Administration of Burma, British Colonial Period

Administration of Burma, British Colonial Period
   Following the formal annexation of Upper Burma in January 1886, Upper and Lower Burma were administered as a Province of the British Indian Empire. The country was subject to essentially the same laws and procedures as the Subcontinent, though the people, their customs, and their physical environments were quite different. The system was highly centralized and bureaucratized in Burma Proper (Upper and Lower Burma, also known after 1935 as "Ministerial Burma"). In 1897, the post of lieutenant governor of the province was established. Following the dyarchy reforms of 1923, Burma became a governor's province. Wielding executive authority and advised by a legislative council, the governor was answerable to the Viceroy of India.
   The idea of establishing indirect rule in Burma Proper, employing a relative of King Thibaw as puppet monarch, was discarded early on because a suitable royal candidate could not be found. The Upper Burma Village Regulation (1887) and the Burma Village Act (1889) led to the abolition of the myothugi, district chiefs under the precolonial system who had enjoyed considerable autonomy and popular support. They were replaced by village headmen who were mere functionaries of the colonial state. Governmental legitimacy and social stability suffered.
   The civil service bureaucracy was divided into two sections: the elite Indian Civil Service (ICS), who until the 1920s were entirely British, and the Provincial Civil Service, who included Burmese and Anglo-Burmese. By the beginning of the 20th century, specialized departments of the provincial government dealing with such matters as health, sanitation, education, veterinary science, agriculture, fisheries, etc., proliferated. Their specialized officials, responsible to departmental secretaries, operated independently of the local authorities and were coordinated by the Secretariat in Rangoon (Yangon). In April 1937, Burma became a Crown Colony, whose governor was responsible directly to the British government in London.
   Burma Proper contained eight (later seven) divisions: Arakan, Irrawaddy, Magwe, Mandalay, Meiktila, Pegu, Sagaing, and Tenasserim. These were subdivided into districts, subdivisions, townships, and village tracts. Administratively, the district (two or three per division) was the "pivot" of regional-local administration, supervised by deputy commissioners who had wide-ranging responsibilities. Although constitutional reforms allowed for a measure of selfgovernment during the 1920s and 1930s in "Ministerial Burma," the governor retained ultimate authority in vital areas such as defense and finances. He was also directly responsible for what became known as the Frontier Areas, where ethnic minorities, the so-called hill tribes, lived. Unlike Burma Proper, the Frontier Areas were allowed considerable autonomy in local administration, and rulers, such as the Shan sawbwas and Kachin duwas, retained their authority, if not their power. Several grades of "chiefs" were recognized by the British and were supervised by British residents. The five small Karenni states were not formally a part of British India but were in a "subordinate alliance" with the British government.
   Because of the administrative separation of "Burma Proper" and the Frontier Areas, the country was never governed as a single unit during the colonial period, which had serious implications for national unity after independence in 1948.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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