Justin Kwan, MAAPPS // May 13, 2015
After 19,308km of traveling from Canada to Mongolia, the Asia Pacific Policy Project team has finally returned back to the University of British Columbia. The journey to Ulaanbaatar has been an amazing experience, to say the very least. Nine days in Mongolia’s capital city has created a fresh viewpoint not only on the way I view policy making, but the real struggles that occur between different interest groups in the negotiation process.
The beginning of the trip started with the participation in the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) Conference, with a keynote opening speech by Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the President of Mongolia. While freedom online and the EITI subnational reporting project may appear to be completely unrelated, President Elbedgdorj acknowledged that beyond mining, he wanted his country to expand its investments and businesses into the IT and software industry. Perhaps a subtle, but clear sign that that Mongolia is looking to diversify its investments, and perhaps has too heavily relied on the extractive industry to support its economy.
A reoccurring theme throughout the trip however has been the frequent discussion of the mismatch between our “words and deeds.” A FOC panel discussing future internet trends noted the question of double speak and the distance between practice and implementation in policy making. After team discussions and reflections upon our trip, we agreed that the coined term could most appropriately be used in our meetings with government and civil society organizations.
Throughout the trip, three perspectives about the future of subnational reporting emerged from out meetings. On one hand, I can see great optimism about Mongolia’s future and EITI subnational reporting. In our meeting with Mongolia’s EITI secretariat office, it was indicated that already, 19 out of 21 Aimags are reporting at the subnational level through electronic online surveys. This is something that we were pleasantly surprised to learn about and that future training workshops will be providing this upcoming year to help facilitate the transition.
On the other hand however, there is another perspective from other civil society groups that the EITI project has failed to reach out and properly inform citizens about transparency in the mining sector. According to them, there is no desire to make this information accessible to ordinary citizens, and the project has wasted millions of dollars. With the fact that EITI Mongolia is still in the process of securing donor funds for the next year, it would appear that the initiative may be in limbo for the upcoming months.
A third and final perspective from EITI civil society stakeholders reveals the passion and desire to create a robust civil society that will protect the country’s interests. There is a legitimate desire amongst these groups to encourage the population to become more involved, and there is a legitimate sense of frustration and debate as to how these ideas can be fully implemented. While many ideas were exchanged, it was surprising to note that a rather important voice remained silent throughout these discussions, perhaps one of the most important voices for inciting real change in Mongolia.
From this trip, we have realized that although our desires to encourage EITI policy recommendations have somewhat fallen on deaf ears, there is still hope. Indeed, there is a complete disconnect between policy theory and policy implementation, and the actors who can make the most difference prefer to keep the status quo. However, trips like this showed us some of the most real-time up-to-date information about subnational reporting that no literature was able to provide. The Ministry of Mining of Mongolia also revealed that the extractive industries transparency legislation has been drafted and is seeking approval from parliament. Although frequent election cycles have created a lack of continuity in policy making in Mongolia and perhaps a somewhat unstable political environment, I still look at this situation with a great sense of optimism because the hopes and aspirations of the people in Mongolia are strong. While I myself may be aspirational in my outlook, I look at the desire for change as one of the greatest motivators for continuing to strive for success.
Reading about Mongolia is one experience, living it and experiencing it first hand is completely different – something I truly believe everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.