A Start-up of Social Accountability in Myanmar

Thiha Ko Ko

Oxfam has been working to promote social accountability and good governance with local civil society organisations in Myanmar's Ayeyarwaddy region since 2012. What started off as a cautious approach to building the capacity of community based organisations, has expanded over the years to fill the growing political space and Oxfam has partnered with local organisations and local authorities to exploit these systemic changes and use the space to connect local authorities with peoples’ concerns. It has been challenging to introduce the concept of constructive engagement into a culture where fear and mistrust have been the norm for so long, and where there were generally two political extremes of behavior that could be seen in the public sphere – total disengagement or radical activism with very little in between.

The Social Accountability work has operated step by step to build and consolidate knowledge and trust over time.  It began with a series of joint workshops between CSOs and local authorities to introduce the basics of good governance and social accountability, followed by progressive public hearing forums, which allowed to strengthen little by little the terms of engagement between CSOs and the government and replicate the experience in multiple townships. Among the most impressive results, these public hearings allowed that 38,000 acres (80% of the requested land) be returned to their owners; and that childbirth fees be dropped in several townships, for example. A great benefit of the public hearing forums approach is that communities and their representative CSOs get to choose the issues most pertinent to them- its community led, therefore whatever benefits come from them are really owned by the communities and in line with their needs.

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