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Posted in Reflection | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 20: From ‘Defectology’ to Special Needs

By Iderbold Batbayar

Have you ever thought deeply about how you think about disability and what your version of its definition would be? Dr. Odgerel’s story has a lot to tell. After committing 34 years of her life to the special education sector and educating herself in the former Soviet Union and Japan, her contrasting insights were an eye-opener for me. When she graduated from the State University in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1984 with a specialization in education science, the perspective with which the study viewed special education was centered around disability, impairment, and thus it was called the study of ‘defectology’.

After the 90s democratization, she remained in the education sector and worked at the 29th school, the Institute for Teachers’ Development, and the Ministry of Education. Knowing how much more needs to be done, she sought for answers from developed countries, and found one in Japan, where she graduated with her masters and doctoral studies further specializing in special education. There, she encountered the notion of special needs for the first time and realized how big the gap was between Mongolia and Japan. The approach on disability not from an angle of impairment and how the impaired ought to adapt to the environment but instead seeing it from the perspective of what special help is needed for someone to develop, has impressed her about the Japanese education. The key question here is whether those in need are getting the help they require to realize their potential.

Photo: Dr. Odgerel herself (with the permission of Dr. Odgerel)

Who Is Missing Out?

Currently, Mongolian laws and regulations consider only six categories of disability. Those include vision, hearing, mental, speech or language impairment, musculoskeletal disorder, and combined disabilities. In contrast, the USA, the UK, and Japan, have thirteen, eleven, and ten categories respectively. The Mongolian categorization is still limited to those of physical impairment, whereas other countries pay special attention to developmental difficulty, attention deficiency, and behavioral changes.

Another issue is that physical impaired and intellectually impaired are kind of put into the same box. A child who has physical impairment, but none of the developmental and behavioral changes, does not need a special curriculum. If the school environment is accessible to them, they are fully capable of competing with other students. In other words, by excluding them from the regular school environment, we hinder them from reaching their full potential.

Vice versa, when encountering someone with a developmental difficulty, we treat them as if their physical or organic system is somehow different, as if they were missing something a like hand or eyesight. Dr. Odgerel emphasizes the need for the education sector to really differentiate about who needs what type of help to recover from the impairment or reach their full potential. Which capacities are fully or less developed? This is the question that should be the guiding the education sector.

Moreover, different sectors should have different guidelines, laws, and regulations to support them. For instance, the ‘Mongolian Law on Disabled People’ has a too generic definition of disability, and there is no specific law on education of disabled people, rather the law regulates all sectors’ relations with disabled people. Consequently, there is only framework that regulates the existence of such framework, but does not specify the methodology, processes, and practices in real life. As mentioned earlier, Mongolians with developmental difficulty, attention deficiency, and behavioral change are not being identified.  But how can we identify them correctly?

Developing Mongolian Version of Tanaka B Intelligence Scale

We all may remember someone from our own school days who did not pay as much attention to what the teacher might have to say. But were they harshly judged by their peers and teachers alike, while they only needed a little bit of help, instead of stigmatization and punishment? When encountering those pupils, many teachers deal with them by giving more assignments and extra individual lessons. But the results are factually unsatisfactory. The key question becomes, “are they just not intelligent enough, or do they need special support?”

Photo: Dr. Odgerel, first from the right (with the permission of Dr.Odgerel)

To clarify this question in the Mongolian context, Dr. Odgerel and her colleagues from the Nagoya University have developed the intelligence test questionnaire for Mongolian children. One thousand and eighteen kids have participated in the questionnaire to verify the methodology and fine tune the questionnaire to the Mongolian context, thereby as well considering the differences between the countryside and the city. Currently, the survey-takers are being trained and it is expected to be utilized in the future, so that children with developmental difficulties can be identified correctly.

Towards a Positive Terminology and Attitudes

To come back to the question of who is not getting the help they require to fulfill their potential as a human being, some alarming numbers can be declared. Under our current categorization, only those with physical impairment (as verified by medical professionals) get the government’s approved special education. In contrast, other developed countries provide special education for non-physical disabilities in about 70% to 80% of the cases. Thus, it is easy to predict that we are touching only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to providing support for those in need.

However, it is not only about the legal restrictions. Most of the time, our fellow Mongolians, the parents of other children get in the way of educational path of disabled people in primarily two ways. First, the parents of children with specific learning disability do not want to recognize it. Secondly, parents of other children do not want their kid to be the fellow pupil of children with disability. Both relate to the negative connotation in the Mongolian language that it is associated with being unable to develop and being somehow incomplete. As a solution, Dr. Odgerel advocates for a positive terminology in describing people with disabilities from an educational perspective such as people with special educational needs. This will not only have a positive impact on the everyday experience of people with special needs, but also enable the teachers, the parents of other children, the pupils, and school staff, to work and interact with people with special needs in a positive manner. Stigmatization must end in our minds, and it starts with the change of terminology.

Author: Iderbold Batbayar is a prospective data scientist graduating from the LETU Mongolia American University and has a background in political science from the Philipps University of Marburg, Germany. Simultaneously with his studies, he provides consultancy services for UNDP Policy Innovation Project and media organizations on various projects. He supports causes associated with equality of opportunity, open data, and ethical business.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, Japan, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mongolia Focus 2021 in Review

By Julian Dierkes

In summer of 2021, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our blog, we’re now into the 11th year of providing analyses of contemporary development, always non-partisan, always for free, rooted in our academic research on Mongolia.

2021 was another election year and we’ve learned over the past decade that international interest in Mongolia goes up during election years, so we have also actively catered to that interest by writing more about the 2021 presidential election. This is especially true as international interest generally has waned from the heydays of the mining boom.

Overall, trends in readership remain relatively steady from previous (election) years.

Readership

Just under 15,000 readers generated over 36,000 pageviews.

Readers were located in the following countries:

  • U.S. 25.6%
  • Mongolia 22.3%
  • Canada 8.6
  • Germany 5.6%
  • UK 4.6%
  • Australia 3.2%
  • China 2.7%
  • Russia 1.7%
  • India 1.6%
  • Sweden 1.6%

There are actually some shifts in the readers’ location from last year to note. Japan and South Korea have dropped out of the top 10. I have no obvious explanation for this, nor for the arrival of Sweden on the top 10 list, other than that the absolute numbers at the bottom of the listing are small, so small shifts move countries around on this list. Sweden’s percentage share of readers is thus based on a readership of just over 200 individuals. Maybe all these readers were at the Swedish MFA, following up on last year’s somewhat mysterious “Friends of Democracy” announcement?

Russia is also new on the top 10. Hm… Since the strategic partnership was announced in 2019, not sure why there would be relatively more interest from Russia this year. Perhaps the 100-year anniversary of diplomatic relations that has been celebrated this year?

Interest from China is interesting of course. I suppose that means that we have not written anything to offed the Chinese regime and its censors enough to be blocked (yes, need to work on that), but it also means that interest remains high, though given the number of internet users in China, relatively low compared to, say, the U.S. But the fact that we write (mostly) in English obviously has something to do with that level of readers’ interest.

The cumulative total of readers is now up to just shy of 165,000 with a total of over 450,000 page views in total. I guess we’ll get to the half million page view mark in 2023!

Posts

Compared to last year, I note that none of this year’s posts was read more than 500 times. With a similar total number of posts (63 in 2021 compared to 2020’s 61), we had fewer posts that stood out for spikes in readership rather more steady interest, or so it appears.

The three most-read posts that we wrote in 2021 were:

Many thanks to Max and Johann (both with the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation) for their contributions!

Obviously, posts written later in the year never have much of a chance in this ranking as readers will continue to return to them after the initial posting.

There are also a number of posts that continue to attract a lot of readers long after we’ve published them.

Of these, the top three are:

The first two are actually our most-read posts overall as well with more than 9,000 readers between the two of them.

I guess I need to up my game on pop culture topics, at least if maximization of readership on individual posts were the game here.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Creating Value From Mining: Local Procurement, Shared Value and Sustainable Development

By Jocelyn Fraser & Zorigkhuu Bat-Erdene

As Mongolia develops its rich mineral resources, tensions can arise between mining companies and local communities.  Efforts to expand the economy through the development of mineral resources have therefore raised questions about whether mineral resources can be developed in a manner that complements sustainable development.

To learn more about the challenges and potential opportunities associated with mine development, researchers at the University of British Columbia have been following the work of a Canadian company, Erdene Resource Development Corp with a gold discovery – Bayan Khundii – in Bayan Khongor aimag.

As planning begins for mine construction, Erdene Resource wanted to explore opportunities to create and share economic value. Most recently the UBC team took a look at the barriers and opportunities for local procurement – the purchase of locally sourced goods and services – to build mining shared value.

Local procurement has a larger potential for positive economic impacts than the contribution from mining companies’ taxes, wages, royalties, and community investment.  Yet, in sparsely populated areas with few established businesses, limited infrastructure and little past experience with commercial mining, local procurement can be challenging.

The UBC team interviewed local government officials, community leaders, business owners and operators located in Bayankhongor,  and selected service providers and industry experts in Ulaan Baator.  The interviews provided valuable insight on the ways in which mining can contribute to economic resilience in Bayankhongor aimag.

What we learned about interviewee’s perception of mining benefits

Most of the people we spoke with felt that the sole benefit of having a mine in the region would be jobs for those wishing to work at the mine.  There was very little awareness of local procurement practices or of the types of opportunities this might create for local business owners.

When the concept of local procurement – the purchase of goods and services used for mining from suppliers within the region – was explained, there was interest on the part of local merchants and officials to explore business opportunities that might arise from the proposed mine. However, people also identified a number of barriers or challenges that need to be confronted.

The challenges to establishing local procurement initiatives in Bayankhongor

Although there has been small-scale mining in the region, when Bayan Khundii comes into production it will be the most significant open-pit gold mining operation in Bayankhongor.  Local merchants and service providers have little, if any, experience with supplying a company that will be required by regulators and investors to be compliant with international standards for health, safety and environmental protection. Furthermore, a database of registered businesses in the region suggests there are currently no local businesses operating in the region that are qualified to provide core technical services to the mine.

The two soums closest to the proposed mine are Shinejinst and Bayan-Undur, located about 70 kilometres (km) and 90 km respectively from Bayan Khundii.  The provincial capital is located approximately 270 km north of the soums. The region is remote with few establihsed businesses, limited physical infrastructure such as roads, and little access to markets.

Somewhat surprisingly, some questioned whether there is genuine interest on the part of mining companies to collaborate with local businesses.  They suggested that a requirement for compliance with international standards expected from the mining company is a convenient way to disqualify local suppliers.

Opportunities exist to create benefits to Bayankhongor Community and the mine.

Forty-three existing local businesses were identified that appear able to provide a variety of goods and services to the mine.  These include companies specializing in building and construction services and supplies, light vehicle and plant maintenance, printing and publishing, garbage disposal, hotel accommodation; stationery/office supplies, cleaning and camp consumables; local transportation, and food.  There are also a number of existing businesses that could be expanded to provide a service to the mine.  For example, a local water and juice bottling plant that might be able to expand and displace the need to truck bottled beverages from the provincial capital: something with environmental and well economic benefits.

With the Bayan Khundii mine not scheduled to begin operations until 2023, there is time to build local supplier capacity, generate greater awareness of procurement opportunities, and provide training to enable local businesses to qualify as mine suppliers. Local residents with knowledge about Erdene Resource believe the company has demonstrated a willingness to work with them on issues of mutual interest.  This past collaboration creates a sense that the company has a genuine interest in working collaboratively to contribute to sustainable regional economic development.

