About Pace on Peaceful Pluralism and its Initiative Objectives

In April 2019, Pace on Peaceful Pluralism (PoPP), a civil society organization focused on budget monitoring, expenditure tracking and subnational parliamentary monitoring, began an initiative to track state education expenditures and monitor the implementation of a school construction program in Myanmar’s Bago region.

The regional government planned to restore or construct over 600 primary and middle schools in the region. The government faced many questions related to their ability to deliver quality schools that meet established standards, effectively and efficiently implement the program on time and on budget, and respond to the needs and interests of the stakeholder communities. Through the monitoring initiative, PoPP aimed to improve service delivery, promote greater transparency and accountability of the regional government and government contractors, and increase space and opportunities for civil society and local communities to engage in decision-making processes for the public-funded education projects. PoPP focused on monitoring the legal obligations of the Bago government and the contractors in the implementation of the program and individual construction projects and the responsiveness to communities.

Monitoring the Political Process and Strategic Engagement

To gather data, PoPP conducted desk research, interviews and direct observation visits. Before launching the primary data collection process, PoPP carried out extensive desk research of the plans and legal obligations of the government’s school building program. This research helped identify information gaps and enabled PoPP to establish standards against which they could track and monitor. Through publicizing information on the government’s region-wide school infrastructure improvement plans, PoPP was able to begin raising citizen awareness and interest in the initiative.

After identifying the information gaps, PoPP submitted requests for information to the government. However, at the time, the right to information was not legally established in Myanmar. Therefore, PoPP prioritized relationship-building and entered into a dialogue with the regional government in order to ensure access to information and to lay the groundwork for constructive engagement with their findings and recommendations. In consultations, PoPP explained how civil society monitoring would help hold the contractors accountable, promote more informed and involved communities, and gather detailed data on the status of the construction projects that the government may not otherwise be able to access. Through sustained strategic engagement, PoPP was able to receive some of the requested information on the program’s budget, procurement processes and construction plans.

To support data collection, PoPP developed monitoring tools to track the implementation of the school building program in its entirety as well as the status of individual school construction projects. These tools included targeted questionnaires and a facilitator guide for interviews and focus group discussions with the school building committees and other relevant officials, as well as a checklist to support direct observation visits at the construction sites. PoPP also developed a spreadsheet to track the implementation of the entire program, including the budget and the procurement process.

PoPP trained over 100 volunteers to administer the monitoring tools in their communities. PoPP processed and analyzed the data, finding significant delays and incomplete projects throughout the townships in the Bago region. PoPP found delays in implementation, failure to adhere to legal requirements to adequately inform communities about the construction project, and insufficient gender and ethnic representation on the school building committees, among other issues. Based on their findings, PoPP developed recommendations to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in the program’s implementation and to ensure greater transparency, accountability and citizen participation at the community level.

Communicating the Findings

Despite the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which interrupted their communication plans, PoPP presented their findings to key regional government ministries and to members of parliament who were eager to learn from Bago’s program. PoPP communicated their findings and recommendations to the regional government but planned to continue monitoring and tracking the program until its completion.

Evaluating the Impact

By the end of the initiative, PoPP found that sustained engagement with government officials fostered greater awareness about the importance of transparency in large-scale development projects. One notable outcome was the government’s decision to post signboards at the project sites that provide information about the project’s timeframe, the responsible company and other facts.

Lessons Learned

  • Take time to adequately plan and prepare for the initiative, which proved crucial for PoPP’s success, particularly efforts to lay the groundwork for cooperation with the government in information-sharing and to raise awareness and interest among stakeholder communities.