Monday, August 18, 2014

Mongolia Brief August 15, 2014 Part IV

Russian Ambassador: We will reach agreement on Mongolian issues
By Ch. Khaliun
August 17 (UB Post) Zuunii Medee spoke frankly with with I.K.Azizov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Mongolia, ahead of President Putin’s upcoming state visit, and discussed bilateral relations and upcoming negotiations.

We have only two neighbor countries and our citizens have always shown a fondness for Russia. Even now, we use the term “brothers”.
It’s probably a tradition from the Soviet Union. I know that in Asia, fraternity is designated as older or younger brothers. I guess that the word “brother” is respectful, but I prohibit using this term, because I don’t want to insult Mongolians by saying something domineering, like “You’re our younger brothers and we are your older brothers.” Therefore, we can’t define our current relations this way.
That’s why we are pretty interested in President Putin’s visit after 14 years.
We are planning President Putin’s visit in accordance with the 75th anniversary of the Battles of Khalkhiin Gol. I’ll stress one more time that we are planning. I’m saying this because we didn’t officially announce the date of the visit. In a diplomatic manner, both sides have discussed the date of the visit and publicizing it seven to ten days in advance, but if diplomats are planning a visit, there is a high probability that the visit will be organized. Bilateral preparations are taking place.
Mongolians are expecting so much from Putin’s visit. For example, setting gas lines from Russia to China through Mongolia. Of course, the Ulaanbaatariin Tunkhaglal (UB Declaration) is an important document. However, we can’t see improvements to economic ties and investment issues. We haven’t implemented any major economic projects. Do you think we will establish an agreement on a project which could be an economic boom?
We have been looking for chances to strengthen our friendly relations. I don’t agree with you that there have been no improvements to bilateral relations since 2000. If we want to use the term “boom”, cancelling 97.8 percent of Mongolian debt can apply. This set the Mongolian economy free and positively influenced drawing in external investment for multilateral projects. In December 2012, both sides contributed 125,000 USD to the railway’s statutory fund. UB Railway is actually a uniquely Mongolian international transport line. Since January, Russia and Mongolia have been actively discussing establishing a negotiation on bilateral exemptions of visas for citizens, for the first of next year. Reaching an agreement on that issue will be a historic event for our relations.  Moreover, since 2000, major industries like Erdenet and Mongolrostsvetment made significant technological renovations. So we can’t say that our relations aren’t moving forward, or that they’ve stopped. Also, both sides actively discussed a project for a new railway in 2009 and 2011. If you are asking if we will make a major agreement, as expected by the public, my answer is yes. Also, there will be decisions made that won’t make headlines.
Then will the issue on setting up a gas line through Mongolia be approached again? Or has it already been decided that the gas line from Russia to China will not pass through Mongolia?
As President Putin said, setting the gas line to the east is already obvious, but it won’t pass through Mongolia. Also, we are planning to set up a gas line to China in the west. We are actively discussing the operation of those gas lines with the Chinese side.
What is your opinion on bilateral visa exemptions?
We have information that from Mongolia to Russia, 600,000 people travel in duplicated numbers, whereas from Russia to Mongolia, it’s 100,000 people. From our experience, we’ve noticed that after exempting visa requirements, the number of travelers surges. If we reach this agreement on visa exemption, then multilateral relations will improve in business, humanity, culture, science, education, sport and tourism.

Opposition parties call for dissolution of the Reform Government
By Ch. Khaliun
August 17 (UB Post) Thirteen parties without seats in Parliament announced that they are submitting a call for the immediate resignation of the Reform Government. They want an irregular session of Parliament held to decide the issue before the state visits of the heads of China and Russia.
Mongolia is placing high priority on these visits, and the opposition parties believe the Reform Government doesn’t have any legal or ethical standing in front of the foreign leaders. The party representatives previously announced eight grounds for dissolution of the government, and are now presenting one more reason. Party leaders consider the violation of justice by Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag a strong enough reason to dissolve the government.
Court Chairman of the Hamug Mongol Labor Party, Ts.Shinebayar said, “Sacking money for decreasing UB’s pollution, which is already out of control, is not an ordinary matter. It is the same matter as using financial assistance for an earthquake, war or tsunami, so a person who embezzles that kind of money should be doubly charged and carry the responsibility. That’s why defending such a person shows us how cynical a person the PM is.”
Leader of the Green Party O.Bum-Yalagch added, “No matter if the party has seats in the Parliament or not, regarding the law on political parties, our major duty is to implicitly control if the government is working within the law. At this time, when we have opponents failing in their duties, the controls of the political parties are very important. So that’s why we are requiring dissolving the Government.”
From 1990 to 2012, Mongolian foreign debt was 5 billion MNT, but in the two years following the formation of the Reform Government, this amount has surged four times. Opponents say that they have spent money from the Chinggis Bond without any policy, purpose or calculation and now the country is experiencing an economic depression. National debt is now twice as high as the GDP, and critics believe this is evidence that the Mongolian economy is completely dependent on foreign countries.

