A memorandum recently signed between the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Budget and the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions (CMTU) is likely to have long-term and far-reaching significance, according to S.Ganbaatar, CMTU President. It allows direct popular involvement in debates on how mining revenues are to be spent, and also in deciding and monitoring how allocations in State and local budgets are actually spent. It gives self-governing bodies at all levels, as well as representatives from education, health care, and mining sectors, the responsibility and the authority to control relevant budget expenditures.
For example, he said in The Mongolian Mining Journal, residents of a soum should gather once in two weeks or once in month to discuss in detail how money in their budget has been spent and also how they want to spend what is left. Since financing usually attracts much attention, everybody will actively participate in such meetings. “Where is the money we paid in taxes, what is it being spent on?” they will ask. If the soum governor goes to the province center twice in a month, they will ask him why he went and what he achieved, because the expenses for his trips were met with tax payers’ money.
To make it easy for people to participate effectively in this process, the CMTU will train trade unions at all levels on how to analyze budgets and how to monitor and track expenditures. The goal is not to put undue pressure on Governors or Ministers, but to make them more alert and responsive. Local independent experts will be roped in to act as facilitators and arbiters.
He also urged greater decentralization. “Local authorities must be given the power to take decisions locally, and bear the responsibility for local affairs. There cannot be real self-government if the purse strings are held centrally,” the MCTU head said. No Minister or senior official can visit all soums to check things for himself and solve local problems, which will have local characteristics and so require individual evaluation.
Regretting the present practice of “using big words and large figures that not all people understand well”, when mining and the state budget are discussed, he said that is why they remain abstractions and “are left to be decided by smarter people”. This is also why there is no active popular participation in the decision-making process. “Our economists and politicians are also used to speaking in a manner that makes everything look complex. Maybe they do not understand things well themselves, but they also do this on purpose, to deliberately confuse people. If people do not understand what is going on, what the rationale behind any decision is, they have the right to ask questions and seek clarifications. Decision makers have a mandatory obligation to explain their actions and logic,” Ganbaatar said.