Myanmar’s largest state parliament develops better research skills
Members of Parliament (MPs) and staff in the Shan State Hluttaw (parliament) are using research skills acquired over the past 13 months to help draft legislation, exercise legislative oversight, and represent constituents.
Partners from Canada and Myanmar formed the capacity-building team that worked intensely with the MPs and research staff in Shan state on a pilot project supported by the Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar initiative, an IDRC and Global Affairs Canada partnership.
The partners in Shan State’s capacity-building project were the Parliamentary Centre, a Canadian organization with 50 years of experience in strengthening parliaments in Canada and around the world, and the Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation (EMReF), in Yangon. Strong support from the Speaker’s office in the Shan State Parliament and from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario boosted the team’s effectiveness.
Myanmar is emerging from a long history of highly centralized governance. Now its 14 regional and state legislatures are becoming more active in debating and passing local legislation, approving local budgets, and overseeing their spending. Like their peers around the world, these legislators need access to independent and reliable information and comprehensive analysis to make informed decisions.
During a June 2018 roundtable in Yangon, U Sao Aung Myat, Deputy Speaker of the Shan State Hluttaw, said that following the training, “We can do [our own legislative] research more than before. We know that it is very important for our activities, and we will also continue supporting the parliamentary researchers.”
The Shan State project took key steps toward developing national capacity for further training in legislative research. It also produced a new participatory self-assessment tool to measure the parliaments’ research capacity, including the ability to assess the different implications that policy, legislation, and programs may have on men and women.
New research skills to address constituents’ issues
A kick-off event in early September 2017 saw the Parliamentary Centre train EMReF in how to design and implement training activities focused on building legislative research capacity.
The newly acquired skills were immediately put into practice. Within days, EMReF trainers convened 16 MPs from four political parties and 10 parliamentary staff from Shan State for an information session on legislative research, including the importance of gender sensitive analysis. Four days of practical research exercises followed that focused on topics chosen by the Shan State legislators themselves. Senior Parliamentary Centre experts and Susan Swift, director of Legislative Library and Research Services at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario supported the EMReF team.
The legislative research training has given me a lot of knowledge that helps me do better work for my people.
— Daw Nang San San Aye, a woman MP in Shan State
A few months later, with continued guidance from the Parliamentary Centre, the EMReF team applied their new trainers’ skills and experience in a session on parliamentary record management, this time with 25 parliamentary staff. Among the vital skills the group acquired was the ability to use Internet search engines and identify reliable sources of information. Initial capacity in this area was very low. The MPs who completed the training practised their new research skills immediately.
Several MPs used their new skills to address issues in their constituencies, while parliamentary staff tackled issues such as comparing bylaws governing tall buildings in Shan State to those in Mandalay. “I have applied the knowledge to build a bridge in my constituency” said Daw Nang San San Aye, a 31-year-old MP who has represented a remote region in Shan State for a decade. “I researched different types of bridges and was able to identify ones with reasonable costs. [Using this information], I talked to the respective minister about the importance of the bridge.” Research also compared legislation on micro-financing and the roles and functions of municipal development committees and how their members are elected. In all, the participants produced eight parliamentary research briefs, most of them joint efforts — a sign of effective teamwork.
Raising gender awareness
Only 4% of MPs in the 137-seat legislature are women. The project team ensured strong representation of these parliamentarians in the training, with four of the 16 participating MPs being women. Conversely, women dominate among parliamentary staff.
The focus on gender-sensitive research throughout the project enabled MPs and parliamentary staff to recognize that men and women, and girls and boys, may have different roles and needs that need to be considered by policymakers. By incorporating their different perspectives, the researcher is creating a more complete picture of the problem addressed in proposed laws and by-laws.
Tools for future capacity building
The Parliamentary Centre and EMReF published a 51-page training manual to guide capacity-building efforts in legislative research, available online in both Myanmar and English. The manual covers three topics: the nature and value of legislative research; gender-sensitive legislative research; and the design and delivery of legislative research training.
The Parliamentary Centre drew on its experience of working with seven African parliaments to support EMReF in the development and testing of a participatory self-assessment tool to measure the level of legislative research capacity in Shan State, including gender-sensitivity. This tool will be relevant to other state parliaments in Myanmar.
Moreover, although it was not on the project’s initial agenda, the self-assessments prompted staff to develop a priority plan for strengthening the legislative research capacity of Shan State in the long run. The Hluttaw’s leadership has approved the plan and shared it with representatives of civil society organizations, international development agencies, and other stakeholders at the June 2018 project roundtable in Yangon
This project has widened my knowledge of gender-sensitive legislative research.
— Thawng Phaisawng, project coordinator, EMReF
Among its priorities, it lists increasing resources for the library, establishing a research unit, and periodically assessing the Hluttaw’s research capacity. Most recently, EMReF and the Parliamentary Centre have facilitated sessions with MPs and staff to start turning this initial document into a full- fledged operational plan that the Shan State Hluttaw will implement over the next five years.
Learn more about the Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar Initiative.