Voicing citizens’ concerns to improve their lives

Local news, 19.09.2017

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. 19.09.2017 -- It is a crisp autumn afternoon. The dazzling sun brightens the colors of the wooden compound walls and dwellings of Chingeltei district. Dulamjav sits in the simply furnished office of the khoroo governor. An engineer by profession, the 58-year old woman is now a full-time politician. In addition to her duties as a governor, she holds one of the 35 seats of the Citizens’ Representative Hural (CRH) of Chingeltei district.

Ms Dulamjav, a member of the Citizen's Representative Hural of Chingeltei district, Ulaanbaatar. © SDC / UNDP

The administration building of 7th khoroo (sub-district) is busy and citizens converge to the civil servants’ desks to solve their administrative issues. A map of the khoroo with color dots that identify communal infrastructure hangs on the wall.

Chingeltei, one of the nine districts that comprise Ulaanbaatar, is home to almost 150,000 citizens. The inhabitants have mixed backgrounds and economic situations, but poverty is widespread in the more remote areas, where people, many of which recently emigrated from the country-side, reside in gers or humble housing.

Dulamjav was first elected in 2000 and has been part of the Presidium of the CRH since 2016. Her decision to enter politics was sparked by her strong motivation “to accomplish positive change for the community” and thereby help solve the numerous problems faced by the district’s population. She adds that since local representatives work on the ground, they are aware of local-level issues and stand close to citizens.

CRHs have been in existence in Mongolia since the adoption of the new constitution of 1992, when Mongolia sets itself on the path to democracy. Even though CRHs have progressively established themselves as a cornerstone of local governance since then, they still face various and important challenges in effectively fulfilling their mandated functions to adopt resolutions on local matters, represent citizens’ interests and oversee local governments’ performance. A particular challenge lies in the local representatives’ lack of knowledge regarding their roles and duties. Moreover, there is usually a high rate of representatives who are elected for the first time (57.2 percent were first-timers in the 2016 local elections) and possess insufficient skills and experience at the start of their term in office.

The SDC-supported project “Strengthening Representative Bodies in Mongolia” (SRBM) which is implemented in cooperation with United Nations Development Program has been providing newly elected local representatives with the skills and knowledge needed to conduct their role adequately. Namely, it has organized a nation-wide induction training shortly after the 2016 local elections. Implemented for the second time, the training was offered to all CRHs and attended by nearly 7400 (more than 90%) representatives. The two-day training covers a broad range of topics essential for CRHs’ work, including legal framework, procedures, local budget and finance, protection of environment and land management, and citizen engagement. It was received with enthusiasm by participants and encountered positive feedback.

“The induction training is very important”, stresses Dulamjav. “If this training was not organized, newly elected representatives would have no opportunity to acquire knowledge on several crucial topics.” She explains that the training provided them with basic knowledge on issues related to representation, leadership, interrelation and collaboration. It was particularly valuable in equipping CRH representatives with fundamental skills for cooperating with citizens, organizing meetings with them, and disseminating information to the public. “Participants to the training got a clear understanding that they should be a nonpolitical voice of citizens to protect their interests. One of the key takeaways was how to represent and lead the citizens”, she says.

The induction training was delivered in Chingeltei district at the beginning of February 2017 and brought together a large majority of the CRH representatives. Several had, like Dulamjav, already been holding office in the previous electoral term and hence attended the induction training for the second time. While she says that the first training was key in helping her understand her duties as an elected representative with accountability responsibilities towards citizens, she emphasizes that attending the second edition was beneficial as well: “Although I had already attended the first training, l learned a lot of new things. We should constantly renew and refresh our knowledge.”

Overall, Dulamjav assesses the functioning of Chingeltei CRH as smooth and positive. CRH representatives are active and meet four to five times a month to discuss the issues faced in the district and find solutions. She attributes the CRH’s good performance to the fact that representatives are highly aware about their role to represent and protect the interests of the district’s citizens. Representatives generally stay away from party politics and work across party lines to jointly deliver results and improve the environment and education of the population in the district. The CRH also benefits from a certain stability, with the chair having being occupied by the same representative for eight years. “The main distinctive feature of our district CRH and the basis for its good performance lies in the unity and good coordination between CRH, governor and administration for the good of citizens”, Dulamjav sums up.

Without a doubt, her experience and attitude make Dulamjav a role model for future representatives. What explains her success in her political career and endeavors? “I am used to fulfilling the promises I make the people – this is probably the reason why I was elected several times. I do not politicize issues, pursue all decisions I made until a solution is found, and always pay attention to solving issues raised by any citizen. As an elected representative, I try to voice the interests of citizens, including those of women.”

On the question of improving political participation of underrepresented population groups such as women, and especially young women, she underlines the importance of instilling leadership skills. She also acknowledges the great importance of public participation: “The public should not only criticize the representatives for their performance but also actively participate in actions and make their contribution.”

The capacities of CRH representatives will be further strengthened through the leadership training, women leadership training, and various thematic trainings offered by SRBM project. The project will also continue fostering the creation of mechanisms to enhance CRHs’ engagement with citizens.