president is directly elected by the public. Amendments to the Constitution regarding the appointment of state and division ministers who should be elected from state and division parliament, and appointing district, township, quarter and village administration officials who are directly elected by the public.”
Regarding Burma’s ongoing peace process between the central government and ethnic armed groups, the organizations asked that the “Mon state government and parliament recognize and support civilian ceasefire monitoring projects by civil society, [and] to increase the role of civil society in the peace process.”
They added that penalties on having contact with ethnic armed groups under the Unlawful Associations Act should be lifted.
The Mon Regional People’s forum also recommended that investment projects in the state are carried out in an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable way, that revenues from natural resource exploitation are shared with the local government and communities, and that the projects create local jobs.
It called on the government to help resolve the shortage of funding and human resources for development of the Mon State education system on all levels, while adding that education should also be made available in local ethnic languages.
Civil society groups are planning to hold a Regional People’s Forum in each state and division in Burma in the coming years, and plan to hold the next forum in Hpa-an, Karen State.