For Erdene Resource to be successful, company interests must align with the interests of stakeholders to create value for all.  This may require a delicate balancing act.  For example, while improved road infrastructure could support increased access to market for herder goods such as raw cashmere, building permanent roads in an area where none now exist could adversely impact pastureland and herd movement.  Meeting multiple, divergent, stakeholder demands is a challenge requiring ongoing attention and commitment.

 About the authors

Dr. Jocelyn Fraser is a researcher and lecturer at the University of British Columbia.  She is interested in mining-community engagement and how mining could be a catalyst for sustainable livelihoods.  Her research projects have been located in Mongolia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Peru and Canada.  Before joining the team at UBC, Jocelyn worked in the extractive industry, designing and implementing social responsibility programs in Canada, the United States, Sudan, and Russia.   She is a member of the World Bank’s Extractive-Led Local Economic Diversification Community of Practice, sits on the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Communities of Interest Panel, and leads a working group on engagement at the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He graduated from MUST and is aiming to complete a Master’s degree at Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering of the University of British Columbia. Zorig’s research focuses on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia.

Professional background: Zorigtkhuu worked for the biggest coal mining company (Energy-Resources) in Mongolia and an “International Medical Center (Intermed Hospital)” project that was jointly commissioned by the MCS group in Mongolia.

For more information:

Final report: Creating Value From Mining in Rural Communities

Fraser, J., Bat‐Erdene, Z., Lyons, J., & Kunz, N. (2021). Local procurement, shared value, and Sustainable Development: A case study from the mining sector in Mongolia. Business Strategy and Development. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsd2.193

 

Posted in Countryside, CSR, Jocelyn Fraser, Mining, Public Opinion, Research on Mongolia, Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene | Leave a comment

Media Notes for Future Revolution

By Julian Dierkes

Two important notes up front:

  1. I cast sideways glances at Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan more than other countries, for historical/cultural similarities, resource-based development trajectories and landlocked-next-to-Russia-and-China status shared with Mongolia. I have no particular expertise on Kazakhstan.
  2. I do not think that major political upheavals in Mongolia are likely, even in the medium term.

Lessons from Kazakhstan Interest

As the protests in Kazakhstan have unfolded in the last few days, I have been watching comments online, largely because I am somewhat interested in Central Asia. As I have been learning about the long-standing political grievances that have been brought to a boil by gas price increases, I have also been noticing how information about Kazakhstan is presented and presents itself on Twitter.

At various moments, I have thought about this in terms of what would happen if there was some kind of political event that attracted global attention in Mongolia. Such a moment has not really occurred since the post-election riots in 2008. Oddly, I was in Mongolia and observed that election, but was en route back to Canada to pick up my family to spend the rest of the summer in Mongolia, while the actual riots unfolded. Also, this was pre-Twitter and pre-blogging for me personally.

Comparing International Coverage

Obviously, international English-language coverage is mediated by journalists, but also academics, even more so in the case of a region like Central Asia or a country like Mongolia, generally seen to be “obscure” by audiences in the Global North. In fact, academics with deep area expertise probably have a larger role to play in this coverage than in many other instances because a) we know and understand stuff, and b) there are no/few foreign correspondents based in these countries, and c) nearby foreign correspondents don’t actually know much. Even more reason to imagine a media event involving Mongolia and plan for it a little bit.

In coverage of Kazakhstan it is relatively clear that Russia is a reference point for many observers, journalist or otherwise. When foreign correspondents report, it tends to be the correspondents based in Russia. Likewise, diplomatic services, international organizations and donors tend to place Central Asia within units focused on the former Soviet Union. By contrast, any coverage of Mongolia from the near-abroad will come from Chinese cities and Seoul. That will obviously shift perspective and reference points for journalists. It also precludes any language abilities among journalists to provide coverage.

For Mongolia, international English-language coverage really has waned and I do not get the sense that there is significant coverage in other European languages or in Japanese or Korean. The exception of a media landscape that may be offering more coverage now than 10 years ago or so (yes, during the mining boom, funny how that focused attention) is probably the Indian media sector. Not only does India appear to be teaming with a great variety of outlets from very serious journalism, including investigative journalism, to less salutary  aspects of online media with shallow click-bait articles also appearing regularly. The strength and cross-Asia reach of Singaporean media companies also means that they occasionally take a look at Mongolia. I do not have a strong sense of Chinese or Russian coverage of Mongolian affairs.

There were never many correspondents based in Ulaanbaatar, but at least some used to come visit somewhat regularly. Those visits were largely limited to elections except for a few journalists who ensured that they came back periodically (for example Matthias Müller when he was still based in Beijing for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung). At the same time, some Mongolian voices have really established themselves as English-language reporters (perhaps most prominently T Anand and B Khaliun).

Some Ground Rules for Myself

Depending on whether I am physically in Mongolia or not, that will imply a different role, eye-witness/reporting vs. analysis/providing context.

Whether or not I’m in Mongolia at the time of event

  • Establish hashtag early on, use it consistently
  • probably no need to spend any time/energy on ensuring that journalists will find me. Any standard search will quickly lead them to this blog and I do regularly  interact with many journalists in any case
  • anticipate likely interpretations to counter/address/reinforce them
  • if there is time, offer responses to likely interpretations via blog, for example role of China, Russia, mining, state-socialist legacy is almost certainly going to come up
  • analysis/interpretation by Mongolians will almost certainly be rich in conspiracy theories, these will seem quite authentic, but I would certainly want to temper them by addressing systemic/structural factors
  • there are almost certainly going to be Chinggis Khaan jokes, might as well make them myself, but just a couple 😉
  • time permitting, offer resource lists pointing to (open access) literature, own research, individuals who can speak authoritatively
  • there will be some surprising voices present in discussions, individuals who have visited Mongolia but have not participated in any academic or policy debates about Mongolia
  • one of my greatest assets will be to be able to provide context to pronouncements by Mongolian individuals, publications, and institutions that will not be familiar to almost all journalists and observers
  • various centres and organizations will host panels online to provide updates and discuss situation. Helpful to interested audiences to make those thematic rather than a more repetitive version of “what’s happened?”

I’m in Mongolia

  • Communicate liberally, but include occasional caveats regarding limits of what I can observe
  • change Twitter bio to include cell phone/messenger contact details
  • pin Tweet listing other on-the-ground sources, preferably Mongolian, communicate with them ideally through some group or shared messenger resource
  • clear prioritization of quality media, especially organizations/journalists I have been in contact with before/that have provided intelligent coverage in the past

I’m not in Mongolia

  • On-the-ground information should always be prioritized/pointed to
  • Mongolian voices should be prioritized where possible, including women
  • consider comparisons (temporal, international) and point to aspects of comparisons that seem useful on the basis of knowledge of Mongolia. What about repeated cycles of protest in Kyrgyzstan that could be compared to a protest event in Mongolia, for example?
  • scan non-English discussions, media outlets and their local contacts, be sure to amplify these to wider audiences

Kazakhstan Comparisons

In the end, I cannot resist to consider any parallels between the context that may have led to these protests in Kazakhstan (my limited understanding) and the situation in Mongolia.

While there are some superficial similarities, I do not think that there is much to compare here in terms of the political situation. The large Kazakh minority concentrated in Bayan-Ulgii but present throughout Mongolia is a twist on the bilateral perspective of course, as that minority will have a different view of events in Kazakhstan than other Mongolians and will also heighten focus on events there.

But compare Freedom House rankings (Freedom in the World 2020) as an example:
Kazakhstan = “not free” 23/100
Mongolia = “free” 84/100

Or, the BTI Transformation Index (2020) on political transformation:
Kazakhstan = “hardline autocracy” 3.8/10
Mongolia = “defective democracy” 7.3/10

While you may quibble with methodologies and specific aspects of different rankings, that stark a difference is measuring something quite significant, I would argue. Also, while many Mongolians often focus on the defects in their democracy (I have written about this difference in perspective), they may not be aware how oppressive other polities are. After all, as the authoritarian ruler, N Nazarbayev has only begun to relinquish his power, maybe, over 30 years after independence. I do not really see Ochirbat, Elbegdorj, Khurelsukh or any other individuals establishing a dynasty in quite the same way.

The dynamic of oil and gas as an industry also seems quite different. Oil and gas projects are – inevitably – giant projects. There is no small-scale domestic sector, never mind any artisinal mining. Erdenet and Oyu Tolgoi may be the only projects that are vaguely comparable to oil and gas projects. While some insinuate all kinds of corrupt practices at Erdenet, especially in the past 10 years or so, that mine has supported the Mongolian budget for over 30 years prior to these developments. And, while there are also all kinds of insinuations about corruption at Oyu Tolgoi, I have argued that the fragmentation of political power makes corruption at a grand scale seem unlikely to me.

All that is to say that Mongolians have had many avenues to express their grievances, including elections, so that the kind of eruption that we’re seeing in Kazakhstan would almost certainly be of a very different nature should it ever happen in Mongolia.

And the request for military support from Russia is also not imaginable in the Mongolian context.

Additions as the situation Kazakhstan evolves:

  • The whole narrative of foreign interference would be interesting in the Mongolian context as the only plausible interference would be Chinese or Russian…
  • Part of the narrative that is emerging in Kazakhstan is, “The protesters in Almaty appeared mainly to come from the city’s poor outskirts or surrounding towns and villages.” This would obviously be a question to ask in any protests in Ulaanbaatar, i.e. to what extent is this pent up frustration in the ger districts? In the end, it’s important to remember that there are significantly more poor people in a city like Ulaanbaatar (presumably Almaty as well?), so not surprising that they might dominate protests. But I’m certain that any narrative in Ulaanbaatar would focus on attempts to pay protesters and draw on ger districts residents in such a fashion.
  • In many instances of coups or requests for foreign intervention, the reason may have been to thwart an internal, rival coup of sorts. To the extent that this would involve the military or security forces, this would seem to be very unlikely in the Mongolian context where the military has been under civilian control and is well-removed from political ambitions as we also argued in response to Battulga’s assertions of a militarization of the state in 2021.
Posted in Central Asia, Democracy, Kazakhstan, Media and Press, Reflection, Social Media, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Panel Analysis of Current Options for a Renewed Oyu Tolgoi Agreement

By Julian Dierkes

Since the Dec 13 announcement of a RioTinto offer to write off government debt, relatively little discussion has followed in the Mongolian public. As I mentioned in a previous post, the MPP response has been almost enthusiastic. What I do not see so far is a deeper analysis of what this offer implies, what is the government conceding in return for this debt write-off?

Since then, Turquoise Hill investors might also be having second thoughts.

It seems to me that a thorough analysis and understanding of what this offer would mean is necessary for any chance of breaking through the cycle of agreement – rising vague dissatisfaction with agreement – political calls for renegotiation – RioTinto concession – agreement. Why should either side strive to break this cycle? In part because it creates uncertainty which makes borrowing more expensive and thus reduces revenues. On the other hand, the Mongolian public is still building up analytical capacity, so, perhaps, repeated cycles of negotiation will lead to a better-understood and thus better agreement.

If the RioTinto offer is accepted through further negotiations, but without much more discussion in Mongolia, I would expect generalized dissatisfaction with the agreement to be on the rise again in a few years. Yes, it allows PM Oyun-Erdene to claim that the agreement has been improved and it allows the project to move forward, but an agreement without public understanding would not build social license to operate, I would suggest.

Proposal for Panel Analysis

A Mongolia observer can dream, can’t he?

