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The Myanmar governments’ new Joint Coordinating Body for aid to the peace process - can it help West

The peace process could hardly be more important in the future of Myanmar citizens. It is difficult to see how either democracy or development can move forward without some sustainable end to armed conflict.

International donors obviously want to facilitate this process, and a cluster of donors has committed over a hundred million dollars to a Joint Peace Fund.

A donor closely involved with the Fund pointed out to me recently that the Fund is intended to be “joint” not in the sense that it is joint donors, but that it will be a “joint” initiative between donors and local stakeholders in the peace process.

“Joint” in this way is surely a good thing. It is difficult to see how foreign countries can legitimately try to influence a domestic peace process if they are not in some way accountable to people in that country.

The question for the Joint Peace Fund however, has been to what extent it is actually “joint” in any meaningful way.

The Fund management are highly experienced and committed to conflict sensitivity, but that is not the same thing as accountability to local stakeholders.

The first place to look to understand accountability is governance structures, and to this point the Joint Peace Fund has been governed by a board comprised of donor representatives themselves.

To be accountable in a peace process in Myanmar there surely must be some way in which Myanmar citizens are involved in the Fund’s governance.

In the last couple of months things have changed.

Late last year the Myanmar government initiated a new Joint Coordinating Body (JCB) for aid to the peace process. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that the Body would “fairly and effectively manage the funds by coordinating and allocating them to the sectors based on the real situation rather than donor-oriented ones”.

The JCB now has ten members of government and ten members of ethnic armed organisations.

At one level this development looks to be an opportunity for the Joint Peace Fund to demonstrate its legitimacy as indeed being a “joint” fund, one governed by more than just international donor representatives.

Yet the new development also raises questions about the nature of this accountability - and about what the “joint” nature of the Fund might look like now.

The new Joint Coordinating Body, while comprised of both government and ethnic armed group representatives, leaves significant decision-making power with government.

The danger for the Joint Peace Fund, and other donors, is that they become “joint”, but effectively only between donors and government. Where then does that leave not only ethnic armed groups, but also other stakeholders in the peace process – opposition political parties, civil society groups working on peace, women affected by conflict, young people. How are they able to hold the Joint Peace Fund to account in a meaningful way?

Surely the “joint” must mean that the JPF should also be answerable beyond just the government side of negotiations in the peace process.

To be sure the Joint Peace Fund needed some kind of anchor to show that it was accountable to more than just western governments.

But we are yet to see whether the new Joint Coordinating Body can play the role that is required to make the JPF, and other donors to the peace process, more widely accountable.

Many members of government, armed group representatives, and civil society actors believe that there is a valid place for international aid in facilitating the peace process.

But what that support should look like – and what a “joint” Fund means - is hotly debated.

Tamas Wells

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