Local and regional governments and authorities play an important role in effective and inclusive development. Providers of basic services and the closest level of government to citizens, we are well placed to target and identify the needs of our territories’ most vulnerable people. As actors of democratic governance, we broaden ownership of development processes and strengthen domestic accountability.
We believe that democracy not only supports development initiatives – it is also the reason for welfare actions that reach all citizens. The Busan outcome document stresses local and regional governments’ as well as parliaments’ critical roles in linking citizens to governments, ensuring broad-based and democratic ownership of countries’ development agendas. It proposes further support to help local governments go even further above and beyond service delivery, enhancing sub-national participation and accountability.
Local and regional governments should become more effective organisations for democracy, and the state’s power more fairly distributed with guaranteed back and forward relations between sub-national and central governments. Allowing local and regional governments more autonomy would develop an atmosphere of shared responsibilities and interests among them.
The Busan document also recommends supporting developing countries’ leadership in implementing institutional and policy changes, improving resource mobilisation and service delivery, including for sub-national institutions. Formulations of decentralisation are written in basically all constitutions and government agendas – but experience tells us there is a great gap between these and reality. This is mainly because of local governments’ scarce resources, which generally arrive out of time and with huge bureaucracy.
Regions United has formed an international roadmap to improve local and regional governments’ enabling environment for sub-national Busan implementation, to be launched during the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation’s High Level Meeting in Mexico in April 2014. This will address fundamental questions for local and regional governments, such as:
- – effective decentralisation;
- – effective development of technical, administrative and financial capacities;
- – access to disaggregated statistical data and statistical capacity development;
- – legal protection of status;
- – right of association; and
- – international relations and effective participation in international governance.
Sub-national level resource mobilisation needs special mention. The share of funds available to accomplish local and regional governments’ growing responsibilities is often inadequate, particularly in developing countries. This is worsened by low autonomy in financial management, while sub-national level taxation remains underdeveloped. Local and regional governments need a truly enabling environment, with capacities and resources to match our responsibilities for effective development.
It is in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia’s least advanced countries that local and regional governments’ means are weakest.
A case study on sub-national domestic resource mobilisation and fiscal decentralisation in Africa will address this at the Mexico High Level Meeting. The meeting can also help catalyse local and regional governments’ involvement in implementing the Busan agenda. One decision to be made relates to the Global Partnership Steering Committee. Permanent presence of a representative of local and regional government on the Steering Committee, which we became observers to in October 2013, will send a strong message to our constituency, fostering sustained involvement in the process.
The other major challenge ahead is the Global Partnership monitoring framework, which has no specific indicator to measure sub-national governments’ contribution to implementing Busan’s commitments. The two references to the sub-national level are the proposal to include local and regional governments in country dialogue, particularly on mutual accountability assessments, and using gender-specific indicators at local/regional level. These should be complemented with specific targets and indicators to help us measure whether our action is well targeted and our contribution to development progressively effective.
Paúl Carrasco is President of the United Regions Organization/FOGAR, which represents Regions around the world within international organisations promoting a global policy of balanced development and territorial cohesion. He is also Vice-president of United Cities and Local Governments, and Prefect of the Province of Azuay, Ecuador. (firstname.lastname@example.org)