The Role of Local Governements: Leadership in Sustainability
The session was chaired by Mr. Wim Deetman, Mayor of The Hague, President, Association of Netherlands Municipalities, and moderated by Ms. Elisabeth Gateau, Secretary-General, UCLG, Spain. Speakers included Mrs. Tibaijuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director, UN‑Habitat; Mr. Simon Compaoré, Mayor of Ouagadougou, President of the Association des Maires du Burkina Faso; Mr. David Bronconnier, Mayor of Calgary, Canada; Mr. João Avamileno, Mayor of Santo André, Executive Secretary of Mercociudades, Brazil; and Ms. Sebilla Dekker, Minister of Housing, the Netherlands.
It was felt that the session came at a significant moment in the international dialogue on decentralization. As a result of many years of local-government lobbying towards a world charter on local self-government, draft guidelines on decentralization had been developed through close partnership between local governments and UN-Habitat. Local governments were calling on central governments not to let the opportunity pass and invited all their partners to carry out lobbying work to facilitate the adoption of the guidelines by the Governing Council of UN-Habitat at its twenty-first session, in 2007.
Local governments wanted to engage in a closer relationship with the United Nations, as the world’s mayors had experience to share, a role to play and a vision to offer in addressing the Millennium Development Goals, and disseminating the global values common to all.
Municipalities around the world were looking for new and innovative ways to achieve sustainability. The session focused on the local government experience and leadership in sustainable development. Effective decentralization was the starting point for local leadership and was one of the key areas for the discussion, in addition to basic services for all and local government fiscal autonomy.
The Chair stressed the importance of financial autonomy of cities and local governments, in particular with respect to appropriate tax systems allowing local governments to raise their own financial resources. He also noted the importance of provision of basic services for all, as a precondition of good governance, although he observed that experiences in one city might not always be transferable to another because of variations in governance systems. He stressed that the promotion of effective decentralization had been and remained one of the key priorities for the world’s mayors, as it was important for decisions to be taken by the level of government closest to the citizens. Decentralization must be based on core principles such as subsidiarity, accountability, transparency, equity, citizenship, predictability and the rule of law.
Ms. Dekker, as a representative of a national government, noted that within the framework of decentralization, the role of local governments was essential. Nevertheless, national governments had important roles to play with respect to establishing appropriate legislation and provision of financial support to local governments. She also noted the important role of partnerships with all relevant stakeholders and in particular the contributions of housing associations and communities.
Mr. Compaoré noted that one of the cornerstones of decentralization was the transfer of financial resources from central to local government. Local governments had important responsibilities, but could not fulfil their roles without fiscal autonomy and partnership with regional and national governments. Local governments needed those resources to carry out their mandates and develop services, but also to ensure that human resources were available to serve their citizens.
Mr. Bronconnier noted the importance of partnerships between different levels of governments and described the experience in Calgary with participatory planning processes.
Mr. Avamileno observed that the introduction of decentralization policies had changed the role of mayors, in particular in terms of increased responsibilities. Increased financial resources for local governments were essential. Recently formed international networks of local governments were increasing the productive interchange of information and lessons learned between cities.
Mrs. Tibaijuka reflected on the collaboration between local governments and UN-Habitat, in particular during and after the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in 1996. She noted that UCLG had already made significant progress and had facilitated the role of UN‑Habitat. She also noted the importance of the UN-Habitat Governing Council, in which local governments were able to enter into dialogue directly with national governments.
In the discussion that followed it was stressed that, as the responsibilities and importance of local governments were increasing, the process must be carried out in a spirit of cooperation and partnership, with the full involvement and participation of citizens. It was noted that local governments were responsible for implementing policies to respond to changing conditions in increasingly multicultural societies.
Several participants stressed the importance of fiscal autonomy for local governments. While central governments were transferring tasks to local governments, it was essential that funds were made available for local governments to undertake those new tasks; otherwise, the result would be increased dissatisfaction and alienation among urban citizens. It was also noted that as decentralization was beginning to take place in some countries, technical assistance might be required to allow local governments to discharge their new responsibilities with success. It was also noted that there was a need to find new ways of sharing power between citizens, local leaders and central government. The important contribution of the developing partnerships between local governments in different parts of the world was highlighted by several participants.
Several participants requested representatives of local governments to pay particular attention to the concerns of various vulnerable groups such as indigenous people, immigrants and ethnic and other minorities. Policies should therefore focus on approaches for ensuring social inclusion. It was also noted that local governments should increase their efforts to involve women and youth in local governance.
Local governments were also advised to take steps to train the leaders of the future. In that connection, Mr. Bronconnier shared his own experience as Mayor of Calgary, where he dedicated one morning each week to communicate with students at the City Hall school. Several representatives of local governments highlighted the importance which they attached to construction of youth centres. There were also calls for interventions to ensure adequate representation of various segments of society among elected local government officials.
A representative of the private sector encouraged local governments to ensure that they were facilitating the contribution of all stakeholders in the development process. Rather than just saying “no”, local governments should strive to facilitate what was possible. Other participants highlighted the importance of engaging all segments of the population, including vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and women. One participant noted that decentralization of government had been accompanied by a decentralization of corruption, and several participants asked representatives to pay particular attention to ways of reducing corruption within local government.
The Chair, drawing on the questions and observations made during the debate, highlighted the need to secure balanced territorial development in order to prevent the emergence of slums and informal human settlements. He stressed the need for fiscal autonomy, as the world needed stronger local governments. Participants were encouraged to create a culture of solidarity which was conducive to social inclusion and peace.
The session concluded that the promotion of effective decentralization was one of the best ways to strengthen the role and the capacities of local governments. The guidelines on decentralization prepared by UN-Habitat in collaboration with UCLG must be given full support by local and national governments to allow for their smooth adoption by the UN-Habitat Governing Council in 2007.