Unit for the Promotion of Democracy General Secretariat,
Organization of American States

Program of Cooperation in Decentralization, Local Government and Citizen Participation

I. Introduction

Decentralization and the development of local government with the participation of civil society have gained increasing importance, as the States of the hemisphere strengthen and consolidate democratic governance. The Plan of Action of the Second Summit of the Americas held in Santiago, Chile in April 1998 contains a mandate on "Strengthening Municipal and Regional Administrations" which, in essence, calls for:

· Establishing or strengthening mechanisms for participation of groups of society in the process of local and other subnational decision-making, and promoting transparency in local and other subnational Government finance operations;

· Providing financing options for local and other subnational Governments, in order to expand the delivery of quality services as well as provide for training opportunities to strengthen local and other subnational administrative capabilities;

· Studying the possible transfer of additional national government functions to local and other subnational levels as well as the possibility for enhancing such authorities;

· Sharing experiences and information from existing and future programs supported by multilateral and bilateral cooperation institutions.

Decentralization and local government open up space for autonomous local development and service delivery, and for increased participation by civil society in public decision-making at the local level. In its mandate relating to "Civil Society", the Summit Plan of Action calls, inter alia for:

· The encouragement of public sector-civil society dialogue and partnerships in pertinent areas of the Plan of Action;

· The OAS to serve as a forum for the exchange of experiences and information;

· The promotion of appropriate programs to implement the Summit initiative on Civil Society.

The Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD), as the Unit within the General Secretariat of the OAS mandated to provide support to Member States in consolidating their democratic systems and institutions, is contributing to OAS efforts in both of these areas of the Summit Plan of Action, through a "Program of Cooperation in Decentralization, Local Government and Citizen Participation". This Program is included in the Unit's 1998 and 1999 Work Plans approved by the Permanent Council.

II. Preparatory Consultations

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.

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

III. General Objectives

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 and 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.

IV. Organization

The program is organized sub-regionally: CARICOM; Central America and the Dominican Republic; South America (States of the Andean Community and the Southern Cone). This facilitates information exchanges and creation and dissemination of specialized knowledge, as well as formation of subregional networks of technical and resource personnel working on these issues.

V. Instruments

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, links to other resource institutions, and dialogue.

VI. Program Areas

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

VII. Subregional Activities in 1998

a. CARICOM States

The Program of Cooperation in the Caribbean was initiated with a subregional meeting for CARICOM member States in Kingston, Jamaica on June 8 and 9, 1998. Organized in collaboration with the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of the West Indies (Mona Campus), the meeting took the form of a Workshop for senior policy-makers to analyze the topic "Local Government, Communitarianism and the Citizen: Opportunities and Challenges". Some forty participants from twelve countries highlighted the following areas as subregional priorities for the Program of Cooperation:

· Capacity and institution-building; · Local development and community participatory planning; · Sharing and dissemination of information on local governance and citizen participation; · Assistance to the newly formed Caribbean Ombudsman Association.

b. Central America and the Dominican Republic

San Rafael de Heredia, Costa Rica was the venue of the meeting for Central America and the Dominican Republic, held on July 23-24, 1998. Organized in collaboration with the Federation of Municipalities of the Central American Isthmus (FEMICA), the meeting brought together some sixty senior national policy makers, mayors and representatives of international agencies to analyze pilot experiences and cases of successful local public service delivery, based on the theme "New Public Management Models in the Framework of the Decentralization Process: Water, Education, and Rural Roads". This analysis was aimed at extracting lessons from these experiences which could be instructive for policy formulation for the transfer of responsibilities from the central to the local level.

The meeting also examined ways to strengthen local governance for effective and efficient public service delivery. A special feature was a roundtable discussion with presidents of Social Investment Funds in the subregion, to examine the role of these funds in supporting local development and community participation. The meeting made specific requests for horizontal cooperation and follow-up by OAS/UPD and FEMICA to further examine policy-making for transfer of responsibilities from the central to the local level, incorporating citizen participation.

c. Andean Community and Southern Cone

A seminar on "Frameworks and Policies for Citizen Participation at the Municipal Level" was held in collaboration with the Government of Bolivia in Cochabamba, July 29-31, 1998. The meeting facilitated information exchange among some eighty senior policy-makers, academic and international agencies and other participants, on legal and regulatory framework for decentralization, as well as the status of citizen participation in local government in the twelve member States present. In a Declaration at the close of the meeting, participants called, inter alia, for a permanent forum for systematic study and exchange of experiences in citizen participation at the municipal level, including institutionalization of an annual meeting on this subject. The government of Argentina offered to host the meeting of 1999.

d. Other Activities

In addition to the above major activities, UPD was among the co-sponsors of a CARICOM Workshop held in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, September 28-29 1998, on "Effective Youth Participation in Civil Society". That meeting established the basis for continued collaboration with the CARICOM Secretariat on youth issues, particularly youth participation at the municipal and community levels, and youth leadership training. UPD also collaborated with the Tenth Latin American Congress of Municipal Legislators by commissioning one of the background discussion papers presented at that Congress, which took place in La Paz, Bolivia on December 2-5, 1998.

VIII. Summary of Program Results in 1998

To date, the subregional meetings of the Program of Cooperation have: produced five background or research papers, and three final reports which are in publication; promoted subregional dialogue and information exchanges; defined subregional priorities for action within the Program of Cooperation; promoted collaborative relations with institutions in Member States; and formed three subregional networks of officials and resource personnel.

IX. Program Activities for 1999

In collaboration with agencies in the member countries, the UPD is currently implementing and planning the 1999 activities of this Program of Cooperation, with the objective of deepening dialogue and examination of the areas identified by the 1998 meetings. Funds permitting, the Program currently aims at featuring one experts' meeting, one training activity and one research activity for each subregion. The program's Internet Website on the UPD Home page should be completed in the first semester of 1999.

The following subregional meetings have been scheduled:

- March 4-6, 1999: Meeting in Roatán, Honduras for the States of Central America on "Second Meeting on Facilitation of Municipal Training and Technical Assistance."

- May 17-19, 1999: Seminar in Argentina for the States of South America, Canada, the United States, the Dominican Republic and Mexico on the subject "Policies and Frameworks for Citizen Participation at the Municipal Level", the first of the annual follow-up meetings to the one on the same subject held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in July 1998.

Also being implemented or planned for the second semester of 1999 are:

- An integrated activity in collaboration with the Andean Parliament and the Government of Ecuador, on the legal framework for decentralization and citizen participation in the Andean Community. The activity consists of the following components: research, seminar, draft model framework legislation.

- A subregional meeting on community participatory planning at the local level for the States of CARICOM.

- Two short term courses, in coordination with academic and government institutions in the Member States, as well as with the OAS Department of Fellowships:

· Certificate course in "Decentralization with Emphasis on Local Management and Finance, Planning and Local Social Policy", to be held at the Javeriana University in Bogota, Colombia, June 20-30, 1999.

· Course in "Decentralization and Local Governments with emphasis on Citizen Participation", to take place at the University of El Salvador, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 8-18, 1999.

SG/UPD May 07, 1999