Development strategies, often imposed from ‘on high’ do not always reflect the needs of the local population, so decentralising them will make them more relevant on the ground. To achieve this it is important, first of all, to make all parties involved more accountable and behave more transparently, and secondly, to build up local capacity.
Sub-national governments play an important role in improving accountability, and locating policymaking at the local level fosters more inclusive ownership. At the same time, strengthening local bodies contributes to the legitimacy of the central state, as development strategies are seen to bring about change at the local level, as well as creating sustainable, participatory partnerships.
Panellists discussed how development cooperation can promote participatory policymaking; how local accountability can be strengthened; and heard examples of existing good practice and innovative ways to develop local capacity and address how involving local people in decision-making can improve services.
The panel began with the summary of a study on decentralisation, saying it was ‘a political reality’ for many development-partner governments, which, when done well, can improve service delivery and broaden political representation.
An example from the Anilao district in the Philippines demonstrated how involving the local population in decisions on service delivery changed the district from being poorly serviced to being one of the best-operating municipalities in the region. At the same time, local people were given a political role in managing their services. This depended on an enlightened local mayor bringing in ‘top-down’ reform, but it is often the result of local demand for more ‘bottom-up’ governance. For example, in Senegal, citizens wanted to improve the governance structure and the political process and to stamp out corruption. To enhance their capacity to become involved, the citizens asked for support from a civil society organisation (Transparency International).
The audience heard how many African governments have the political will to decentralise services and political power, but are stonewalled by the local administration, which argues that local elected officials lack the capacity to carry it out. The recent Busan Agreement stresses the importance of reinforcing institutions to help build local democracy and to build confidence between local governments and local communities.
The era of bypassing central or local governments and going directly to civil society organisations to provide services is over, so donors must work with central governments to strengthen local institutions. Unfortunately, many donor-funded initiatives demand immediate results, making it difficult to embark on this type of capacity building. Fortunately the European Commission is able to retain a long-term vision, accepting that capacity building is a sustained process.
Local municipalities may need incentives to improve service delivery. One suggestion was to create a ‘good governance’ label to reward effective local authorities for giving value for money. This would be a voluntary label, which would then give privileged access to more central government funding.
Decentralising government services will make officials more accountable and transparent, and allow a ‘joined-up’ approach to service delivery. One speaker suggested that if money is channelled through local government it is more likely to have a positive result ‘on the ground’ because the local population will stress the need for greater accountability, whereas a sectoral approach at the ministry level often results in funds ‘evaporating’.
At the same time decentralisation will engender a cross-cutting approach to public services, so that infrastructure projects such as transport, can be built to service other local needs, for example helping local entrepreneurs. This approach would also create more local funds through local taxation
Finally, it was stressed that decentralisation reform should be seen in the broader context of state reform, but in each case should be adapted to a country-specific environment. An example was shown in a film about how local communities had worked together with the authorities to improve sanitary provision in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Keynote speaker: Dr Klaus Veigel, Sector Economist, Policy Division Governance, KfW Development Bank, DeLoG Member
Risto Atanasovski, Manager, Foundation for Local and IT Development, Municipality of Gevgelija, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
François Bary, Director for Expertise and Quality, LuxDev
Teresa Debuque, Municipal Mayor of Anilao, the Philippines, President of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines-Iloilo Chapter
Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa
Jorge Rodriguez Bilbao, Directorate General for Development and Cooperation, European Commission
Dr Omar Saïp Sy, Director of Studies, Forum Civil, National Chapter of Transparency International in Senegal,
Moderator: Conny Czymoch, Journalist and Moderator
This High-Level Panel was organised by the the Practitioner's Network and DeLoG.
What is European Development Days?
Organised by the European Commission and the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, EDD is Europe's premier forum on international affairs and development cooperation. EDD has global reach and provides a collaborative platform bringing together thousands of development advocates, decision-makers and practitioners.
What are the key themes?
'Development and Democracy' is the 2011 edition's main theme and focus. Twenty years ago, Central and Eastern Europe experienced intense transitions. Last year saw the beginning of uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East. What better time than now to bring together the development community to take stock, analyse and review the links between political change and socio-economic progress.