Documents and Videos of the October 12th, 1999 Meeting of the 


Hall of the Americas, Organization of American States

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Presentation by Elizabeth Spehar, Executive Coordinator
Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, OAS


Decentralization and the development of local governance with the participation of civil society are issues that have gained increasing importance, as the States of the hemisphere strengthen and consolidate democratic governance. This was clearly recognized by the Heads of State and Government at the Second Summit of the Americas of 1998. The Program of "Cooperation in Decentralization, Local Government and Citizen Participation" is the principal instrument through which the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) supports implementation of the mandate of the Second Summit of the Americas on "Strengthening Municipal and Regional Administrations". I would like to briefly inform you today on this program, focusing on its objectives and its activities during the current year.

This UPD Program of Cooperation simultaneously focuses on the Summit mandate relating to Civil Society, which calls inter alia for the OAS to serve as a forum for the exchange of experiences and information on civil society participation. Experience in the member states has pointed to the particular potential of the subnational levels of government for promoting and strengthening public sector-civil society dialogue and civil society participation in decision-making on public policy issues.

The Program of Cooperation has been developed within the Unit’s 1998 and 1999 Work Plans as approved by the Permanent Council of the Organization.

The technical guidelines for this UPD Program of Cooperation were formulated at a regional seminar, held in Caracas, Venezuela on May 12-13, 1997 with support from the Governments of Bolivia and Venezuela. Government participants at this meeting on "Support to Processes of Decentralization, Local Government and Citizen Participation" agreed on broad guidelines for a program, which would be developed by participating countries, with the support of the UPD. It was considered that assisting governments to develop the policy framework for decentralization, strengthening local government and promotion of citizen participation is one vital way that OAS/UPD can effectively contribute to hemispheric efforts in these areas. In particular, it was felt that the OAS Secretariat, with its privileged working relationship with central governments of the Member States, could make an important contribution to these issues by assisting central governments with policy formulation and implementation through a collective approach and by helping them to develop their capacity to coordinate, manage and promote decentralization and participatory processes in their countries.

The conclusions of a high level conference on "Governance, Democracy and Civil Society in the Caribbean Community", held in Barbados in September, 1997 also provided input into the Program of Cooperation. OAS/UPD was one of five agencies co-sponsoring that Conference.

Based on Summit mandates, the UPD Work Plan, the preparatory seminar and conference mentioned above, as well as ongoing consultations, the UPD Program of Cooperation in Decentralization, Local Government and Citizen Participation aims at :

Contributing to policy debate and serving as a forum for creation, dissemination an exchange of knowledge and information;

Supporting institution-building in central, local government, and civil society, principally through "horizontal cooperation" approaches among countries of the region;

Enhancing local governance through promoting increased citizen access and participation in public policy issues at the local level;

Collaborating with other agencies and institutions with mandates in the areas of the Program.

The program is organized sub-regionally: activities are undertaken with CARICOM states as one block; Central America and the Dominican Republic as another; and finally, the South American block, incorporating states of the Andean Community and the Southern Cone. We have found that the subregional approach facilitates information exchanges and the creation and dissemination of specialized knowledge, as well as the formation of subregional networks of technical and resource personnel working on these issues.

Within the subregional frameworks, program objectives are achieved through:

  • Seminars and experts’ meetings
  • Training workshops and short term courses;
  • Applied research, and information dissemination

Networks of experts formed under the Program are to be supported, inter alia by a specialized Internet Website, incorporating documentation from the Program’s meetings and other activities, providing links to other resource institutions, and encouraging contact and dialogue.

The following six basic program areas were targeted by the Caracas Seminar for analysis and cooperative action:

  • Legal and regulatory frameworks
  • Institutional development
  • Relations between central and local government authorities
  • Relations between legislatures and local authorities
  • Aspects of economic and social development relating to local governance
  • Information systems to support decentralization, local government and citizen participation.