Here are elements of a panel analysis that I think would have a significant chance at providing the kind of understanding for the Mongolian public that would solidify not only the OT agreement, but policy making on the mining sector more generally.

  • Panel that is large enough to include different perspectives, but small enough to be workable
  • Membership primarily Mongolian though empowered (and resourced) to solicit additional expertise
  • Members selected for proven expertise. Significant representation of academics likely, though not exclusive. I have my list of candidates. Appointment would be made by convenor(s).
  • Panel members paid for contributions, but full transparency on these payments and on members’ financial conflict of interest, if any
  • Public meetings for panel discussions and extensive documentation of sources used, calculations made, and approaches considered
  • Focus on graphic representation of different scenarios and their implications
  • List of unanswered questions along with recommendations on specificities of current offer
  • Open media partnerships pursued from beginning of deliberations
  • Resources available to hire social media presence to explain aspects of analyses in different forms
  • Credible institution as funder, convenor and host to panel. To me, the World Bank would be such a credible institution, but so would the Open Society Forum. Perhaps a consortium of institutions would be best.
  • Relative lull of other activities in December-Tsagaan Sar makes this a period when a panel could be mobilized.
  • Parties involved in negotiations (RioTinto, TRQ, but also minority shareholders in TRQ, government, lenders, etc.) might choose to present their own analyses to the public, let the public judge differences in these

Sure, such a process might not be cheap. But, this kind of transparent analysis would ultimately be in the interests of all involved parties, if they agree that it might produce more durable agreement. There would be numerous side benefits such as active engagement of the population, baseline for future conversations about agreement/negotiations, experiment of a different practice that might lead to good practice for other jurisdictions.

 

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By the way, I personally do not have the required financial expertise for this kind of analysis, so I am not angling to be placed on this panel. But, I am a director of (and thus have a financial interest in) the Mongolian Institute for Innovative Policies, and this would strike me as an innovative approach. With colleagues, I would certainly be delighted to contribute to convening such a panel analysis.

Posted in Erdenes Mongol, Mining, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Public Opinion, Public Policy, Research on Mongolia, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rio Tinto/Turquoise Hill Offer on Debt Forgiveness for Oyu Tolgoi Stake

By Julian Dierkes

On the morning of December 13, PM Oyun-Erdene “unveiled” an offer he received from Rio Tinto/Turquoise Hill that appears to be intended to form the basis for a new agreement to jumpstart underground development at Oyu Tolgoi.

The offer appears to have five main points:

Of these, the offer to write off debt stemming from initial 34% equity stake appears to be garnering the most attention.

Some of my previous guesses about the negotiations appear to be coming true, i.e. PM Oyun-Erdene has been the focus of attention and a restructuring of debt is an element that I suspected to be likely.

Party Support

Reactions to PM Oyun-Erdene’s announcement from fellow MPP officials were swift and enthusiastic.

Without impugning the support of these MPs, it would be fair to assert that this enthusiasm may be more of a sign for party unity in support of PM Oyun-Erdene, following his election as party chair only some days ago, than substantive approval of the offer made by RioTinto/TRQ.

But, this support and the extent to which it celebrates this as a breakthrough, seems to suggest that the offer is highly likely to be acceptable to the MPP and finalization of an agreement might thus be swift.

I have not seen a reaction from former MPRP stalwarts former president N Enkhbayar or his son and newly-elected MP E Batshugar, or from former MPRP presidential candidate and now MP for the DP, S Ganbaatar. Given the MPRP’s re-merger into the MPP, perhaps they can be expected to be silent on this offer. Nothing from the DP so far either, though they are perhaps more likely to be critical.

I would hope that KhUN might be more analytical in their response. MP Dorjkhand focused on the professionalism of negotiations in his initial reaction.

Reactions might still shift as the news sinks in, but these initial reactions and particularly the apparently strong support from fellow MPP MPs for PM Oyun-Erdene suggests that this offer might unlock an agreement.

Questions

But what about the offer is generating this support and what questions remain open?

It seems like the main focus in the reactions is on the write-off of the $2.3b of debt incurred by taking a 34% equity stake in the project. I will say more below about how I interpret this offer regarding RioTinto’s approach to managing this project. What the write-off of this debt means is that the government (or, Erdenes Mongol as the holding company) will have received its share in the project “for free”. Indeed, an article in the FT reporting on the offer quotes PM Oyun-Erdene as saying, ““Basically, the Mongolian people get 34 percent for free”.

At first glance, that sounds great for Mongolians as the ultimate stakeholders in this debate. However, is it really? This debt was going to be paid out of OT dividends once those were going to get paid anyway, so this debt in particular would have only delayed revenue streams, not prohibited them entirely. Is this the big win that turns the agreement from something vaguely but widely criticized in the Mongolian public, to something that is “fair”? Or, is Rio Tinto delivering what seems like a major concession to help the government save face by claiming a major victory, without actually changing much about the arrangements?

In terms of other aspects of the arrangements that seem untouched, this includes the IGC report that identified mismanagement by RioTinto as a source of cost overruns, not the geotechnical difficulties that RioTinto has pointed to all along. That mismanagement is thus paid for by shareholders, including shareholders in TRQ, but also by the government, but less so by Rio Tinto itself, happily continuing to collect management fees all along.

What about the various disputed tax payments of the past?

I do not have the resources to compare the debt write-off in financial terms and long-term implications to some of the other areas that have been disputed in the past. I would really look to more independent analyses to help answer whether this offer is as good as it sounds initially. Only the kind of analyses provided by independent sources like the Natural Resource Governance Institute is likely to provide answers to these questions.

Free Carry Interest

So, what does this offer to write off the debt for Erdenes Mongol’s equity stake say about RioTinto and its approach to Mongolia? I had previously criticized RioTinto management for essential attempting to manage Oyu Tolgoi by remote spreadsheet, i.e. by focusing exclusively on financial and operational data, but refusing to engage Mongolians on their own terms, in terms of their aspirations.

I see my sense of RioTinto’s approach confirmed. The original desire for an equity stake expressed by the government was rooted in the symbolic importance of owning a piece of this nation-building project. Yes, some observers noted that an approach focused on revenue streams might provide greater benefits (cash!) and flexibility, but participation in the project was important enough for the government to insist on a stake and to double-down on that insistence through legislation regarding “strategic deposits”. So important, in fact, that the government at the time seemed to ignore the implication of taking on significant debt to acquire this stake, but also participating in the financing of the development of the mine as a part-owner or the operation (not just the deposit which the government owns, obviously).

What was RioTinto’s response to this? Constructing a debt structure that would ensure that this debt-for-equity would hang over the government’s head for some time. Now, it turns out, 12 years later, an arrangement that does offer that equity for “free” is acceptable. Would everyone not have been served better if RioTinto had taken the care to understand why an equity stake was important to Mongolians and how to account for that desire best? Instead, there were the ever-present grumbles about “resource nationalism“, resource investors’ favourite made-up and vapid concept that blames governments for striving to maximize benefits to their citizenry, while investors certainly demand maximum return on their investment. In a similar, er, vein, is the outraged often expressed about “free carried interest”. But apparently, such an option of governments participating in a resource project via “free equity” is not so terrible, since RioTinto has just offered that up in this case.

Perhaps more energy might have been devoted to trying to understand why the government and the Mongolian public had and appear to continue to have a preference for an equity stake, rather than riling up the financial media, analysts and other investors to express their indignation at the nefarious strategies of host governments.

I have seen very little evidence of such attempts to understand the aspirations of Mongolians and its not clear whether the current offer represents some recognition that such attempts are necessary to place social license to operate on a sounder footing, or whether it is just a relatively easy negotiation ploy, offering the government a face-saving concession that may or may not be expensive to investors. Talk of “final offers” in this context does not appear to be particularly promising.

In a subsequent post, I will attempt to dream up a process that could provide a publicly accessible and credible analysis of the offers made and, ultimately, any agreements considered.

Disclaimer

Given the speed with which current discussions have proceeded, suddenly, this post has gone through fewer revisions and edits than is my usual practice. Apologies for hasty editing mistakes or underdeveloped reasoning.

 

Posted in Economics, Erdenes Mongol, Foreign Investment, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Policy, Public Policy, Sovereign Wealth Fund, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 19: Building an Inclusive Society Together

By Degi Bolormunkh

Our guest today is Ms. Gerel, the President of the Mongolian National Federation of the Blind (MNFB). Ms. Gerel gives us an introduction to some of the work the MNFB does, offers her personal experience and advice, and addresses some of the systemic challenges faced by visually impaired people and people with other disabilities.

Mongolian National Federation of the Blind (MNFB)

The MNFB, established in 1978, is one of Mongolia’s long-standing organizations promoting disability rights. The MNFB currently has 86 employees and focuses on key areas such as education, employment, vocational training, social support, and other issues related to protecting visually impaired people’s interests in Mongolia. The MNFB undertakes various activities such as publishing audiobooks and books in Braille and runs kindergarten and adult education centers. They have training centers for massage therapy, barista, and felt craft that provide employment support for visually impaired people. The organization’s main focus is on the specific challenges visually impaired people face and the advocacy for their improvements in society. One of the main challenges is the limited access to information, and hence, the MNFB operates a FM radio station broadcasting news and featuring topics of literature. They have around 9000 members all around the country, including branches in all the 21 provinces. A core focus of the organization lies on political influence and advocacy for the legal rights of visually impaired people. The MNFB is particularly concerned with issues related to the prevention of violation of rights, intervention, and action when rights are violated, and influencing policy and decision-making that can protect and serve the needs of the people they represent. There have been some financial constraints, but the training centers, donations, partnerships, donor support, and government grants have been helpful in maintaining a continuous operation. Major pressures and problems imposed by external issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can be substantially disruptive to financially constrained organizations. This is an important consideration for policy and decision-makers when supporting socially conscious organizations that advocate for social inclusion and equality. The MNFB’s long-term vision is to establish international best practices and standards concerning inclusion and accessibility in order to improve the lives and social environments for everyone in Mongolia. For instance, they are looking to establish a vocational rehabilitation center that helps people with disability to overcome relevant physical, social, and financial barriers, and assist them with socialization and employment. Notably, the center would also help people with disabilities to learn about better coping mechanisms to manage and overcome their challenges on a personal level. Ms. Gerel advises that the key to running a successful NGO is to have a clear purpose, to foster an unwavering drive to help, and to find supportive partners.

Photo: Best Massage Center, affiliated to the MNFB (with the permission of Gerel)

Ms. Gerel’s Personal Experience

Ms. Gerel started her career at the MNFB in 2006 in the position of Deputy Director. The MNFB chooses their representatives and leaders every four years at a General Assembly and has 15 board members. She was first elected as the President of the MNFB in 2013 and, in 2017 she was re-elected. Ms. Gerel emphasized the need to do more in order to create a more inclusive and equitable society. She became visually impaired in her 3rd year at the National University of Mongolia where she was a law student. At first, it was hard for her to cope with the loss of her vision and to face its many accompanying issues. With the support of her friends and family, she was able to finish her studies. However, the experience completely changed the way she thought about life, time, and the value of education. She realized that language is very important, especially for visually impaired people, and felt a strong sense of purpose in her pursuit of education. She recalls how she started learning English on the radio using a voice recorder to record and review the English lessons that aired. When she got her first computer in 2007, she was able to learn to read and write in English with a strong resolve. In 2010, she had the opportunity to go to India for ten months and when she came back, she took the IELTS test. Learning English enabled her to go on a Fulbright Scholarship in the United States where she completed her master’s degree in International Human Rights. She shares her experience about the time when she lost her sight at university and then going back to school after taking time out. She recalls that there was discomfort and doubts at the beginning with her new classmates and teachers, but as she spent more time with her class community, they became better informed about her challenges and learned to support her without discrimination. In her experience, she found that in social settings people were less informed and uneducated about the needs, challenges, and abilities of people with disability, and thus, increased socialization and interaction is important. Simply having a conversation about people with disabilities and understanding their experience can increase public awareness about the need and demand to build an inclusive and more compassionate society.

