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Decentralization and Local Self-Government

"Decentralizing governance is one of the best means of promoting participation and efficiency".
(Human Development Report 1993, UNDP, p. 66)

For far too long, the idea has persisted that development can be imposed from the top and that it is the responsibility of the state. The collapse of state socialism, the failure of authoritarian "developing states" and the weakness and lack of genuine penetration of economic liberalization made many realize that democracy must be built "from below". Development is not possible without the direct participation of the population.

Against the background of German experience with local self-government, FES began, as early as in the Seventies, to support building democratic structures and economic self-help at levels below that of the central government. In many countries, efforts towards democrati-zation and economic reform have made this cooperation one of the main focuses of our work.

But FES has neither become an organization specializing in local government organization, nor does it consider the policy of decentralization as a technical instrument with the sole purpose of increasing the efficiency of the state. What is important is democratization by the division of political power, the learning and practising of democratic concepts locally and the transfer and acceptance of competence and responsibility.

The private sector economy as well as the organizations of civil society (non-governmental organizations, self-help groups, associations, professional bodies as well as women's and youth organizations) need a "partner" at the democratically structured "lower" levels of the national state as they also need room for manoeuvre from the omnipotence of the state.

In practical project work, FES does not put "models" into practice. Together with partners, the Foundation looks for adapted solutions which meet the needs of the development and the political situation of the individual countries.

Thus it is possible to combine in entirely different ways the three targets of democratization (for example, advice on constitutional policy, local council work, local government agencies), decentralization (e.g. advice on structural, organizational and financial matters) and special advisory services in various sectors of local government policy (e.g. local economic promotion, local services, environmental policy, local media etc.).

If it is of interest to the partners and helps in the practical project work FES also supports cooperation with local government associations at international and regional levels (for example International Union of Local Government Authorities/IULA, towns & development).

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Project Example:
Local Government in Chile

After the first direct election of local councils in May 1992, FES made an important contribution to the foundation of the Chilean Association of Local Authorities (ACHM).

As early as 1994, a joint conference of ACHM and the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA) in the South Chilean town of Temuco got Foundation support, at which it was decided among others to form a network of Latin American local authorities. In a joint "Declaration of Temuco" mayors and chairmen of local authorities from 14 Latin American countries as well as officials from 5 US and European local authorities organizations laid down that they would hold regular meetings to exchange concrete experiences in local authority policy, and to analyze progress and problems in decentralization. The presence of a short-term expert of the German Association of Municipalities made it possible at this conference to present the experiences of the German Association's work.

In cooperation with a selected partner authority in Chile examples of possible solutions (waste water treatment, inner city traffic planning etc.) and the use of modern methods for local planning are being developed and made available via the ACHM to other interested local authorities.

And lastly FES in Chile produced a comprehensive manual for politicians in regional and local authorities and their administrations to improve management in regional policy (Manual para la gestión regional).

The policy line "decentralization/local authorities policy" continues to be pursued intensively in Chile and in several other countries of the region in the medium term.

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©Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition mv&ola | August 1997