Monday, May 5, 2014

Mongolia Brief May 2, 2014 Part III

Military competition showcases ‘Splendor of Mongolian Soldiers’

May 4 (UB Post) Champions of the “Splendor of Mongolian Soldiers” competition, held among military units of Mongolia, were named on Saturday.
The competition showcased the marching skills of the military units and awarded the top performing units.
The Office of the Ulaanbaatar City Governor, Ministry of Defense, General Staff of the Mongolian Armed Forces, General Authority for Border Protection and National Emergency Management Agency organized the competition in two stages.
Nine military units were shortlisted in the final stage. Fourth place went to Border Military Unit no.0164 headed by Commander Battsengel. They were presented with a prize of four million MNT and a set of wind musical instruments.
Military Unit no.120, led by Dommander Kh.Bandi, showed the best marching skill and had the best maintained unit building, which earned them first place.
Second place went to Border Military Unit no.151 commanded by N.Ganbold, while Military Unit no.353, led by Colonel A.Munkhbat, secured third place.
Commanders of top the military units were each granted two-room apartments in accordance with an Ulaanbaatar City Governor’s Ordinance.
During the award ceremony at Central Square, soldiers who had completed their military services received completion certificates. District labor divisions and vocational training officials were there to register job-seeking soldiers.
The ceremony showed the great splendor of Mongolian soldiers with well-organized marches by the units for spectators.
One of the soldiers who received a completion certificate, P.Purevdash said, “I joined Military Unit no.189 immediately after my high school graduation in May 2013, as it is the duty of all men in Mongolia. Now, I have already completed my year of service with my fellow brothers. Time indeed flies.”
“I am very glad that I have served the military respectfully. My service in the military helped me realize and learn a lot, which will surely help my future and career,” he added.

Premier N.Altankhuyag makes statement regarding projects financed by Chinggis Bond

May 4 (UB Post) Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag made a statement regarding projects financed by the Chinggis Bond, during a joint Parliamentary session meeting. As of March 31, 2014, financing equivalent to 1.3 trillion MNT has been issued to 10 projects from the 1.5 billion USD in Chinggis Bond resources.
Chinggis Bond money is being spent on provincial road projects to connect aimag centers with Ulaanbaatar, the “Street” project, Ulaanbaatar’s engineering network, infrastructural projects, new railway projects, Tavantolgoi, a power plant in Egyn River, “Byant Ukhaa 1” apartment town, and in supporting industrialization in the construction and agricultural sectors, N.Altankhuyag said, and introduced the process and results of the projects.
For the provincial road projects, Dundgobi and Bayankhongor aimags have been connected to Ulaanbaatar with paved road or highways. Road construction to Umnugobi, Dornod, Sukhbaatar and Khuvsgul aimags are expected to be complete by August. As of today, construction of 930 kilometers of an 1,800 kilometer road being built by financing from the Chinggis Bond, has been completed. Road construction performance is at 68 percent, stated Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag.
A total of 1,800 kilometers of railway will be constructed from Tavantolgoi-Sainshand-Choibalsan and Tavantolgoi-Gashuunsukhait as part of the New Railway project. The 164.2 million USD construction of 267 kilometers of railway is being financed by the Chinggis bond. Performance of the 267 kilometers of railroad construction is at 25 percent, according to Prime Minister’s statement.
For UB’s Street project, focused on reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and improving city planning, the renovation of 33 separate four-way road crossings has been planned. Currently, renovations have taken place at 17 of these crossings. The first phase of financing of a highway to be constructed along the Tuul and Selbe rivers has been issued. Construction work will start this June.
A total of 92 projects worth 416 billion MNT have been planned for implementation in 2013 and 2014, to improve Ulaanbaatar’s engineering networks and infrastructure. In the first phase, Development Bank will issue financing of 200 billion MNT, and has delivered 101.8 billion MNT now. Within the mid-term target program “New Construction”, the drinking water, sewage, electricity, heating and cable engineering system issues of seven apartment towns and 10 ger districts will be completely resolved. The performance of a 30-year contract is now at 70 percent.
A financing contract of 269 billion MNT to promote five sectors, including wool, cashmere, milk, sewn products and garden agriculture, was signed by the Ministry of Industry and Agriculture and Golomt Bank. Golomt Bank has received the materials and documents of 189 companies, and has issued loans of 53.7 billion MNT to 53 companies.
Construction of a power plant with a capacity of 450 megawatts at Tavantolgoi coal mine has received financing of 14 million USD from the planned 16 million USD financing in the first phase. Also, a decision was made to grant 34 million USD from the Chinggis Bond for the Egyn River hydro-electric power plant project.
The government is financing the construction of 28 apartment buildings for 1,764 families, named Buyant Ukhaa 1 Apartment Town, which will belong to the state apartment corporation. The apartments designated for young families, the elderly and public servants, will cost one million and 280 thousand MNT per square meter. The construction of nine apartment buildings which will house 567 families has been completed and the rest of the buildings will be available by the second quarter of this year.
The total cost of the Factory project to produce houses is 42 million USD. Erel LLC invested 13.1 million USD and the government has issued financing of 14 million USD from the Chinggis Bond. The project is expected to produce houses and is expected to reduce the air, ground and water pollution of Ulaanbaatar. The project will produce houses for 5,000 families and provide homes to 184 thousand UB households, reported Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag at the parliamentary meeting.

Mongolian Youth Federation declares May ‘Cycling Month’

May 4 (UB Post) The Mongolian Youth Federation (MYF) has declared May as “Cycling Month” and has organized various bicycle tours, parades, workshops and bicycle rentals available throughout Ulaanbaatar as part of their “Cycling Ulaanbaatar” initiative.
MYF started organizing regular bicycle tours two weeks ago. The next bicycle tour “Bike Date” will be a family outing. Participating families will be able to have fun and contribute to the improvement of their health at the same time. The tour is scheduled for May 10.
Cycling Ulaanbaatar is aimed at motivating city residents to ride bicycles and improve their health, while avoiding one of the most pressing problems in Ulaanbaatar, traffic congestion.

Mongolia’s Media Laws Threaten Press Freedom

May 4 (UB Post) For more than 70 years, one fixture of Mongolian life was not unlike that of its closest neighbors. During the Soviet period, the sole source of information in the then-satellite state was the state-run Mongolian National Broadcaster.
Twenty years on, and Mongolians now enjoy access to a growing media market. High-speed Internet and more than 500 news outlets are available to most of the country’s three million people, with a recent resource boom which continues to bring about rapid change and development.
Yet a range of broad and ill-defined laws continue to prevent journalists from publishing quality investigative material, without significant risk.
In Mongolia, a heavily concentrated press largely owned by prominent figures sees critical or unflattering stories regularly censored. Exposure of corrupt practice can often leave journalists in fear of prosecution under the country’s criminal defamation laws.
Recently adopted Freedom of Information statues often conflict with privacy laws, thus achieving little by way of greater transparency. Even fewer laws act to protect journalistic practice, the confidentiality of sources or whistle-blowers. Investigative work undertaken by journalists rather than police or intelligence agencies could even be deemed to violate the constitution.
Coupling these restraints with state secrecy laws merely serves to reinforce a sobering “chilling effect.”
Article 16 of Mongolia’s constitution guarantees rights of free expression, thought, speech, assembly and press. This ensures the right of media and citizens alike to “seek and receive” information.
Yet press advocates emphasize that these constitutional rights do not include the right to “impart” information, “regardless of frontiers,” as international law stipulates. In practice, this means that often other laws will act to circumvent these constitutional protections.
Perhaps the greatest prosecutorial threat to Mongolian journalism can be found in the country’s defamation laws, which act to criminalize slander, defamation and libel. Such laws are regularly used by prominent figures — namely, individual politicians and increasingly, powerful businesspeople — as a means of shielding themselves from public criticism. While criticism of any kind, say press advocates, is often deemed tantamount to defamation.
Under Mongolia law, defamation is a criminal offense. Article 111.2 of the Criminal Code stipulates that the spread of libel “to the public by means of mass media” is punishable by a fine equal to 51 to 150 times the monthly minimum wage — 9.79 million to 28.9 million MNT (5,685 USD to 16,782 USD) — or incarceration for three to six months. These sums would be more than enough to bankrupt smaller independent news outlets.
Between 1999 and 2011, 313 defamation cases were reported to have involved media officials.
Yet journalists are said to often retract their work before cases goes to trial. Editors may also be held liable for publication of material deemed defamatory.
Judges recently issued statements prohibiting the press from reporting on defamation trials involving media officials as proceedings were underway.
Under Mongolian law, journalists also must bear the burden of proof, evidencing that what they’ve published is true and accurate. Yet strict evidentiary rules have prevented some journalists from mounting a strong defense. Evidence has been deemed inadmissible in cases where documentary proof was not notarized as original copy.
Such rules significantly hamper a journalist’s capacity to prove their innocence. This applies especially in investigative cases whereby access to original source documents is not always guaranteed — in which case the law does not provide for a “reasonable publication” defense.
Recently amended laws on crime prevention do not yet list defamation as a criminal offense. Yet press advocates fear that the current Parliament will soon act to demand its inclusion, given that a recent list of plaintiffs in defamation cases against media officials is said to include members of the ruling Democratic Party.
Mongolian law sees few protections in place to ensure confidentiality of sources is maintained. Nor are there recognized legal protections for whistle-blowers.
Journalists often face pressure from political, judicial and intelligence officials to give up the names of their sources. There is no legal requirement specifying that journalists comply with such demands. Article 139 of the Criminal Code offers some protection for “a journalist’s professional activities that are consistent with the law.” Yet the statute does not specify what constitutes legal “professional activities.”
Press advocates have expressed their concerns given a prevailing view among the government and judicial officials that investigations remain the purview of intelligence services and police.
Under Mongolia’s Constitution, investigations can technically only be carried out by police, prosecutors or intelligence services. This means that a journalist’s recorded interviews, notes, tapes, even photos, if deemed “investigative material,” could well violate the law.
In 2009 local media freedom institutes reported numerous Mongolian journalists had been threatened or attacked in the course of their careers. One in six Mongolian journalists had received “improper reactions,” often from those directly affected by critical content. Almost 20 percent of those received severe threats of violence, including death threats.
Media industries elsewhere face significant decline in revenue and reach. Yet Mongolia’s media has thus far bucked these trends.
In 2009 Mongolians enjoyed access to regular news from almost 400 news outlets. By the first quarter of 2013, the number reached 555 — an all-time high. Extraordinary figures, given a population of less than three million people.
Prominent government officials and powerful business figures are said to own the vast majority of the country’s news media outlets. Direct government censorship is explicitly outlawed in Mongolia’s constitution. Yet by simply buying up media outlets, the country’s most powerful are then able to apply pressure and where necessary, determine the nature of news content.
Yet exact figures are hard to come by. While legislation states that media ownership and investment shares be made public, often media outlets will submit only a company’s registered name, in which the names of individual investors are not disclosed.
As Globe International President Naranjargal Khashkhuu wryly explains, “It is amazing that all these media outlets can all survive in this small market. So we must ask, who feeds them?”
In a recent interview with DW Akademie, Mongolian Press Institute Executive Director Munkhmandakh Myagmar went on to explain that:
“[D]evelopment is not going based on market principles because the media does not survive on revenues from advertising or sales. Instead the media exists based on financial support or subsidies from politicians. In turn they are obliged to provide information that is wanted by politicians. This makes journalism in Mongolia extremely unhealthy.”
Media outlets are often called upon to sign “agreements of co-operation” with advertisers. These “blocking” provisions will then contractually prevent media from distributing any “negative information” about entities from which they receive funds for advertising.
Media advocates say that while the government releases an annual budget for media development, the public remains in the dark as to which outlets receive the vast bulk of funding.
“In 2012 the Parliament of Mongolia had some three billion MNT in its media funding budget,” says one press advocate. “Yet one particular television station is said to have reserved for it 700 million MNT of the funding, while others didn’t receive any money, at all. There is no public discussion, so the public is not aware who is getting how much. It makes state funding another form of government censorship.”
In 2011, in response to recommendations from both the UN Human Rights Council and local rights groups, Mongolia adopted its first national Freedom of Information (FOI) Law. Yet advocates suggest that FOI procedures are unworkable, conflict with other laws, and demonstrate the government’s lack of commitment to the law’s implementation.
In 2012 a coalition of civil society actors sought to more closely examine the annual state budget. Together they lodged some 29 FOI requests to government agencies. Only one agency provided a single response before rejecting the request on grounds of violation of individual privacy.
A long list of broad and ill-defined exemptions to FOI (Article 18) acts to curb publication of detrimental information related to national security, the “public interest of Mongolia,” matters of competition, intellectual property or private material relating to the “lawful interests” of individuals or organizations.
So while laws on anti-corruption oblige public officials to disclose their assets and income records, under the law of individual privacy, the information on the properties and net worth of public officials remain a closely kept secret. This helps explain why local media will sometimes report on a politician’s (disclosed) number of livestock, vehicles and other properties, rather than their net value. 
A team of journalists recently tested the responsiveness of government agencies to FOI requests. Government agencies are legally obligated to respond to such requests within a maximum 14 working day period. The journalists sought information regarding the criminal trial and subsequent execution of famed revolutionaries during the early 1920s.
Yet under a broad State Secrets Act, execution notices remain a matter of state secrecy. Documents related to capital punishment are to remain a state secret without limitation — that is, never to be declassified.
The journalists ran significant risks in even requesting such information. Individuals can run afoul of the State Secrets law by simply requesting that information be released — that is, a possible eight years imprisonment for simply “seeking” information deemed secret under the law’s sweeping list of State Secrets, which covers almost 60 broad topics ranging from foreign policy to economics, science to technology, defense to intelligence.
Thus, journalists on the foreign policy beat might do best to avoid never-to-be-declassified “document(s) describing official policy and opinion of Mongolia on cooperation with other countries, all kind of information and reports provided by other countries through accredited manners.”
Instead some may practice self-censorship, directly drawing their reports from official press releases rather than risk running afoul of the law. Such constraints may seem somewhat anachronistic at a time when growing Internet connectedness is said to subvert the influence of state-owned media.
At a recent investigative journalism training session in Ulaanbaatar, media trainers from the UK spoke about privacy and recent moves by major news outlets to publish NSA-related material. The audience of Mongolian journalists asked: “Yes, but how do you fund it?”
Perhaps there is a movement, not yet wholly defined, to enhance press freedom that will likely require new funding models as well as a digital shift.
Only then, equipped with a strong grasp of local laws as well as their constitutional rights to freedom of information, speech and expression, might Mongolian journalists act to loosen the grip of the powerful on public debate.
Lisa Gardner is a journalist and media trainer currently based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Her work speaks to conflict, new media and human rights in Asia and places particular focus on questions of digital security and freedom of expression.