Photo: Gerel herself (with the permission of Gerel)

Major Challenges People with Disability Face

Some major challenges she and her team share are concerning the inadequacies of the current state of affairs, including full enjoyment of their human rights, equitable social inclusion, and quality of for people with disabilities. For instance, out of 1200 children aged 0-17 who are visually impaired only around 200 children are in school exercising their right to education. Basic rights such as the right to education and the right to employment are difficult rights and the legal and social environments are not accommodating to these challenges. Many people want to send their children to school, but a lot of times they just do not have the knowledge and training to accommodate children with disabilities. There are already many specialised international standards and methodologies that specifically accommodates the educational needs and challenges of visually impaired children which can be adapted and incorporated into the current education system to improve equitable accessibility. Despite being an NGO, the MNFB takes on a lot of public issues that should be tackled by governmental and legislative means. Ms. Gerel and her team identify that the underlying cause of these issues and challenges are due to ignorance and the lack of awareness among our population about the specific challenges faced by people with disability. Ms. Gerel is optimistic that Mongolians can easily adapt and improve inclusivity once there is more awareness and better understanding. However, Ms. Gerel condemns the general attitude of over-sheltering which many Mongolian families have towards family members with disability. This seemingly innocent and well-intentioned attitude can discourage people with disabilities to be active in social spaces and be involved outside their household, which then can have negative effects on the public awareness of disability issues. Many of the people who come to the training centers at the MNFB are people who rarely step out of their homes. The different resources and support provided by the organization encourages them to be more actively involved in their community and society at large.

Photo: A kindergarten affiliated to the MNFB (with the permission of Gerel)

Public Awareness and Informed Governance

Continuous social involvement, public education efforts, and advocacy are key to generating public awareness and improving the understanding of specific challenges, needs, and solutions which then can spur changes in attitude and action at all levels of society. Ms. Gerel encourages other people with visual impairment to be more involved in common spaces, public discussions, and social life in general. Ms. Gerel reminded the listeners that without deeper understanding about the specific challenges, needs, and abilities, it is difficult to bring about social and political changes. She also expressed the importance of systemic change and legal frameworks that can directly address key barriers that hinder people with disabilities from enjoying equal rights in society. Even if there are legislatures that are in place, decision-makers need to be more informed about the specific challenges for people with disabilities and focus more on execution and enforcement. Furthermore, the society needs to ensure the removal of legal, physical, and practical barriers that people with disability have today. Ms. Gerel compared the visibility of people with disability in social spheres in Mongolia with that of Australia, where there is more public awareness and social engagement surrounding the issues faced by people with disability, as well as wider availability of support and resources for people with disability.

Key Insights

Ms. Gerel highlighted the importance of distinguishing and identifying the specific challenges faced by people with different types of disabilities in order to appropriately address them in social and political domains. For instance, visually impaired people face challenges unique to their disability and therefore have different needs than people with a hearing difficulty. She touches on the diversity of special challenges, the needs that different types of disability groups experience, and the necessity to have specialized organizations that can address and advocate for those unique differences. In order to provide an equitable and inclusive environment in society, we first need to recognize and understand the different kinds of challenges different disability groups face. In terms of policy and regulations, decision-makers should not only use umbrella terms and definitions but also be considerate of the various challenges and needs different groups have. Public awareness efforts, increasing social visibility, and self-advocacy are important ways that can improve social understanding and government responsiveness to the needs and challenges of people with disability.

Author: Degi Bolormunkh is a young professional with a multi-disciplinary education and a diverse background. She is a recent graduate from the Master of Management program at the UBC Sauder School of Business. She completed her B.A. in Combined major of Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in International Relations from the University of British Columbia. She has lived in multiple countries and has developed a keen interest in issues surrounding DEI, social and political inequality, and good governance.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Civil Society, Health, Inequality, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Policy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A More Constructive Longterm Interaction Between Rio Tinto and Mongolia

By Julian Dierkes

In a previous post, I gave my sense of where the re-negotiations regarding the OT Agreement are heading and how I see this as a step in a repeating cycle. I have also pointed to a quest for (an imagined) perfection at being a factor that contributes to this cycle.

Below, my attempt to offer suggestions of how this cycle could be broken. A third post will look at factors that have led to this dynamic. For some notes on any conflict of interest I have with this topic, see the bottom of the previous post.

How to Address Longterm Conflict Dynamic

Can that repeating cycle of agreement – public doubts about agreement – new negotiations be avoided?

Certainly not within the short-term, i.e. in less than five years, I don’t think.

But I have long thought that the single most important initiative that could place the Oyu Tolgoi project on a more solid basis when it comes to social license to operate is public education about mining. Two slightly less daunting other initiatives could focus on a change in Rio Tinto thinking that approaches Mongolians more on their own terms, including their expectations and aspirations for the mine itself, and for the government to allow more of a role and more capacity-building in the media, academia, and think tanks, for Mongolians to embrace such more independent domestic sources of analysis, and for donors to support that development.

These would all be mutually-reinforcing directions, but success in any one of these three areas would likely enable elements of a more stable longterm relationship between the government and any mining investor, not just Rio Tinto and Turquoise Hill.

Public Mining Education

Since I started getting more involved in questions around mining governance in the late 2000s, Mongolian officials have made huge strides in understanding and responding to the significant challenges that resource-based development poses to policy-makers and regulators. Many different elements responding to those challenges have been introduced and revised over the past 15 years (EIAs, sovereign wealth funds, community benefits agreements, EITI, etc.) and there has been more and more Mongolian government agency in making informed decisions about making these decisions. In 2016 when we were undertaking a small project that focused on young professionals, it was clear that many of those professionals were well-acquainted with the range of possible policy and regulatory challenges and how to meet them. That is not to say that the leadership of the relevant ministries and agencies may have always been best-equipped for these challenges, nor that patronage appointments have not regularly interfered with policy-making, but, generally, policy-making capacity has been steadily growing.

However, from my perspective, education of the public about mining and the decisions it necessitates, has been lagging behind policy capacity.

What I mean here are basic topics such as the mine life cycle from exploration, feasibility, construction, operation all the way through rehabilitation, and the various technical, financial and regulatory aspects that are of variable importance during different stages. But also some of the basic geology and engineering to be able to comprehend the technological challenges related to a deposit like Oyu Tolgoi in particular. Environmental and social impacts are of great importance to understand more fully in that context as well. And some increased financial literacy might go a long way to deepen understanding of debt, but also of different revenue streams and why the public might prefer such revenues over specific contributions made by companies locally, which Mongolians very liberally subsume under “corporate social responsibility”.

A generally greater understanding of a mining project would allow many Mongolians to make more informed decisions, to be less susceptible to populist claims, but also to ask more informed and more pointed questions of their representatives and government to hold them accountable. Such greater understanding would also leverage the desired impact of transparency measures like the EITI which go largely unnoticed by most of the general public.

Avenues to Foster Public Understanding

This kind of public mining education is a task that both, the government as well as investors, can take on. Obviously, there would have to be some prior education about why a citizen should put much trust into educational materials that are provided or promoted by one actor or the other, but that prior discussion of the reliability and trustworthiness of education materials would have many positive spin-off effects itself. Many different arrangements could be imagined where investors and government contribute funding that enables training/education developed independently.

Training could be deployed in schools (this seems really important as a basis for vocational training in any case), but also through various media and potentially incorporating the e-government platforms under development by the current government. This has also been an area for curriculum development in higher education, though largely in the technical fields focused directly on mining, less so, I think, in ancillary fields like business, law, etc.

Note that the level of public education about mining may also seem low in mature mining jurisdictions like Canada. Even a well-educated person selected randomly on the streets of Vancouver (well, perhaps not downtown where a lot of mining finance is concentrated) might know little about the life cycle of a mine. But in Canada, the public generally relies on very well-developed capacity in the press, in academia and among civil society organizations to substitute for an individual in-depth understanding. Given the huge importance of Oyu Tolgoi and the mining sector to the future of Mongolia, public education might have to take precedence over the establishment of trustworthy institutions (though see below on capacity building).

Note that I am aware of several efforts at providing public education on mining, but that they seem to not have taken root.

How Rio Tinto Approaches Mongolia

From the outside, the overwhelming sense of RT’s engagement has been that they wish they could just treat the country as a spreadsheet. There have been few attempts of engaging Mongolians on their own terms to my knowledge. Sure, RT surely has had conversations, perhaps even more social interaction, with members of the government, but even that has seemed more like a necessary burden than an opportunity to shape their strategy in developing Oyu Tolgoi. That attitude is also reflected in the frequent turnover of RT-sent OT CEOs.

Clearly, RT was hampered by the legacy of the problematic interaction between Robert Friedland/Ivanhoe and the Mongolian public, but efforts to overcome those difficulties have also been limited.

The attempt to ignore Mongolian expectations and aspirations and to represent a view that managing this kind of project would be the same where ever in the world you might find yourself, has led to some notable sources of tension or at least disappointment. The most glaring in this regard seems to be that many Mongolians did and perhaps still do expect Oyu Tolgoi to develop like Erdenet has, ie as an integrated Kombinat that houses, feeds, and employs workers and their families on the basis of a vertically and horizontally integrated enterprise. The fact that the construction of a city in the Gobi would make no sense (the lack of water is only the most obvious of many challenges), has not diminished the expectations that many Mongolians had of the project.

At least the local RT and OT management seems to have embraced a need to communicate more actively with the Mongolian public, but it is still unclear to me whether that message has landed with central RT management. This remains a big obstacle to a more stable long-term relationship, I believe.

Capacity Building

The final piece that would promote a more productive relationship in my mind would be more robust capacities outside of the government and companies. As I mentioned above, many Canadians rely entirely on the media, civil society and academia to monitor, analyze and explain the development of industries. And that is on top of the political opposition in legislatures that may have populist tendencies on occasion but will also be held accountable by the public if their analyses are not focused on specifics of a project.

This would be no different in Norway, Australia and many other countries and it is not at all limited to the resource sector. These institutions have failed to develop fully over the past 15 years in Mongolia and they have no where near the standing and resources required to act as a trusted monitor on government and corporate decisions.

Providing the independent analysis that would hold other actors to account has become increasingly more difficult (rather than easier) when the political culture has veered to suspecting any political action to be motivated by potential personal gain, not a desire at providing analyses to motivate political action for generalized benefit.

The media had its finest moment during the SME Fund scandal, I would argue, but investigative capacity has been much reduced. There are specific outlets that have a credible specialization on resources matters like the Mongolian Mining Journal, but they have failed to escape their niche, in large part, I suspect, because more general media have not embraced their brand of independent analysis.

No credible think tanks have emerged and only some academics are present with detailed analyses in policy debates. There are some commentators like Jargal de Facto, but he remains a fairly lonely voice in some part because many other commentators prefer to speculate about his motivations rather than questioning/extending/reinforcing aspects of his analysis. There are also smaller media outlets, perhaps some podcasts, for example, that may be more credible to some readers/listeners,

There have been numerous attempts to build more independent bodies for policy analysis, or to train and support journalists in their efforts at greater independence. It would be harsh to say that all of these have failed, but they certainly have not thrived. Perhaps trust in independence does not come easily and we have to accept that this may develop over time in Mongolia, but it is clear that if there were more, and more independent eyes on the OT Agreement, for example, this would force the government and perhaps political parties into clarifying any criticisms of the agreement that they might have.

