Policy Series: Failure of Not Asking Hard Questions

Government policies should provide solutions to our problems. They reduce uncertainty by building trust among all players.  But, in Mongolia’s case, policies have been fragile, unstable, and unpredictable.  Overall, our policies increase uncertainty and build mistrust among ourselves and our partners.

What do we usually do?  Blame each other – politicians, parties, factions, civil society activists, and even foreigners – just in order to escape from the responsibility and raise our own profiles.  We don’t ask hard questions – because our blame game usually ends up in conspiracy theories.

Hard Questions that Need to be Asked

For each major policy issues – we need to ask hard questions and then, we should revoke, revise, or introduce new policies.

  • Why do we need to change the policy?
  • What part of the policy is working or not working?
  • Why did it work or fail? What are causes of success and failure (external and/or internal causes)?
  • What would be the impact of not changing or changing policy?
    • short-term
    • mid-term
    • long-term
  • How will these changes impact all players?
  • How much changes are acceptable to all players?
    • short-term
    • mid-term
    • long-term
  • What would be the optimal options to pursue (i.e., ‘win-win’)?
  • How can policies be implemented?

We know these questions, but rarely ask them.  For a variety of reasons, we, especially our politicians, prefer to blame the people (even if they were part of the policy-making process) and favour a quick temporary fix – within their electoral cycles.  Some even don’t recall their own positions at the different stages of policy-making – because they didn’t ask these hard questions and didn’t rack their brains.

Policy Areas that Need Questioning

There are many policies in Mongolia – require us asking and answering hard questions.  Let’s take a few of them.

Constitutional Reform

The constitutional revision has been on the table on and off. It has very strong, long-term impact on the policymaking process. But, no one really has laid out their reasons in quite convincing ways.  When we’re frustrated with the nature of the legislative process (esp. micromanagement of the executive branch, ineffective decision-making), we seek solutions like a bicameral legislature and a strong presidency.

However, we haven’t addressed the pros and cons of our current setting and didn’t ask why our legislature gradually became the weakest institution.  Until we find satisfying answers to this question, adding a chamber to the legislature or strengthening the power of the presidency will not solve our current policy challenges.

OT Investment Agreement

The Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement is another puzzle.  We all debate over the Oyu Tolgoi shares and our discussions are seemingly influenced by a temporary economic crisis and populist politics.  Even if the parliament provided rights for its governmental negotiating team, it did not initiate a non-partisan study in regards with the strategic mines, including Oyu Tolgoi.  The policy-making process for Oyu Tolgoi could serve us a good policy-making tool to educate our policy community how to deal with multi-national corporations, foreign state-owned enterprises, and domestic investors.  Instead of revoking the past investment agreement decisions, we need to learn from our mistakes and successes and work forward to improve the policy-making process.  Without substantial, non-partisan studies, we could not improve our policies.

Let’s Begin to Ask Hard Questions

Unless our policies address the primary cause of the problem and provide expectations at various phases of the policy implementation, we will not succeed and all will end up as losers.  So, we need to ask hard questions – why and then to find how solutions.  For example, our parliamentarians along with foreign and domestic investors declared their successful changes in the major mining investment legislations (including the windfall profit tax, protection against the state-owned enterprises).  But, they did not address why they had these laws on the first place.  Yes, no one will challenge them during the bust cycle.  Since they didn’t ask hard questions and find solutions for these ad-hoc policies, no one could guarentee – these are permanent solutions.  If you don’t ask hard questions and agree on acceptable solutions – including the nationalist politicians and civil society actors, problems will recur and trigger the another circle of the blame game.

So, let’s ask and answer hard questions together on major policies.

About mendee

Jargalsaikhan Mendee is a Deputy Director of the Institute for Defense Studies of Mongolia. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia, and MAs in International Relations from the US Naval Postgraduate School and in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from the Institute of Asian Research of the University of British Columbia.
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