All program activities are planned and implemented in collaboration with agencies and institutions in member states, and in 1999 the Program has aimed at deepening dialogue and examining the thematic areas identified by the first round of sub-regional meetings held in 1998, the year in which implementation was initiated, immediately following approval of the Summit mandates. Activities for 1999 are the following:

In Central America, a meeting of experts on "Facilitation of Municipal Training and Technical Assistance" was held in Roatan, Honduras from March 4-6, 1999, with the support of the Government of Honduras, and in collaboration with the Federation of Central American Municipalities (FEMCICA). The encounter brought together some fifty participants from central governments and municipal administrations, NGO’s, and regional and international cooperation agencies for an exchange of information on training and training methodologies available to municipal administrations in the subregion. Another important objective was promotion of more effective dialogue between those delivering training, such as agencies of the central governments, cooperation agencies, etc., as well as beneficiaries of the training. The meeting also served to gather information and initiate a regional data bank on municipal training and other information, being designed and administered by FEMICA with funds from USAID.

In the Andean Community and Southern Cone, the second seminar on "Frameworks and Policies for Citizen Participation at the Municipal Level" was held in collaboration with the Government of Argentina in Buenos Aires, May 17-19, 1999. Senior officials from twelve member states (representing the Andean Community, Southern Cone, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the United States) attended the meeting, as well as some 300 local participants. The meeting facilitated information exchange among senior policy-makers, academic institutions and international agencies and a wide variety of civil society organizations on legal and regulatory frameworks for decentralization, and through small workshops examined interesting and innovative experiences in citizen participation at the municipal level. In its conclusions, the meeting supported the continuation of a permanent forum for systematic study and exchange of experiences in municipal-level participation which had been launched the previous year in Bolivia during the first seminar on this subject. A formal request has been received from the Government of the Dominican Republic to host the third seminar early in the year 2000, in the framework of what is now known as the Permanent Forum for Citizens’s Participation at the Municipal Level.

Also at the request of the Government of Ecuador and the Andean Parliament, the project "Decentralization and Citizen Participation in Local Government" has been initiated in the Andean Community in the final quarter of 1999. This is an integrated three-part activity, consisting of a) research papers on the legal framework for decentralization and participation in each member state of the Andean community; b) a sub-regional seminar in Ecuador to bring together regional parliamentarians, central and local authorities and representatives of civil society on this issue; and c) drafting of model framework legislation on decentralization and participation in the Andean Community. The Central American Parliament has expressed interest in a similar integrated activity for that sub-region.

In the Caribbean, consultations are in progress for an activity related to enhancing citizen participation at the local level in the member states of the Caribbean community (CARICOM) but it has not been finalized at the time of this report. In addition, UPD has been approached by two institutions for collaboration on activities in the Caribbean: a training course on decentralization and participation policy (University Madre y Maestre in the Dominican Republic) and a meeting on exchanges of experiences in community participation (International City/County Management Association, ICMA, based in Washington, D.C.).

The training component of the Program of Cooperation was developed this year through two courses supported by the governments of Colombia and Argentina, and in collaboration with the Department of Fellowships. Courses were for participants from the Andean Community, as well as MERCOSUR and associated states. These pilot experiences were received enthusiastically and are currently being evaluated through a methodology incorporating recommendations from course participants, with a view to defining demand in specific areas. The courses aim at bringing together key players in decentralization and participation (specifically central and local authorities, civil society organizations including NGOs and the communications media) for training and exchanges of information and experiences on decentralization and public participation policy development.

The program’s Website was posted on the UPD home page in May of 1999, and is being further developed to meet expressed needs. Efforts are also being made to develop a data bank of technical resource personnel in the area of decentralization and participation and to publish innovative papers from activities implemented to date.

With respect to other initiatives relating to the mandate on Municipal and Regional Administrations, the increasing importance of the issues of decentralization and of participation by civil society as public policy issues has led to a number of important international meetings and activities on these topics, such as the annual inter-American mayors’ conferences, which will no doubt be elaborated on by Dr. Allan Rosenbaum whose presentation is scheduled for today’s agenda. Another interesting development is the formation of the International Forum for Cooperation on Local Government in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This forum, convened by the IDB and with the International City/County Management Association of the US serving as technical secretariat, comprises a broad group of agencies and countries active in the issue of local government. Following informal consultations, and a decision in principle to establish such a forum during the annual meeting of the IDB in Paris in mid-March 1999, a technical meeting took place in Washington, D.C. in June 1999 at which agencies shared information on programs being implemented and identified key areas such as training and capacity building, Website, continued information exchanges and possible joint activities. The UPD participated in the meeting and intends to remain an active member of this Forum. A major aim of the Forum is more effective coordination among agencies for the benefit of the decentralization process and strengthening of local government.

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