Impact

Of course, the repeated cycles of negotiation and the lack of broad support for the OT project have many different aspects that lead to this dynamic. It is highlight unlikely that one suggestion or even three suggestions would “fix” this dynamic. I thus hesitate to claim that the adoption of any or all of the three suggestions would necessarily lead to a longer-term agreement. But in the absence of many other proposals on how a longer-term relationship might be forged between investors and the government to the benefit of Mongolians, I do believe that these would be three topics that should be considered by investors, the government and donor organizations, but also by Mongolian civil society.

Update

Some further discussion on Reddit:

Posted in Education, EITI, International Agreements, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Search for (Oyu Tolgoi) Perfection

By Julian Dierkes

I have recently shared my perspective on the negotiations of a (new) OT Agreement.

Below, I want to highlight one of the aspects that I see as bringing about this cycle, an aspect that is also prevalent in political discourse, namely a search for perfection.

Nature of Negotiations and, Ultimately, Democracy

Negotiations are not about perfect outcomes for either side and they cannot be because the interests and thus the outcomes are typically not aligned so there cannot be a perfect outcome for both parties in a negotiation and instead there needs to be an acceptable outcome.

I was reminded of this dynamic in reading some of the New York Times reports from the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow. Take the following paragraph,

John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said: “If it has been a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable. And this has been, I think, a good negotiation. We are seeking the shared goal of keeping the Earth’s temperature at a level that the worlds’ scientists say we must do.” (NYT Nov 13 2021, “In Glasgow, a climate agreement seems within reach.“)

Or, another version

Andrea Meza, the Environment and Energy Minister of Costa Rica, summed it up this way: “We don’t have a perfect package but we have a possible package.” (NYT Nov 13 2021, “In Glasgow, a climate agreement seems within reach.“)

That – to me – exemplifies not only the nature of negotiations, but also of democratic decision-making. If two partners come into a negotiation with different value propositions, then the purpose of the negotiation is to find some common ground that is acceptable. If I agree with someone that something needs to be done about the financial basis of Mongolian higher education, for example, I might argue that the overall social benefit of better and more accessible higher education is so great that I am committed to see it funded out of taxes (my value commitment that a distributed tax burden is an effective way to fund social outcomes), but I might be negotiating with someone who has a strong commitment to some version of the aggregate of individual decisions leading to more optimal outcomes (their values commitment) and thus prefers a financial structure for higher education that is focused on individual tuition, i.e. on contribution from students. In our negotiations, we thus try to find a compromise, perhaps around only publicly funding some level of higher education or certain subjects, or perhaps focusing on tuition exemptions depending on income levels, or something of that kind. Neither I nor my negotiation partner will think this optimal, but it is acceptable.

The Search for a Perfect OT Agreement

Back to OT…

Some of the dissatisfaction with the OT Agreement (2009 or Dubai) stems from the fact that many Mongolians (politicians, public figures and many voters, I think) think that the agreement is unfair to them or to the nation. Underlying that point of view is the conviction that there is such a thing as a fair agreement.

I alluded to this in my conversation with The Economist recently, where I was quoted with the following statement,

Complicating matters in Mongolia, Mr Dierkes asserts, is the common belief that there is a “perfect Oyu Tolgoi agreement out there in the Platonic heaven”. In Kyrgyzstan, the stakes are higher yet: not just foreign investors’ trust in a turbulent country, but Kyrgyz people’s dwindling trust in the ruling classes.

This is a pattern I see in a lot of decision-making and it is tied up with the lack of policy competition between Mongolian parties, namely the belief that a single, ideal solution to policy challenges is possible.

When asked – as I often am – whether the OT Agreement is a “good deal”, I do not offer an assessment, in part because I do not think that there is a standard of quality or fairness that I would be able to apply to such a negotiation. Sure, there could be agreements that were so lop-sided that it would be clear that they are bad deals, and there are many aspects of the Agreement that are worth considering for their merits, but “good” or “fair”? That would require some standard to measure this quality by. So, I think that the OT Agreement is a good agreement as long as one agrees that development of the mine will bring net benefits to the owners, i.e. the people of Mongolia.

However, an agreement that is negotiated on the basis of comparable information (that would be a question to raise about the 2009 negotiations, perhaps, as Rio Tinto had much more experience in negotiating this type of agreement than any element of the government had, a disparity that has certainly shrunk since then to still be present in the current negotiations, but much less consequential, I believe), is an agreement that all parties found acceptable. Somehow, Rio Tinto management is able to persuade its shareholders that the return on equity will be sufficient to justify their commitment, and the government was persuaded that enough benefits would accrue to Mongolians to make the agreement worthwhile.

I also have to emphasize in this context that I continue to object to portray attempts by the government to maximize the share of revenues that comes to the government and thus the people as somehow illegitimate, as is often captured in the term “resource nationalism“. To me, this term often signifies attempts by resource companies based in the Global North to use media and politicians to shame or brand governments of civil society of the Global South into accepting deals that are more favourable to investors, but there is almost no analytical purchase in this argument and terminology.

As an understanding of the elements of an agreement shift around, parties might always come to a view that they are less happy with such elements now than they were when agreeing to them. That triggers another round of consideration whether an attempt to renegotiate (i.e. to persuade or force the partner to reconsider) will bring substantial enough benefits to engage in that conversation. In hindsight it might be said that the Dubai negotiations led to a substantial reduction of the management fee paid to Rio Tinto and might also have signalled strongly that the government (along with minority investors in Turquoise Hill) was paying close attention to Rio Tinto’s actions. At the same time, the uncertainty around those negotiations and subsequent uncertainty caused by accusations of corruption etc., may have had significant financial costs (higher price of borrowing for investments in underground mine development primarily) than may or may not outweigh the gains in the agreement. At some point, it might be better for a party to accept terms of an agreement that it deems less than what it has come to find acceptable for the sake of preserving the agreement and progress on the project and I don’t know whether the current negotiations will bring changes that are significant enough to justify the costs of uncertainty and what follows from that uncertainty.

The Bigger Picture: Democracy

The search for perfection, I think, Mongolian politicians and political parties essentially present themselves as political pragmatists which in turn prevents competition over platforms or policies and thus deprives Mongolians of one element of the determination of their future via the ballot box, namely the choice of political representation of their own value preferences.

When running workshops on policy-making with aspiring MPP politicians in the past, we have incorporated some role-playing activities. When we have set these up with fictional political parties, most participants are inclined to what they often call the “National Party”, i.e. – in their mind – the party that “does the right thing for the nation”. From my perspective as an academic with an interest in mining governance, but also from a political theory point of view, that is a different view of democracy as some kind of process that leads to am objectively optimal outcome. But that is not what others see in democracy namely a sphere of competition over ideas that leads to outcomes that are often determined by value commitments rather than optimal outcomes, and – very importantly – by political compromise.

If there was such a thing as a party that does the best thing for the nation, all voters would support it, obviously. But that assumes that there is agreement on what the best thing for the nation is. There isn’t. It’s this disagreement about what best outcomes would be and also about how to reach those outcomes, that animates democratic competition. It is also recognition that many of the outcomes of policy decisions are not predictable that leads to competition over which avenue to take toward an imagined outcomes.

When it comes to mining agreements, just like higher education policy, there is no such thing as perfection. I’m even skeptical that there is such a thing as “best practice”, i.e. not all mining jurisdictions can and maybe even want to be Norway. However, I do think that negotiations that are structured well and start from a comparable level of information and also different forms of power, can lead to a good outcome, i.e. an outcome that is acceptable to all parties and that allows a project to continue to move forward.

Side Note

This should probably be a more academic argument that I should place in a more academic outlet, primarily for my own career benefits. The element that is missing here is a more rigorous empirical basis for my observations beyond my experience of engaging in many discussions, quasi-fieldwork, and observations in Mongolia over a sustained period of time. Perhaps I can find a different way to make a similar point in a more evidence-based fashion and then persuade others that this is worth for inclusion in more academic outlets.

Posted in Democracy, Governance, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Party Politics, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged | Leave a comment

2021 Oyu Tolgoi Negotiations

By Julian Dierkes

How can I resist the following challenge?

Before I get into my analysis of the dynamic that has led to negotiations, and my suggestions for how to address that analysis, some notes below on my sense of the negotiations themselves.

As Tolgoibaatar notes in another tweet, I am an academic, so perhaps not surprisingly, I want to acknowledge some obvious limitations on what I say below. I’ve moved those caveats to the bottom of the post to let readers get into the meat of what I am saying first, but then to interrogate that given these caveats.

Assumptions

  1. Mongolians want to see OT developed. That is, even when informed about some risks (eg, displacement of herders, water, corruption), Mongolians have chosen and would choose to develop the mine. I have not seen this fundamentally questioned by any political actor.
  2. The economics of the mine and of developing it, are sound, ie, ultimately – even after massive up-front-investment, the deposit is so rich/large and long-term copper demand stable enough, that the project will show a return on investment. Despite various hiccups, I have not seen this questioned either.
  3. It is the explicit task for both sides (investors and the government) to maximize benefits for their stakeholders. The project can only go forward by balancing those benefits.
  4. The project is of huge significance to Mongolia’s future, so broad-based social license to operate is even more crucial, perhaps, than with smaller projects.

Outlook for Negotiations

Given the assumptions above, I think that the parties will reach some kind of agreement. Neither side (investors and the government) want or can afford for the project to fail. Clearly, there are complicated relations between Turquoise Hill, its minority investors, and Riot Tinto [<- ???? a typo, that others have probably made, but I hadn’t yet, so I left it in while editing. It’s a close cousin of You Tolgoi in this context.], but here, I am treating the negotiations as if they involve two parties, investors and the government.

I cannot guess as to what exactly might bring about an agreement in the current negotiations. Abstractly speaking, the government will need some concession that they will be able to present to the Mongolian public as a significant advance from the Dubai Agreement. When I say “government” in this case, I see this as being primarily PM Oyun-Erdene rather than Pres Khurelsukh who is somewhat removed from these issues as he generally was while he was prime minister. I cannot guess what that concession might be. I cannot think of any entirely new element to be introduced into the agreement (may well be my limited understanding, however), so I think it is more likely that some tax/royalty/management rates will be adjusted or that government debt will be restructured somehow. There is always the chance of a change to the equity structure, i.e. for TRQ/RT to buy some portion of the government’s stake. That is a bit of a wildcard and could happen, but I have not seen any hints of such a more radical reconfiguration.

The challenge may be that everyone would like to reach a conclusion to the negotiations sooner rather than later, but if I had to guess, I would fear that the government may not be come to the negotiations with a specific set of asks that the investor side might evaluate as to their impact on their return on investment. Obviously, those asks would not be public (and thus my) knowledge, but I have seen little in the run-up to the process, nor any statements since, that would suggest that there was a specific set of demands to begin with.

Beyond the Negotiations

While I do think that the negotiations will be concluded with some kind of agreement, I do not think that this agreement will address the fundamentally challenging dynamic in the relationship between the Mongolian public and Rio Tinto. I would therefore guess that chances are high that there will be another set of negotiations with similarly murky goals within less than ten years.

A continuing cycle of agreements and negotiations strikes me as far more likely than either side pulling out in any meaningful way. Pulling out for Rio Tinto would presumably mean selling its stake in TRQ to another investor, most likely a Chinese investor, I suppose though that would immediately raise the question of who would actually operate the project and would be capable to operate it given the challenges of block caving.

