Mongolia holds National Consultation on Legal Empowerment of the Poor
Legal empowerment of the poor is an internationally recognized concept which aims to tackle underlying causes of poverty that are related to legal framework, including both the actual laws and the way the laws are implemented. While this may sound reasonable, it is still general and abstract, and does not help much in changing legal and policy environment for the poor.
The National Consultation on Legal Empowerment of the Poor held on 27 March 2013 brought this concept to local context and rediscovered it through life experiences of ordinary people and small business owners as well as policy makers who attempt to reduce poverty but face various challenges.
A 30 minute drama played live on the stage of the meeting hall was quite a surprise to everyone. Preceding formal opening speeches, the drama set the tone of the meeting and conveyed the key messages. A young rural woman running a small eatery struggles to get a loan to expand her business, but encounters barriers related to unrealistic high criteria, dubious procedures, and bureaucratic red tape. Soon she receives an order from the village administration to close the business, again with no justification other than “complaints from citizens”. Unable to overcome these hurdles and social pressure against a woman running her own business, she gives up and decides to move to the city.
The National LEP consultation had four parallel sessions: Access to justice, labour rights, property rights and business rights. Each of the sessions was full of stories and evidences where individuals or groups are unable to escape poverty because of certain provisions of laws or certain procedures that had been adopted to implement laws:
“My name was spelled wrong in the civil registration database, the reason for not being able to get my social welfare payments. I am an elderly person who also takes care of my orphan grandchildren”.
“I am a judge and I have to keep neutrality, but I see that stamp duty for civil cases really affects access to justice by the poor. Poor people do not get proper legal service. As a result, they fail to submit all necessary documents which may significantly affect the outcome of court decisions”.
“If we enforce all the standards, the majority of small businesses would need to be closed”.
The National LEP consultation was co-organized by the Ministry of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia, and attended by representatives from the Ministry of Labour, General Authority for Civil Registration, General Police Department, trade unions and employers’ association. One of the key conclusions of the meeting was that some policies and programmes designed for poverty reduction actually benefit medium and large businesses and wealthy herders. Instead of protecting the poor, some laws and procedures actually exclude them.
Recommendations of the consultative meeting will be presented to the Parliament of Mongolia and will be used in policy advocacy, both at national and local levels.