The Governing Council of UN-HABITAT on Friday passed a landmark resolution providing new guidelines aimed at strengthening local authorities around the world.
“The resolution on Guidelines on decentralization and strengthening of local authorities has been the fruit of 10 years of labour. It has involved extensive consultations with member States, working with our local authority partners and an untold number of experts,” said UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka in a closing address to the plenary of the Governing Council.
“It gives us the means to engage member States in one of the key aspects of the Habitat Agenda – to support efforts in strengthening the front-line role of local authorities in its implementation,” she told members of the council, a body of 58 member States that oversees the agency. It meets every two years to set UN-HABITAT’s work programme and budget.
Indeed, it was in the aftermath of the Habitat II Conference in 1996 that local and national Governments, in close collaboration with UN-HABITAT, started exchanging ideas on a possible “World Charter of Local-self Government” – meant to strengthen the status of local authorities at all levels. A first draft of the Charter was discussed among interested parties in a series of national and regional consultations in 1998-99.
However, member States failed to adopt that draft, which was rejected with strong recommendations to UN-HABITAT to take the lead in this process with the aim at building consensus in order to make the international dialogue on decentralisation as inclusive and open-ended as possible.
It was against this background that UN-HABITAT had intensified efforts over the past six years to revive the process working hard on two fronts. The first involved political mobilization of both national and local governments to establish trust and harmonize divergent views, and the second a conceptual and substantive elaboration on key aspects of decentralization – working closely with the most recognized experts in the field to highlight new trends of decentralization, identify the challenges and provide recommendations to further support the on-going process world-wide.
If Phase I of this very sensitive process, 1996 – 1999, remained unsuccessful with unsatisfied demands from local governments due to a limited offer from national governments in response to these demands. The success of Phase II, mainly from 2001, derives from the following lessons learned: (i) decentralization is both a technical and political process, whose components are interdependent, (ii) political will in this process is important, but trust based on the complementary roles of both spheres of government is key, (iii) decentralization could effectively benefit to both local and national governments only if both spheres could jointly ensure that it is effective.
It goes without saying that the Guidelines on decentralization, which have been approved by the Governing Council, can only be implemented in concerted efforts by both national and local Governments in the respective member States. However, UN-HABITAT will remain committed to accompany this process in its Phase III - based on the above mentioned lessons learned and in line with the new Council’s resolution.