For the government, pulling out would mean something really radical like nationalization. That strikes me as very unlikely in the current situation, though perhaps less unlikely than I would have said five years ago, for example, largely due to geopolitical developments where the increasing aggressiveness of the Chinese regime and hints at a bipolar world with U.S.-focused and China-led blocks, adds general uncertainty to Mongolia’s outlook.

What Can Be Done?

Another post will be coming that suggests three ways in which the cycle of negotiation-dissatisfaction-demand for more negotiation can be broken, I think.

The Search for a Perfect Agreement

In a separate post, I will write about another aspect that is contributing to the cycle of negotiations of an OT agreement: a perspective that sees policy-making, politics, but also this kind of negotiation as a quest for a perfect (or perfectly fair) agreement, as opposed to the recognition that this kind of agreements like all political decisions is fundamentally a compromise that satisfices rather than optimizes.

Caveats

The biggest caveat: As I’m learning repeatedly in my own policy practice (as an associate dean in UBC’s Faculty of Graduate + Postdoctoral Studies), details on constraints and on implementation of policies are often very difficult to discern from the outside. What I say below is thus more of an editorial regarding general directions, rather than advice for immediate or specific action to any of the actors.

Another caveat: I  have no insider knowledge lest anyone read this as suggestion any insights that might drive your investment decision. While I am happy to speak to people involved in conversations on all sides, they generally ask me for my views rather than sharing their positions.

Conflict of interest: I have performed consulting services for Rio Tinto, Turquoise Hill, various parts of the government of Mongolia, some related to mining governance in particular. But, I talk to everyone who is interested and am thus quite confident that I am in no one’s pocket. I certainly do not speak for any of the actors involved.

Posted in Erdenes Mongol, International Agreements, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Sovereign Wealth Fund, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 18: Хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн идэвхитэй оролцоо нийгмээс хамааралтай…

Чүлтэмийн Нямсүрэн 

Энэ удаагийн зочин Чиба Хисао маань Япон улсаас холбогдож байна. Тэрээр хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийг дэмжих, тэдэнд учрах саад бэрхшээлийг арилгахын төлөө ажил, амьдралынхаа 20 гаруй жилийг зориулсан эрхэм нэгэн билээ. Бангкок хотноо НҮБ-ийн Ази номхон далайн бүс нутгийн Эдийн засаг, нийгмийн комисст томилогдсоноор энэ чиглэлээрх ажлын гаргаагаа эхлүүлж байжээ.

Чиба Хисао 2016-2020 онд Японы Олон улсын хамтын ажиллагааны байгууллага (ЖАЙКА)-аас Монголд хэрэгжүүлсэн Улаанбаатар хотын хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд (ХБИ)-ийн нийгмийн оролцоог дэмжих төсөл дээр ажиллаж байсан. Төслийн үр дүнд ХБИ-ийн асуудлаарх мэдээлэл, судалгааны нэгдсэн статистиктай болж “Цагаан ном”-ыг 2018, 2019, 2020 онуудад боловсруулан гаргаж нэгдмэл бодлого боловсруулахад хувь нэмрээ оруулсан байна.   Харин өнөөдөр Тэрээр хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн ажил эрхлэлтийг дэмжихээр ЖАЙКА-аас Монголд 2021-2024 онд хэрэгжүүлэх төсөл дээр идэвхийлэн ажиллаж буй.

Зураг: Чиба Хисао (Чибагийн зөвшөөрөлтэйгөөр оруулав)

Хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдэд учирдаг түгээмэл саад, бэрхшээлүүд

Чиба Хисао хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд нь биеийн, харилцаа мэдээллийн болон ухамсарын гэсэн 3 төрлийн бэрхшээлээс үүдэн хүрээлэн буй орчинтойгоо харьцахад хүндрэлтэй байдаг, харин эдгээр саад бэрхшээлийг давчихвал тэдгээр иргэд нийгэмд илүү оролцоотой, идэвхтэй байж чадна гэдгийг онцоллоо.

Монголд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдэд биетээр учирдаг саад бэрхшээл маш түгээмэл байдаг. Наад зах нь тэдэнд зориулсан зам, шат гэж бараг байдаггүй. Байгаа цөөхөн нь стандартад нийцээгүй, хэтэрхий огцом өгсүүр байх жишээтэй. Мөн, харилцаа, мэдээллийн саад их учраас тэд нийгмээс тусгаарлагддаг. Сүүлийн үед Mонголын үндсэний телевиз болон өөр бусад сувгууд дохионы хэлмэрчээр дамжуулан мэдээллээ дамжуулж байгаа нь сайшаалтай. Ухамсарын түвшинд авч үзвэл хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийг нийгэмд идэвхтэй, оролцоотой байхад саад болж буй гол зүйл нь “тухайн хүн өөрөө биш, харин нийгэм нь юм” гэдэг ойлголтыг Монголчуудад хүргэж, ойлгуулах нь Чибагийн гол хүсэл, эрмэлзэл юм.

Харилцан ажиллагаа, хамтын хүчин чармайлтын үр дүн

Тэрээр 2016 оныг одоо үетэй харьцуулахад ахиц дэвшил, өөрчлөлт гарсан эсэх талаар сэтгэгдэлээ хуваалцахдаа харилцан уялдаа холбоо, хамтын ажиллагаа хичнээн чухал болохыг онцолсон юм. Монгол улсын Засгийн газраас ХБИ-ээ дэмжих, нийгэмд идэвхтэй, оролцоотой байлгах талаар анхаарлаа хандуулан тодорхой төсөл хөтөлбөр, үйл ажиллагааг хэрэгжүүлэн, олон бодлого шийдвэрүүдийг гаргасан. Гэхдээ тухайн оролцоог яаж нэмэгдүүлэх арга замыг тодорхойлоход олон улсын байгууллага, төслүүдийн дэмжлэг хэрэгтэй байсан. Чиба ЖАЙКА-д ажиллахдаа дараах 3 түвшинд харилцан ажиллагаа, хамтын хүчин чармайлт үгүйлэгдэж байгааг олж харсан байна. Нэгдүгээрт, Монгол дахь ХБИ-ийн байгууллагууд өөр хоорондын;  хоёрдугаарт, хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн байгууллага ба засгийн газар хоорондын; гуравдугаарт, яамд, төрийн байгууллагууд хоорондын уялдаа холбоо байдаггүй нь маш том сул тал гэж үзсэн. Төрийн байгууллага, яамд өөрсдийн судалгаа, мэдээллүүдтэй боловч нэгдсэн системгүй байв. Тийм учраас нэгдмэл хүч, нэгэн дуу хоолойгоор төр засагтаа санал бодлоо зөв хүргэхэд нь эдгээр иргэдэд дэмжлэг үзүүлэхээр зорьсон байна. Япон улсад зохион байгуулагдсан олон тооны сургалтад хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд болон төрийн байгууллагын албан хаагчдын аль алиных нь төлөөллийг хамтад нь оролцуулж, харилцан ойлголцолыг дэмжиж иржээ.

Түүний бодлоор, өнгөрсөн 4 жилийн хугацаанд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн байгууллагууд олон чухал төсөл, хөтөлбөрүүдэд өөрсдөө биечлэн оролцож, төрийн байгууллагуудтай хамтран ажиллах тал дээр томоохон ахиц гаргасан. Тэд төр засагтайгаа асуудлыг хэлэлцэн тохирч, зарим үед шахан шаардсаар тодорхой шийдэлд хүрч чадсан.

Монгол Улсыг Азийн зарим улс орнуудтай харьцуулсан түүний бодол, дүгнэлт

Бангкокт 7 жил, Камбож, Филиппин зэрэг Зүүн өмнөд Азийн орнуудад нэлээдгүй олон жил ажиллахдаа тэрээр Монгол улсын нийгмийн хамгаалал, аюулгүй байдлын тогтолцоо нь  арай өөр болохыг анзаарчээ. Түүхэндээ Монгол улс нь социалист системтэй орон байсан. Хэдийгээр ардчилсан хувьсгал ялсан ч гэсэн тэтгэвэр тэтгэмж, нийгмийн даатгал гэх мэт хуучин системийн бодлого хэвээр хадгалагдаж байдаг. Харин Тайланд, Филиппин зэрэг улсууд эдийн засгийн хөгжлийг нэгдүгээрт тавьдаг. Тийм ч учраас эрүүл мэнд, нийгмийн даатгалын тогтолцоо нь Монголтой харьцуулахад арай сул, хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн асуудалд өөрөөр ханддаг санагджээ. Гэхдээ, хүний эрхийн хандлага талаас нь авч үзвэл Тайланд улс сайн хөгжсөн бөгөөд Монголчууд тэднээс сурах зүйл их байдаг.

Бидний суралцах зүйл: Нэгдүгээрт, түрүүн дурдсанчлан Монголд хамтын буюу харилцан  ажиллагаа сул. Тайландад бол хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд нэгэн дээвэр дор нэгдэж ажилладаг. Ингэх нь засгийн газартайгаа яриа хэлцэл хийх, хамтран ажиллаж хүсэл сонирхолоо илэрхийлэхэд том боломжийг олгодог. Түүний хувьд энэ бол орхигдох ёсгүй чухал сэдэв юм.  Хоёрдугаарт ажил эрхлэлтийг дэмжих асуудал. Тайландад төрийн болон хувийн байгууллагууд квотын систем буюу 100 хүн тутамд 1 хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэнийг ажиллуулах шаадлагатай байдаг. Харин Монголын квот 100 хүн тутамд 4 байдаг. Хэдийгээр Монгол улс квотын тоогоор илүү боловч, Тайландын хариуцлага тооцох систем нь илүү сайн. Квотдоо хүрч ажиллуулж чадахгүй бол өндөр хэмжээний татварыг засгийн газартаа төлнө, тэр орлого нь эргээд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийг дэмжихэд зориулагддаг. Энэ нь тухайн иргэдийг ажлаар хангах том хөшүүрэг болж өгдөг байна. Энэ бол өнөөдөр түүний ажиллаж буй төслийн гол зорилго юм.

Зураг: Чиба Хисао, урд эгнээний зүүн гар талаас 2-т (Чибагийн зөвшөөрөлтэйгөөр оруулав)

2021-2024 онд хэрэгжүүлэх төслийн тухай

ЖАЙКА-аас Монголд 4 жил хэрэгжүүлэх хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн ажил эрхлэлтийг дэмжих төсөл нь 2 ажлыг хандлагыг голчилж байна. Нэгдүгээрт, Ажилд дадлагажуулагч буюу Job coach. Япончууд АНУ-ын туршлагад үндэслэн ХБИ болон ажил олгогч компаниудыг хооронд нь холбох энэ аргад суралцсан. Тэд төрийн оролцоо багатайгаар өөрсдөө ажил олох боломжтой болно гэсэн үг. Нөгөө талаар ХБИ-ийг ажиллуулах хүсэлтэй ч тэдэнтэй яаж холбогдохоо мэдэхгүй байгаа компаниудад бас тусалдаг юм. Ажилд дадлагжуулагчид зөвхөн гүүр болоод зогсохгүй, компаниудад ХБИ-тэй хэрхэн хамтран ажиллах тухай тусгай сургалт явуулж биеийн, харилцааны болоод сэтгэл зүйн хувьд тулгарч болох саад бэрхшээлүүдийг аль болох багасгахад дэмжлэг үзүүлдэг. Хоёрдугаарт, компаний удирдах бүрэлдэхүүний оролцоог нэмэгдүүлэх. Хэрэв тухайн компаний удирдлага чухам яагаад ХБИ-тэй хамтран ажиллаж байгаа учир шалтгаан, ач холбогдлыг ул суурьтай ойлгохгүй бол тэд зөв шийдвэр гаргаж чадахгүй.