Student-Soldiers take oath
By D. Sergelen
August 17 (UB Post) The oath taking ceremony of the student-soldiers program was held at Chinggis Square on Wednesday. Over 418 freshmen of 42 universities and other higher learning institutes are taking part in the student-soldier program. The President of Mongolia and Commander in Chief of the Mongolian Armed Force, Ts.Elbegdorj attended in the ceremony and stressed, “Taking an oath for the homeland is a real contribution of a soldier. As soon as you meet requirements and are ready at any given time, you can consider your-self a real soldier. Taking an oath is not a typical ceremony because a soldier’s oath is as valuable as our homeland and human life. There is no right to refuse or violate the oath and this program will continue and expand in the future.”The student-soldiers have studied 560 hours of lessons each, out which, two months were de-voted to soldier training and nine lessons on tac-tics, military rules, physical training, marching in formation, military communications training, engineering, weaponry, survival, and firefighting. The trainings took place at the 119th Military Unit base.

Cars parked on first lanes to be wheel-clamped starting next week
By A. Oyunzul
August 17 (UB Post) Starting next week, vehicles parked on the first lanes of main roads will be wheel-clamped for violating parking regulations as a penalty, instead of being towed away. The capital city begun towing away vehicles parked on the first lanes of main road this year.
Kh.Odbayar, crime prevention inspector of the Traffic Police Department, spoke to journalists about the new regulation and its implementation.
Wheel clamps will soon be put into action. When will this start?
On June 26, the City Council approved the “Clamping procedure” through its 98th resolution. Pursuant to this procedure, vehicles will be wheel-clamped for violating parking regulations. This will start on the 18th of this month.
Is there any reason for the new wheel-clamping regulation? If this is put into action, will vehicles parked on first lanes still be towed away?
The operation of towing vehicles that parked in a prohibited area or in front of a driveway was carried out by the Road Traffic Management. During operation, citizens made complaints about very high fines, and the location of temporary custody. Therefore, considering citizen’s complaints, we decided to wheel-clamp vehicles. Putting cars into temporary custody will of course proceed. If a vehicle is parked on the first lane of downtown roads like Ikh Toiruu and Seoul District, they will be towed away and wheel-clamped.
How much is the fine for vehicles that have been wheel-clamped?
It is 20,000 MNT. If drivers don’t pay their fines within work hours of the day their vehicles are clamped, we will put it in temporary custody. If a driver comes before it is wheel-clamped, a photo will be taken as proof and a parking ticket will be delivered to the driver’s address. Also, if parked in a prohibited space, the vehicle will be clamped and traffic police will put contact details on the windshield.
It is said that drivers will have to pay to drive on main roads. Are there any complaints from citizen?
Proposals about paying 40 thousand MNT to 50 thousand MNT to drive on central roads was faced with many complaints, while some citizens approved of this proposal. Discussion about this issue is still being held on the internet. The Mayor hasn’t issued an official order.
Traffic is going to be quite busy due to the start of school activities. What actions will be held by your department?
Each year, traffic gets busy starting September 1. Last year, we managed this by prohibiting cars that had license plate numbers that ended with even and odd numbers on certain weekdays. Citizens appreciated this action. We have planned a similar course and made a proposal to Mayor of Ulaanbaatar. We are also planning to carry out a public poll on this matter.

Private sector calls for action from Mongol Bank
By B. Mendbayar
August 17 (UB Post) Representatives of several private sector organizations, including the Con-federation of Mongolian Trade Unions, Mongolian Employers Federation, Mongolia Energy Association, CEO Club of Mongolia and the Mongolian National Mining Association, urged Mongol Bank to intensify the implementation of monetary policy to stabilize foreign currency exchange rates.
The private sector organizations said, “The private sector is facing considerable losses due to the foreign exchange rate in-crease. The USD exchange rate increase is raising the price of goods and under-mining citizens’ purchasing power, thus pressuring national industries and domes-tic traders.”
Mongol Bank is legally responsible for maintaining the stability of national currency. Accordingly, Mongol Bank must implement appropriate monetary policy and maintain economic growth. The entrepreneurs criticized Mongol Bank for not taking any other measures aside from increasing policy interest rates at a time when economic growth is in decline due to continuous foreign ex-change rate increases. They warned about the possible negative repercussions of increasing policy interest rates during a press conference, and emphasized that the measures companies are taking, including furloughing workers and unpaid vacations, in order to overcome current economic decline, are undermining citizens’ lives. They also noted that exchange rate fluctuations have resulted in increased un-employment.
As of the convening day, the USD exchange rate was 1,899 MNT and likely to increase. The representatives noted that increasing policy interest rates was not an appropriate measure at this time. They propose that Parliament conduct a realistic analysis of the current economic and social situation of Mongolia and take urgent measures to stabilize exchange rates.
Below is the claim urging Mongol Bank and Parliament to stabilize ex-change rate fluctuations and intensify the implementation of monetary policy:
1. To discuss the report by the CEO of Mongol Bank on measures taken to stabilize exchange rate fluctuations, maintain the MNT exchange rate against foreign currency, maintain MNT purchasing power, the implementation of monetary policy through Parliament, and take concrete measures
2. To listen to the opinions and ideas of private sector organizations on the means to stabilize exchange rate fluctuations
3. To establish a working group with state and private sector participation which would accurately estimate the losses citizens and entrepreneurs have faced due to exchange rate instability, and figure out the means to resolve the estimated losses
4. To quickly implement concrete measures to stabilize exchange rates and MNT depreciation
They also emphasized the necessity of quickly approving a law that will require all export related transactions to be made through Mongolian bank accounts, categorizing government bond resources such as the Chinggis Bond and Samurai Bond as foreign exchange income, and supporting projects with available investment in order to increase foreign investment. In addition, they reminded Mongol Bank and Parliament that restarting currently delayed major projects ready for action would add to the state budget and increase export. The organizations asked Mongol Bank and Parliament to impose a special tax on unfair income derived from the exchange rate increase and grant in-come tax refunds to citizens and companies affected by exchange rate pressures this year. They requested that Mongol Bank and Parliament figure out and implement short-term measures to overcome the economic crisis in association with social partners.

