From One-Way to Two-Way Exchanges: How is Communication Supporting Decentralization Reform in Mongolia?

November 10, 2011

  • Mongolia is keen to do a fiscal reform – to decentralize fiscal system – as the country is facing challenges in managing revenues associated with the mining boom.
  • Through building effective dialogue and engagement, the World Bank has paved the way for greater participation in the fiscal decentralization.
  • The Bank has organized a seminar for different stakeholders on the three pillars for Good Governance – Effective communication, Accountability and Participation.

Ulaanbaatar,November 10, 2011 - Since Mongolia shifted to a multi-party political system and market economy in the early 1990s, it has become a young and vibrant democracy. Debates among politicians, policymakers, civil society organizations, political and social commentators, and other stakeholders are now an integral part of Mongolian society. These happen through local newspapers and on the TV channels, at citizens’ hall meetings, as well as during cultural events, particularly in rural areas as nomadic herders gather for such event and authorities take that opportunity to communicate with them.

However, these debates may not always be particularly effective in getting to a consensus. Indeed, the heritage of the socialist system can still often be felt: public authorities, particularly at the local level, see communication as a way to disseminate and diffuse information through traditional media approach. There is much to do to transform communication from a one-way dissemination tool to an instrument for two-way engagement.

An opportunity to change the culture around communication is presenting itself as Mongolia is planning to decentralize. Parliament is deliberating an Integrated Budget Law (IBL) that would delegate decision making authority over the budget process to local assemblies and governments. Local governments would be required to involve their communities in the process – from planning to supervision. This would be a great novelty compared to today’s practice of approving the budget centrally without any public consultation.

For the decentralization to be successful, more meaningful engagement between actors at all levels – Parliament and local assemblies, national and local government, CSOs, communities and herders – need to take place. Establishing relationships based on trust will be essential and one key aspect of building trust will be for participants to break from the past and use communication to engage in a consultative dialogue.

So in addition to providing support to the Ministry of Finance on how to approach the fiscal aspects of decentralization, the World Bank is providing communication support to pave the way for more trusted coalition building among stakeholders. It started with a stakeholder analysis. A two-person team visited 2 aimags and several soums where they interviewed 78 people and walked around Ulaanbaatar where they talked with another 35 people from the central government and UB city. Their objectives were to hear from them what they think needs to happen for decentralization to be successful, what they see as barriers to overcome. The survey showed that all actors agree that fiscal decentralization is timely. They also emphasize that the reform needs to be done in a step by step approach and be carefully managed to avoid any serious failure on the ground. Encouragingly, in several provinces local CSOs have built coalitions among them, developed a partnership mechanism with their local Government and created a platform for consultation. Some provinces and districts carried out budget transparency and participatory initiatives. An ongoing project funded by the World Bank and several other development partners – the Sustainable Livelihood Project – is seen by the stakeholders as an effective participatory approach in community level. So, all these initiatives and approaches could form the basis for the community participation under the IBL.

But fulfilling the opportunities provided by the IBL would require more actions from the actors. Beyond granting local authorities power over the local budget, the government will have to establish practical procedures to ensure that a participatory approach is being followed. The procedures will also need to ensure that all participants understand not only their rights but also their responsibilities. Indeed, experiences in other countries have shown that decentralization can also create greater opportunities for corruption at the local level if the reform is not pursued properly.

A key finding of the analysis was that key actors and stakeholders need to be trained on participation, communication, and engagement in terms of concepts, standards, approaches, mechanisms and tools. In addition, the IBL – in all its dimensions – will have to be carefully explained to the public and promoted through a well prepared nationwide campaign for an extensive period.

Next, the Bank organized a 3-day seminar on “Communication as a tool for participatory local governance” with more than 40 participants from provinces and cities such as local assembly, local government office, treasury office, auditing office, media, CSOs, and staff from central Ministries and the Ministry of Finance. The seminar was led by an expert team from Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in EAP who shared their experience from the Philippines and by the ComGAP team of WBI.

Participants enthusiastically discussed three key issues: the Role of Government Communication in Good Governance; Good (local) governance and social accountability; and Participatory budgeting. Based on the feedback received at the end of the workshop, participants were excited by the seminar and its content and expressed their strong willingness to implement the fiscal decentralization once the legal environment is placed. Everybody is aware of long road ahead in the future.