Асуудлыг шийдвэрлэх гарц, гаргалгааг бий болгоход хүмүүсийн ухамсар, сэтгэлгээ маш чухал юм. Хараагүй, сонсголгүй зэрэг хөгжлийн биет бэрхшээлтэй хүмүүсийн хувьд  ажиллах орчин орчинг бүрдүүлсэн байхад  болох мэт санагддаг. Гэтэл оюуны болон сэтгэлгээний бэрхшээлтэй хүмүүсийн хувьд байдал өөр. Тэдэнд тохирсон ажил олгоход ажилд зуучлагчдийн үүрэг оролцоо өндөр байдаг.

Энэ бүхний эцэст бусдад өгөхийг хүссэн түүний зөвлөгөө бол “биет бус нийгмээс үүдэлтэй саад бэрхшээл”-ийг аль аль тал нь ойлгох хэрэгтэй гэв. Хүмүүс ХБИ-д зүгээр л туслах биш, тэднийг нийгмийн идэвхитэй, оролцоотой бүлэг гэж хүлээн зөвшөөрөөсэй гэж тэр боддог. Хэрэв ХБИ нь нийгэмдээ оролцоотой байж чадаж байвал, тэр нийгэм бусад бүх хүмүүсээ оролцоотой, идэвхитэй байлгаж чаднаа гэсэн үг. Энэ консептийг хүн бүхэн ойлгоосой.

Бие даан амьдрах төв

Япон улс 1980-аад оны үеэс ХБИ-ээ Америк явуулж “Бие даан амьдрах чадвар”-т сургаж, энэ аргыг хэрэгжүүлж эхэлсэн. Тэд мэдээж шууд хуулбарлаад ирээгүй, Японы онцлогт тохируулан сайжруулж ирсэн. Одоогоор Японд 140 гаруй “Бие даан амьдрах төв” байдаг. Монголд байгуулсан “Түгээмэл хөгжил бие даан амьдрах төв”-ийн тэргүүн Ч.Ундрахбаяр, Чиба нар анх 2008 онд Японд, дараа нь Монголд уулзаж байж. Бие даан амьдарна гэдэг нь зөвхөн эдийн засаг, санхүүгийн хувьд хязгаардагдах асуудал биш юм. ХБИ шийдвэр гаргахад сэтгэлзүйн хувьд маш хүнд байдаг. Яагаад гэвэд тэд үргэлж орчин тойрны болон гэр бүлийн хүмүүстээ ямар нэг байдлаар нөлөөлчихвий гэж боддог. Тийм ч учраас өөрсдийн жинхэнэ хэрэгцээ, шаардлагыг бүрэн дүүрэн илэрхийлж чаддаггүй. Тэгэхээр “Бие даан амьдах төв”-ийг ажиллуулна гэдэг өргөн агуулгатай гээд Монголын засгийн газар үүнд анхаарлаа хандуулахыг хүсэж байдагаа илэрхийлэв. Америк, Япон зэрэг улсуудтай харьцуулахад Монголд энэ төрлийн төвүүдийн санхүүжилт илүү хүндрэлтэй санагдсан. Японы хувьд 1990-ээд оны үед ХБИ засгийн газартаа хүчтэй шаардлага тавьсны үр дүнд “Бие даан амьдрах төв”-үүдийг төрөөс санхүүжүүлж эхэлсэн бөгөөд ажилчдийн цалингийн хэмжээ боломжийн түвшинд хүрсэн тухай туршлагаас хуваалцав.

Зураг: Чиба Хисаогийн зураг (Чибагийн зөвшөөрөлтэйгөөр оруулав)

Ярилцлагын явцад Чиба Монгол хүмүүс их найрсаг, тусархуу юм хэмээгээд нэгэн тохиодлыг дурсав.”Би хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй найзынхаа хамтаар автобусанд суух гэж байв. Мэдээж, зориулалтын хэрэгсэл байгаагүй. Найз минь яах бол гээд ажиж байтал түүний ойр орчимд байсан хүмүүс огтхон ч эргэлзэх зүйлгүйгээр маш хурдан түүнд тусалсан.  Японд бол нөхцөл байдал арай өөр. Тэд шууд туслахгүй, эхлээд жоохон анзаарч, эргэлзэнэ. Магадгүй Японд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдэд зориулан дэд бүтцээ сайн хөгжүүлсэн, бас тэднийг сургалтад хамруулж бэлддэгтэй холбоотой байх. Японд миний найз хараагүй боловч олон нийтийн газраар ганцаараа явж, нийгмийн оролцоотой байж чаддаг. Харин Улаанбаатарт тийм бэрхшээлтэй хүн ганцаараа явна гэдэг маш хэцүү. Миний найз ийм сорилттой орчинд өөрөө явах гээд оролдоод үзье гэж хэлсэн, тэр чадсан. Гэнэт л бөөн хүмүүс түүнийг хүрээлээд, тусалсан. Зарим нь чи яагаад ганцаараа явж байгаа юм бэ, болохгүй, …. ямар нэг болбол яана гээд л…энэ бүхэн нь Монгол хүмүүсийн сайхан хандлагыг илэрхийлж байсан. Мэдээж их сайхан зүйл. Гэхдээ тэд үргэлж хүмүүст найдаж амьдрах хэцүү. Тийм учраас тулд DET /disability equality training/ буюу “Хөгжлийн бэрхшээл ба тэгш байдлын тухай сургалт”-ыг явуулж байх шаардлагатай” гэснээр яриагаа өдөрлөв.

Чүлтэмийн Нямсүрэн

АНУ-ийн Тэнгисийн явган цэргийн Төгсөлтийн дараах сургуульд Азийн улс орнуудын аюулгүй байдал судлалын чиглэлээр магистрын зэрэг, Австралийн Үндэсний их сургуульд Цэргийн болон батлан хамгаалах судлалын  чиглэлээр магистрын зэрэг тус тус хамгаалсан. Энэхүү подкастыг Фридрих-Эбертийн сангийн дэмжлэгтэйгээр хийлээ.

Posted in Health, Human Rights, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fragmented Power

By Julian Dierkes

A recent article in The Economist compares political contestation around the Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia. There a number of aspects to that comparison that make it very interesting:

The Economist quoted me as saying, “Power in Mongolia is too fragmented to make bribery at scale an attractive option to foreign investors, says Julian Dierkes of the University of British Columbia—though what happens to revenues once they reach government coffers is another matter.”

As I was considering what I said, it seemed like this deserves a bit of an elaboration.

Political Fragmentation

This is not a term that is commonly applied to describe Mongolian politics. But perhaps it is worth considering more often as a description.

Centralization

Perhaps first, a word on how politics is not fragmented in Mongolia.

Two aspects come to mind very quickly: state structure and political parties.

Mongolia fundamentally remains a unitary state. That is, national legislation trumps all regional decisions and administrative units below the nation (aimag, soum, bag) implement decisions that are made at the centre. Unitary states are thus different in their structure from federal structures where some areas of policy-making are explicitly delegated to subnational units (for example, education in Germany or Canada).

While I have noted in the past that the distribution of revenues from resource projects to regions where those projects are located is hinting at some devolution of resources in Mongolia, it remains fundamentally unitary and thus not fragmented.

Stable Two-Party System

Fragmentation is also a term that is sometimes applied to party politics when voters are increasingly voting for a larger number of smaller parties, most famously, perhaps, in the case of the Weimar Republic, where that fragmentation is generally in part blamed for the rise of National Socialism. That is also not the case for Mongolia where the existence and occasional electoral success of the MPRP and, now, XYH, only seems to confirm the longterm stability of a two-party system dominated by the DP and the MPP.

Fragmentation

What I mean by fragmentation then is that power is divided across the Mongolian government in a way that there are many individuals who participate in decision-making and who potentially cancel each other out in disputes. That power is also generally fleeting when it comes to particular issues/policy areas.

I do not think that Mongolians often think about their government as fragmented in that way. Instead, public portrayals focus on the small number of individuals/families that seem to hold power. The terminology that crops up in that context is that of “oligarchs” and “30 families” who are portrayed as being all-powerful. I would certainly not deny that there is a small power elite that has a lot of influence over politics in Mongolia, but by referring to this elite as fragmented, I would emphasize that policies remain contested, even if the parties/individuals involved are limited in number. No single person/company/family holds enough power to overrule other members of the elite. In other words, the ruling elite is not unified in its action.

This fragmentation is also apparent in parliament. I have long lamented the absence of coherent party platforms. Every election confirms this absence when we have examined various election platforms. Yes, occasionally the MPP describes itself as social-democratic, suggesting a policy theme at least, if not an ideology, but it is hard to detect that theme in decisions or platforms. The same is true of the economic liberalism that is sometimes ascribed to the DP.

When we look at MPs, it is also apparent that legislative initiatives are often personal projects, rather than a policy direction that their party has embraced. Resources available to MPs are so limited that they can only pursue a small number of projects, but neither of the large parties has ever really stepped in by developing more centralized policy-making capacity. This then contributes further to fragmentation of decision-making.

So, while parliament may look like it is dominated by a stable two-party system, in terms of actual policy-making and legislative activities it appears to be highly fragmented.

It remains to be seen whether the 2019 constitutional changes that limit the number of MPs in cabinet will increase the power of the PM over fellow cabinet members, but also vis-a-vis parliament, or whether the substantive expertise that some of these ministers may have, might allow them to resist political pressures. That might change the fragmentation of power then.

Corruption and Fragmentation

How is this view of Mongolian politics as fragmented relevant to corruption?

Let’s consider legitimate attempts to influence political decisions first. Occasionally, I am approached by foreign investors who think they have some kind of “in” to some particular business sector in Mongolia and seek to exploit that to construct a business.

Often this hopeful investor then tells me that they’ve connected with SoAndSo who is currently Minister of ThisAndThat. In their mind, that means that they have approval or whatever it is that they’re seeking for this business venture. My response is always that a connection to an individual is a shaky basis for a venture. Even though that individual may seem powerful, they may only be in a specific position of power for a limited time and their power is likely tied closely to the position. Also, if that powerful individual champions a certain cause/policy/actor that may well prompt active opposition from other actors. I therefore always advise such investors to pursue a broad-based strategy of engagement with decision-makers that does not rely on some individual, but pursues coalitions instead. Another alternative – one that is also highly relevant for larger political decisions that involve public debate – is to turn to the public for support either through market success or by talking about possibilities that might generate public interest.

Similar challenges also hold for illegitimate/illegal forms of influence then. If I was a misguided investor who thought corruption was a legitimate business tool, I would still evaluate opportunities to pay a bribe by the likelihood of that bribe actually delivering the influence that I was hoping for.

Take the OT agreements (2009 original and 2015 Dubai agreement) as an example. Lots of corruption has been alleged around those agreements. But, imagine that an investor had paid a substantial bribe to prime ministers at the time, could those prime ministers have actually “delivered” an agreement? I would argue that not, because of fragmentation. No recent prime ministers has been powerful enough to make that kind of decision on their own and some of the others who would be involved might be opposed for a number of different reasons.