Park Ranger: I will protect this land until I die
By Chris Geminiano
August 17 (UB Post) Mongolia is a landscape of great diversity and great beauty. One such unique area is the Ikh Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve in the Dundgovi Province. Known as the birthplace of famed long singer, Namjilyn Norovbanzad, these steppes continue to inspire long singers, naturists, nomads and visitors alike.
M. Munkhochir, a park ranger with the Ministry of Environment and Green Development at Ikh Gazriin Chuluu agreed to speak with the UB Post about his job and the region but refused to be photographed.
What is your role as park ranger?
As a park ranger, I try to protect and keep the shape of the natural landscape. I protect the habitat of the animals from illegal hunters, and safeguard ancient burial grounds. I also help campers by guiding them and showing them the area, telling them where they can stay and legally and safely set campfires
How long have you been at your post?
Six years. But my predecessor was a trailblazer. He did a lot of work to make this place a protected area. He did a lot of research, and in 2003, he presented it to the government. This led to the area becoming the first level of national parks- reserve land. He knew that this place is an important place for Mongolians. Many years ago, there weren’t as many tourists here, so before it was a national park, the land was free for everyone. My predecessor was just a volunteer at the time and did this job on his own time, paying for his own gasoline and other expenses. He worked relentlessly with state officials to make the area a national park.
What are some of the issues you’ve encountered in this job?
Of course, there have been some problems during my six-year tenure. Campers set fires everywhere and that’s very common. They set their tents and have fires without being known and they can leave their trash everywhere. The land is very big for one person to protect. Outsiders enter the park from everywhere because there are several roads into the area. People have also dug up a burial without permission. A local tipped me, and I caught the grave diggers with my camera, so I handed them over to the police. I haven’t dealt with illegal hunters because the locals work very closely with me. They also inform me of any suspicious activity and tell me right away if there is a problem. That’s why it’s hard for illegal hunters. The locals are very protective of the wild animals and respect them.
Are you originally from here?
Yes, I’m from the western side of the rock area, around the national park.
How much do you know about Namjilyn Norovbanzad, the famous long singer who is from this area?
There is a stage that was made in honor of her. It’s Mongolia’s first and largest permanent open-air stage. During my tenure, there have been about four or five concerts. Each year, the concert has had a different name and a different theme. Last year there was a really big international festival. This year they announced that they were having a concert, but it hasn’t happened yet. Either there is no set date, or it may not be held. The stage opened in 2006, a few years after her death. Before she passed away, she came back to visit her hometown. She was born between Deren and Gurvansaikhan soum. The exact birthplace is about 15 km from the memorial stage. They also built a memorial statue, and together with the stage and her birthplace, it is built as one straight line.
What do you like most about your job?
My favorite thing about this job is being able to keep this land beautiful. This is where I grew up and I’m very proud of being able to watch over this landscape.
What is the hardest thing about your job?
The hardest thing to deal with is the fact that campers leave their trash. It makes me sad. They should take back the garbage that they bring with them from the city. If they brought it here, how can they not have room in their cars to bring it back?
Why is protecting the environment so important to you?
This area of the Gobi has such beauty. It used to be the bottom of the sea. The structure of the steppes and the way it’s built attracts a lot of people. If I’m not here, there could be a big mess. So I must watch over this area and keep it as natural as possible. The wild animals could be hunted and burials will be destroyed. Fortunately, lots of campers also help preserve the land by cleaning their mess.
The mining industry has boosted the Mongolian economy. What’s your opinion of mining companies coming into this environment to extract from the land?
Within 70 or 80 milometers from here, there used to be several mining companies. My department, as well as the locals, pushed or are pushing hard to close these companies, because the locals are very respectful of the area. Mining isn’t good for the cattle and damages the environment. There are four levels of national parks. Currently this park is on the third tier, so it’s almost at the highest level of protected national park.
But what if the mining is sustainable?
Well, we are fighting to keep it as natural as possible. The locals in this area are making enough income to feed themselves, so they don’t really need more money from mining.
How long do you see yourself doing this job?
I’m going to work until I can’t work anymore or until the day I die. Typically those in my position retire early. But once I reach that age I’m still allowed to continue the job. This is why I’d like to keep doing this.
Link to interview

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