Erchim FC claims first victory at AFC President’s Cup

May 4 (UB Post) Erchim FC claimed its first victory at the Group C tournament of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup 2014 by beating Cambodia’s Svarieng FC with 3:1 on the third day of the tournament on Saturday.
The Mongolian team will play against Manang Marshyangdi FC of Nepal today at 5 p.m.
Ulaanbaatar is hosting the Group C tournament for the first time and the matches are taking place at the football field of the Mongolian Football Federation.
S.Gal-Erdene, a 19-year-old player of Erchim FC, scored three goals in the match against Cambodia.
Over 3,000 supporters of Erchim came to see the match and were delighted with the victory.
The first match of the Group C tournament was Cambodia versus Nepal, and Manang of Nepal hammered its opponent 6:3.
It is Erchim FC’s third time competing in the AFC President’s Cup and the club placed fourth in last year’s cup.

Aimag clusters

May 4 (UB Post) It is not going to be enough to evaluate the development of our aimags just by looking at the number of strong wrestlers, fast racehorses, senior government officials, and celebrity artists they have produced. We need to focus more on what value those aimags are creating besides the extraction of mineral resources, their own expenditures, and what competitive advantages they have gained over others.
The wealth of a country is not necessarily dependent on its comparative advantages such as natural resources, access to the sea, and cheap labor. However, livelihood and quality of life are dependent on what the nation is creating at what cost.
Therefore, productivity is a basic measurement of development. It will be more precise to measure the development of a nation and its local provinces by evaluating the total value they create using the inputs of labor, material, and financial resources.
Levels of development are often defined by the competitiveness of businesses and companies. Every business acquires its competitive advantage by comparing itself with the best of the world and finding room for improvement. However, there needs to be fierce competition between domestic businesses and companies before a few of them become capable of entering the international market. Due to the fierceness of market competition, varying capability of suppliers, and high demand from domestic clients, companies are required to improve their competitiveness, thus, strongly establish their position in the market while producing huge profits.
In order to create a competitive advantage, companies face the need to perfect the quality of their goods and services, renew the process of creating valuebles, and bring about innovation. An advantage can also be acquired through redesigning products, introducing new marketing ideas, and providing training aimed at improving the efficiency of employees.
By the 1960s, Japan started working to make products developed by others more compact and user-friendly. As a result, they brought about a big change in the production of home appliances, not only inside the nation but throughout the world. They contributed greatly to increasing the total production and export of televisions, radios, air conditioners, and heaters.
Innovation today requires a particular skill to receive and process information. New initiatives can be triggered by many factors such as the introduction of a new company into the market, emergence of an unconventional leader, and a decision by a company to enter a different industry. In other words, innovation is the result of extraordinary efforts. New ideas are developed when there are tough situations and immediate threats to a business.
Fair competition between companies in a given industry boosts productivity.