If you actually wanted to be certain of a political outcome, there would be multiple individuals involved, so bribing just one of those individuals would be unlikely to guarantee an outcome. But if you have to bribe many people to ensure an outcome, that would be so expensive a strategy that it is unlikely to survive some kind of calculation of expected pay-off for an investor, especially when that investor – like Turquoise Hill/Rio Tinto – also faces public scrutiny by markets but also by reporting requirements such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

In my mind, this political fragmentation has always made some allegations of corruption in the Oyu Tolgoi context quite implausible. By the way, that would be a bit different for Erdenet or Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, for example, where control over those assets is more internal to the government and power relations might thus be brought to bear more directly on decisions.

Conclusion: Talking about Fragmentation

As I was working on this post, it seems more and more appropriate to think of Mongolian politics as fragmented in the very specific sense that I discussed: political decisions are distributed across a small, but not unified elite who may often be in competition over the outcomes of such decisions, even when the state structure remains unitary and the party system suggests stability and durable preferences.

Posted in Corruption, EITI, Foreign Investment, International Agreements, Kyrgyz Republic, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 17: Vocational Education for Disabled People

By Ganchuluun Turbat 

Our guest is Ms. Altmaa, Director of the School of Vocational Education and Skills at the Mongolian National Rehabilitation Vocational Training Center. She shared her views on vocational education of the people with disabilities.

Vocational Training

The School for Vocational Education and Skills (Trades) provides specialized training in professions such as chef, baker, tailor, carpenter, souvenir crafter, graphic designer, and cellphone repair technicians, through 1-2.5 years of schooling. According to Ms. Altmaa, the school admits around 140 students with all types of disabilities at the different levels, except for blind individuals. For blind students, it is the Vocational Training Center of the Mongolian National Federation of Blind that provides specialized training. Ms. Altmaa’s school has a dormitory for 20-25 resident students and the class size is usually around 8-12 students depending on the level of disability levels. The school has been running for over 45 years and staffs experienced faculty members who help these young adults acquire special sets of trade skills. Their students come at different age groups, ranging from their teens to the mid-40s. The school evaluates each student at the beginning in order to tailor the vocational training programs for each student’s need and type/level of disability.

One And A Half Years Longer Than Other Vocational Schools

There is one major challenge: The school receives older students with disability, but they have never been to schools – some with hearing disability do not know the sign language or alphabet. This is mostly the fault of their parents or guardians. Many of them never have let them study at secondary schools for a variety of reasons. Then, suddenly, they realize these young adults need to acquire certain skills and choose a profession to be employed or to make their living. This requires the school to reduce the number of students and create additional programs to help these students in their 20s, 30s and 40s, to obtain some of the elementary and secondary school knowledge and skills (e.g., writing, reading, counting, and sign language) in addition to their specialized trades certificate programs. Therefore, many of their students need to complete the trades skills training over 2-2.5 years. Although there are some improvements in including children with disabilities in elementary and secondary school, Ms. Altmaa encouraged parents with disabled children to provide their kids with the opportunity to study as early as possible.

Photo: Ms. Altmaa standing front of the laptop (with the permission of Altmaa)

Getting on the Job Market

There are some improvements in the job market. “Many businesses have been working with us to employ our graduates”, Ms. Altmaa mentions. Jobs in high demand by the market are chef, baker, tailor and carpenter. Some companies seek cleaning and service workers, but the school does not provide training in such trade skills. The majority of carpenters, cellphone repair technicians, and engravers become easily self-employed. The school follows up their graduates after six months and after one year upon their employments. The retention of employment is low. “There are several reasons”, as Ms. Altmaa explains. One is that their graduates are not well prepared to handle the initial challenges of working in a new environment (e.g., routine, staff, co-workers, workload) and it could be personal. Another challenge is on the employers’ side – they are not prepared to deal with disabled employees. As soon as they find the initial difficulties, the employer seeks ways to fire the disabled employee. Another difficulty is posed by inaccessible infrastructure (e.g., the facility’s wheelchair accessibility). Lastly, parents prohibit the employment for them to take care of family matters instead, not respecting the rights of the disabled people (to see elders or children, or to manage household chores). Ms. Altmaa highlights that the school is now increasing the number of classes and also expanding the classes’ skill sets to improve the communication skills of their students. As several of our guests pointed out, there should be more collaboration between the employer and a school and the disabled employees to find a better solution to create an inclusive employment atmosphere.

New Programs Being Introduced with the EU

Before 2000, all vocational schools used to design their own programs based on their own studies. Today, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare oversees the process of designing and accreditation of programs for vocational schools. Although the law requires having special vocational programs for the people with disabilities, we still don’t have specific programs for the people with disabilities. However, with assistance from the European Union, we are in the process of introducing three new professions (i.e., service worker, e-service person, and clerk) for the disabled students based on the studies and discussions of non-governmental organizations, employers, brokers, and people with disabilities. The school is planning to admit new students for these new programs. Since it is based on a thorough study of the job market, Ms. Altmaa does not expect any difficulties for students graduating with these new professions.

Photo: Ms. Altmaa (with the permission of Altmaa)

Lack of Human Resources

In developed countries, there are about eight staff members per student, including teacher, doctor, psychologist, and assistant, of course, depending on the degree of the disability. But, in Mongolia, the ratio is opposite: 8-15 students per teacher. Even though the standard requires a teacher-student ratio of 1:8, the school tries to include more students. A major challenge is posed by the shortage of trained and experienced instructors who could work with people with all types of disabilities. All faculty members, who were educated in the Soviet Union in methods to work with disabled people, are retired. To fill the gap, the Ministry of Education have introduced a graduate level program for teaching to the people with disabilities and mandatory pedagogical course. But the effects are slow. Since the school operates on a tight state budget, the school could not hire more teachers and staff. The school now requires all new faculty to have a bachelor’s degree and to learn the sign language. In real terms, it usually takes about 1-2 years to be competent enough to work with students with disabilities.

At the moment, everyone at the school needs psychologists. Faculty and staff need to be trained and counselled on how to deal with students and their parents. Moreover, the mental health of students is important.  “We always feel the need of psychologists to deal with parents and family members of our students”, Ms. Altmaa adds.

Impacts of the COVID-19

The COVID-19 has affected the school’s operation severely. Unlike for other students, it is impossible to carry out online schooling because students with disabilities need to have a more practical and hands-on training. The school is already two years behind of the schedule. Since students could not complete the required practical training hours, they could not graduate.

It was an insightful interview about the vocational educational programs for the people with disabilities. Ms. Altmaa wishes to increase the school’s capacity (e.g., learning space, dormitory) to reach out to many students who could not join the school because of the limitation.  Moreover, she hopes the school to do more work in regard to rehabilitation and introducing international standards.

About the Author: Ganchuluun Turbat is about to start his master’s program at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He graduated from the Mongolian National Defense University and logistical officer’s courses in the United States. In the military, he served in multiple peacekeeping missions, including the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Vocational | Leave a comment

By-elections 2021

By Julian Dierkes

In the aftermath of the presidential election in June, one of the big questions that remained was whether the strong minority support that D Enkhbat received as linked to the weakness of S Erdene as a candidate or the DP as a party, his personal popularity, or whether this was another step in the rise of XYH as a new political force. Another question emerging from the presidential election is what nature the electoral alliance of the MPP and the MPRP will take.

These are two questions that will receive partial answers in the October 10 by-election for the parliamentary seat for the Ulaanbaatar district of Songinokhairkhan vacated by Ulaanbaatar governor D Sumiyabazar. At the same time, the Khentii seat vacated by U Khurelsukh when he became a candidate for president will also be contested, though this seems like it will be significantly less exciting given the margin of victory that Khurelsukh enjoyed in the 2020 parliamentary election (72.2%) and the 2021 presidential election (82.5%) indicating the strength of the MPP in this aimag.

Songinokhairkhan Candidates

MPP: E Batshugar

The story is all in the patronymic initial here. E is Enkhbayar, of course, the former president and leader of the MPRP. This candidacy thus appears to be fairly straight-forward payback for the MPRP’s support of Khurelsukh’s presidential campaign. Batshugar is not entirely unknown or inexperienced as he has previously served as deputy governor of the Bank of Mongolia, though we might also count that as a post that might be awarded as a patronage post rather than on the basis of the qualifications of an individual.

He was born in 1987 and is thus of the same 1980s generation as some of the younger leadership of the MPP such as PM Oyun-Erdene.

At first glance, there is nothing particularly noticeable about Batshugar, though given his clear popularity, Enkhbayar’s charisma and appeal have always been somewhat mysterious as well.

Note that earlier this year at least, Batshugar was investing heavily into online advertising.

Given this investment, however, the Batshugar campaign is not very visible on Twitter at the beginning of October and MPP support for his campaign also seems limited.

Additionally, at the time of writing, Marissa’s go-to for Enkhbayar-related news, eguur.mn, is not accessible. The latest story posted on their twitter feed relates to the current fuel crisis (see more on this below).

DP: E Bat-Uul

The DP has repeatedly failed to rejuvenate its leadership and move beyond a harkening to its opposition heroics in 1990 as a basis for political mobilization. This was perhaps most glaring in the trouncing it received in the 2020 parliamentary election where the party leadership refused to appoint any of the younger party activists and instead appointed a list of candidates dominated by party grandees. This slate performed miserably.

And now? Bat-Uul…

Yes, as former mayor of Ulaanbaatar, he clearly has some political base in the city. And yes, I suspect he is personally more popular than presidential candidate and party leader, S Erdene, for example, who received 4%, yes four percent, in the presidential election in Songinokhairkhan. But… Bat-Uul also carries a whiff of corruption with him from his time as Ulaanbaatar mayor. And, he certainly is not a figure that stands for the renewal of the DP.

XYH: B Naidalaa

We have to imagine that XYH fancies its chances in this by-election with party chair Naidalaa as a candidate.

In June, Enkhbat received 22.7% of the presidential votes in Songinokhairkhan. Not his strongest result, but nearly a quarter of voters. Clearly, his candidacy and thus presumably XYH as a political alternative resonated in urban districts. There are three aspects of Naidalaa’s candidacy in the by-election that will be important in determining the outcome: how nervous are voters about MPP dominance? how eager are voters to support XYH as a new political force? Will Naidalaa connect with voters in СХД?

Conventional wisdom on the 2017 presidential election was that Battulga rode fears about the MPP into his presidency. Yet, when he tried to raise just such fears earlier this year, the public was largely uninterested and Erdene’s candidacy as an MPP alternative bombed. Have fears about dominance by the MPP thus waned in the electorate? But what about the ongoing restlessness regarding COVID measures and Oyun-Erdene’s performance. Will voters turn against the MPP because of that?

The same conventional wisdom also saw XYH electoral gains as limited to elitist urban bubbles of professionals. On the one hand, this might explain Enkhbat’s less impressive result in СХД as a district with a large and – presumably – poorer/less well-educated population. On the other hand, his nearly quarter of the vote share (over 26,000 votes) clearly shows that support for him was not limited to an elite. Naidalaa surely represents XYH as a political force and his horseback campaigning (see below) will have added a populist touch that may play well, though he personally might come across to some voters as more aloof and intellectual/technocratic than Enkhbat.

And, two weeks before the election, there has been a bit of a social media hit in that Naidalaa has taken to campaigning on horseback.

This is not (just) a vaguely traditionalist gimmick (recall S Javkhlan’s regular horseback commute to parliament), but instead has been pointing the finger straight at the MPP government for the fuel shortage that has plagued Mongolia in September.

Obviously, the imagery of XYH campaigners on horseback has provided a bit of spice to the campaign and they’ve continued this innovation with other campaign formats/looks as well.

Posted in Democratic Party, Elections, Ikh Khural 2020, Mongolian People's Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment