Forum meets to discuss key issuesLocal governance key to stability [Archives:2003/692/Local News]

December 8 2003

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Organized by the UNDP's Regional Bureau of Arab States (RBAS), a four-day Arab States Local Governance Forum has been held to strengthen democratic decentralization and local governance in Arab states.
The forum was to provide a platform for building advocacy networks throughout the region, and provide a space for networking, and documenting best practices and lessons for the region.
The event was intended to be a policy-oriented event of concrete relevance and utility to the participants, so they will have the chance to learn from the past experience of multiple stakeholders and define future directions and strategies for improving local governance in the region through local efforts.
In his speech, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, UNDP Deputy Regional Director, said that holding this forum has been a priority for the Arab Sates Bureau and UNDP “due to the critical importance of local governance for overall governance.
“Without the involvement of local governance within the decision-making processes and systems of central government, good governance can not materialize. It is the integration of all levels of government with its citizens that defines good democratic governance.”
He pointed out that the Arab States region has shown progress in the area of local governance over the last several years as some of these countries have instituted local elections.
Many have renewed municipal legislation, introduced new regulations and invested in building the capacity of local authorities.
He said that governance is UNDP's main area of focus, and thus as a globally networked organization, we can provide both the lessons learned and best practices found around the world.
Arab States country offices have used or will be using a variety of entry-points including: policy issues and support for legislative reform; information and communication technology or reinforce participatory processes; engaging citizens and local communities in policy dialogue, agenda-setting and local/municipal affairs; strengthening the role of the non-governmental organizations in local governance; introducing municipal elections; strengthening the capacity of local governments in participatory planning; promoting women's participation; supporting fiscal decentralization; and developing public service delivery structures, he said.
He also said that the UNDP will be working with governments in the region on providing e-governance solutions on all levels.
James Rawley, UNDP resident representative in Yemen highlighted some of the good steps Yemen has taken in terms of local governance as well as at the political and economic levels.
In spite of these achievements, according to Rawley, Yemen continues to be classified as one of the least developed countries in the world. He said that Yemen's government started reforms with respect to local governance but to him, “the government fully recognizes that decentralization reforms are not yet always felt on the ground.”
These years after their election, most district local authorities do not yet function as the law intends them to. Indeed, with some notable exceptions, councils do not yet have the administrative capacity to plan for their jurisdictions' development, nor do they possess sufficient financial resources for local service delivery.
And much work has to be done to establish mechanisms for holding local authorities accountable, he said
According to Rawley, decentralization reforms everywhere, and certainly in Yemen, raise formidable implementation challenges of both an administrative and fiscal nature.
“For decentralization to be formidable, newly created local authorities need support for the development of local administrative and technical capacities and require adequate funds to address local needs,” he stressed.
He said that decentralization and local governance can be key factors on the path towards promoting and enhancing equitable human development in the region, adding that the decentralization initiative in Yemen is both sincere and ambitious. However, making decentralization a reality presents an enormous challenge for Yemen.
A press release issued by UNDP/ Yemen office said that many Arab countries in the region have undertaken some steps to strengthen local governance to improve public participation and the delivery of basic services.
However, these efforts are faced by some challenges, mainly uneven commitment to reform. Many of the country-led local governance initiatives have been restricted to the administrative aspects of decentralization rather than encompassing its political or fiscal aspects as well.
Decentralization has not always been accompanied by the necessary changes in power, financial resources, technical capacity or institutional know-how. These makes the undermined local authorities unable to meet expectations and this erodes participation which is very important for good local governance.
The event addressed several other issues related to local governance, like national legal frameworks and the regional disparities in local governance, international innovations and good practices in local governance, decentralization and empowerment, fiscal decentralization, development and service delivery.
The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, a regional NGO, was contracted to be the substantive facilitator of the event in which a number of Arab and foreign countries, UN agencies, GTZ and various other NGOs took part.