In order to sustain its growth, a company needs to not only acquire competitiveness but also maintain it. Korean companies first took over Japan in the television industry and later introduced a change in the role of televisions. They were the first country to offer a service that allowed viewers to watch TV programs at a convenient time, use wireless connections to browse personal media files, and apply computer functions to televisions. Also, the Korean-driven competition between mobile phone manufacturers has given consumers an opportunity to choose from a larger pool of products.
Harvard professors concluded that a company’s location is essential to acquiring competitiveness. The word “business cluster” is translated as “khongortsog” in Mongolian. Kh.Gombojav came up with the translation of this term in 1951, along with its definition, which reads, “a geographical concentration of interconnected industries, diversified suppliers, logistics companies, industrial associations, and universities in a particular field.”
We need to talk about the existing possibility to establish a business cluster in each aimag in Mongolia. If we pursue a policy to support the emergence of many companies in the most appropriate, culturally adequate industry of a given aimag and increase their competition in the market, the productivity of those companies will increase significantly.
Companies compete with each other to obtain the most advanced technology and the most skilled workforce to produce the best products and services. Market competitors become stronger if they operate in the same town or personally know each other. Three of the best motorcycle manufacturers in Japan reside in Hamamatsu, while more than 100 decorative tile producers are concentrated in the town of Sassuolo in Italy. Similarly, there are about 300 crop producers in Selenge aimag. This concentration is helping them improve their productivity every year. Darkhan-Uul aimag has the potential to become a cluster for the leather goods and construction material industries. Market competitors that reside and operate in the same area demand fair competition from each other.
It is time for our government to conduct a policy aimed at developing industrial clusters in aimags and supporting their products in acquiring international competitiveness by encouraging market competition at the aimag level.
The government should also provide support in improving the quality of primary and secondary education, building basic infrastructure, and connecting businesses to research and development. One of the primary roles of the government is to set standards and requirements regarding health, safety, and environment, and ensure that companies are compliant with the rules. Sweden sets particularly high standards in the living environment of city dwellers and influenced Atlas Copco, a Swedish industrial company, to invent silent compressors that were later introduced to many of the largest cities in the world.
When the government sets prices and controls the exchange rates, it produces negative impacts on market competition and productivity in the long term. If a regulation from the government fails to achieve its purpose, its forced implementation costs a lot because it affects many business relations. The government should be setting standards instead of issuing business permits and not allow a monopoly to be established in any given industry.
If the government gets involved in the business sector, businesses get addicted to the “drugs” dealt by the government such as soft loans, procurement offers, and means of protection provided by the government. The only areas the government should involve itself in are entering the international market, preparing a skilled workforce, and building basic infrastructure such as roads, electric power, and water distribution.
The wealth of a nation is created by its companies and businesses, the productivity of which determines the nation’s level of development. The main factor that enhances productivity is not the government, but free competition. If many companies are concentrated in one location, market competition becomes fiercer. Each of our aimags needs to establish an industrial cluster that is built on their advantages.
Translated by B.AMAR
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