This publication was prepared in partnership with the Asia-Pacific
Section of the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA-ASPAC)
and the Korea Local Authorities Foundation for International
Funding for the research and publication were provided by
ESCAP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the
All India Institute of Local Self Government (AIILSG) and
This publication was prepared for the Secretariat by Professor
Kevin Sproats, Western Sydney Research Institute, University
of Western Sydney.
Most countries of the region are undertaking reforms aimed
at decentralizing and devolving government functions to the
local level. To assist policy makers and researchers in undertaking
this task, ESCAP, in partnership with the Asian and Pacific
Section of the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA-ASPAC),
the Korea Local Authorities Foundation for International Relations
(KLAFIR) and the All India Institute of Local Self Government
(AIILSG) initiated a study of local government systems. Country
reporters carried out the study in 15 countries of the region,
namely: Australia, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia,
Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines,
Sri Lanka, Republic of Korea and Thailand.
The individual country reports have been published electronically
and can be found as searchable files on the ESCAP Web site
at URL <www.unescap.org/huset/lgstudy> To appreciate
the functioning of local government in any one country or
the region as a whole the reader is referred to the reports.
Individually and collectively they provide a unique and valuable
snapshot of local government in 15 countries in which nearly
half the world’s population live. The country papers went
through two rounds of peer review before final editing and
publication. Their publication in print was considered unadvisable
as the final output would have been costly, user-unfriendly
and would have limited circulation.
It was felt, however, that a comparative analysis that discussed
local government issues outlined in the reports needed to
be published separately in print. The intention of this analysis
is to draw issues in local self-government from the country
reports. For the most part this analysis rests in the country
reports as the country authors have presented them. Extracts
from the country reports included in this chapter are shown
between quotation marks. Where it is not obvious the country
is cited in parenthesis. Every attempt has been made to retain
the fidelity of the individual styles and perspectives. With
few exceptions, theoretical perspectives or other views from
the academic literature have not been introduced.
In the past 30 years the urban population in the Asian and
Pacific region has increased by 560 million people (or 260
per cent) and in the next 30 years it is expected to increase
by about 1,450 million people (or 250 per cent). This unprecedented
urbanization process will make it increasingly difficult for
limited natural and human resources to cope with the pressures
of modern society.
Midway through the 1990s the Asian and Pacific region is
experiencing rapid economic growth and even more rapid industrialization
and urbanization. Clearly the major influences on the future
of the region are the changes in and growth of the urban areas.
Several more mega-cities and large cities, with populations
of over a million have emerged. Cities in Asia and the Pacific
are centres of both hope and despair: while being engines
of economic and social development they are also congested
centres of poverty and environmental deterioration.
If present global trends continue, the twenty-first century
will be an Asian century, with Asia poised to become the world's
dominant economic powerhouse. By the year 2025, most Asians
will be urban dwellers. With most of its value added economic
activities and populations located in urban areas, how well
cities function as a system will determine the future of Asia.
While Asian and Pacific economies and societies are undergoing
rapid transformation, government structures and systems in
most countries of the region have been slow to change and
respond to the new challenges. To meet the challenges of the
twenty-first century new paradigms based on partnership between
local governments and the civil society, including the private
sector, are required. This requires a fundamental re-evaluation
of the form and nature of local governance in Asia and the
Living in Asian Cities (ESCAP 1996) and the World Charter
of Local Self Government (Annex I) propose the principles
of subsidiarity and proximity in reforming governance structures
to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. In other
words, decisions should be taken at level closest to citizens
and only tasks which cannot be carried out effectively at
the local level alone should be referred to higher levels.
Institutional and governance reform must be accompanied with
reform of the civil service and by extensive development and
astute management of human resources. The Malaysian country
report quotes Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, the Prime Minister of
Malaysia, as saying,
"Given these rapid changes in the world economy, the public
service must be prepared to confront new sets of challenges
in the Twenty-first century... Continuous efforts must therefore
be made to review the public service so as to be in line with
the current needs and times. We need to look into new ways
and means to improve and enhance the capability of our public
service" (Mahathir 1995).
These are the themes that have shaped the comparative analysis.
If we are to move from old to new paradigms what are the issues
that need to be addressed? What are the problems to be overcome?
What good practice should be carried forward? A brief background
to the countries is provided before moving into the crux of
the chapter. Following that examination of issues an Agenda
for Action has been drawn from the discussion.
Backgrounds of Local Government
All countries have long indigenous histories of local governance,
although not necessarily institutional forms of local government.
In the Republic of Korea the long history has its foundations
in "informal, voluntary institutions for the purpose of increasing
mutual help among people and the formation of community ethics
and mutual help system". Although some suggest it may not
have been strong, there have been basic forms of local self-government
in Kyrgyzstan for a very long time. Current initiatives for
local democracy can be seen as a return to those historical
roots. Over many centuries, local government in Sri Lanka
"included judicial functions such as dealing with petty offences
and reconciling disputes". Today, as is common, judicial functions
have been transferred to higher levels of government. Mutual
help, ethical foundations, justice and reconciliation are
all features of community governance.
Occupation by colonial powers in Asia and the Pacific left
legacies of centralized administrative rule more suited to
command, maintenance of law and order and revenue extraction
rather than governance and participation at the local level.
Inherently, colonial models of administration were imposed
on local communities mostly with disregard for their historical
systems of governance. As the Bangladesh report points out,
"the major objectives of the British in India were twofold:
(a) maximization of land revenue collection and (b) maintenance
of law and order. Naturally the British as an imperial power,
had little understanding of and interest in indigenous local
self-governing institutions". A highly centralized form of
local government developed in the Philippines under three
centuries of "tutelage and colonial administration" of Spanish
colonial rule. This century under U.S. local government administration
in the Philippines was "Filipinized". Even in those not colonized
present local systems have been either influenced by the colonial
powers in the region or, as in the case of Fiji, authority
was ceded to the colonial power. Local government in Thailand,
for example, was based on models derived from Germany, the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, France
and at a later date from the United States of America.
This centralization of administrative authority was not necessarily
detrimental. After independence, most countries strove towards
nation building and rapid industrialization that needed centralization.
Without exception, all 15 countries represented here have
initiated local government reform. Issues driving the reform
include public sector efficiency, democratization and changing
political-economic regimes to mixed (China) and market (Kyrgyzstan)
economies. The ground is fertile for new paradigms of local
self-government to grow. In many ways these trends are not
new ones, but represent a return to roots of local governance
that for the most part are centuries old.
One of the characteristics of local government this century
has been the renationalizing of local government following
independence. Local government has been reshaped by respective
Box 1. Post-independence
Australia: The Constitution provides that: "There shall
continue to be a system of local government (…) under
which duly elected or duly appointed local government
bodies are constituted with responsibilities for acting
for the better government of those parts (…) The manner
in which local government bodies are constituted and
the nature and extent of their powers, authorities,
duties and functions shall be as determined by or in
accordance with laws of the Legislature".
Bangladesh: Since independence in 1971 a number of
attempts have been made to tinker with the local government
system. Changes have been made from time to time in
terms of the nomenclature of tiers of local government
but almost nothing to strengthen local government institutes.
The structures of local government system remained more
or less the same. The current government established
a Local Government Commission in 1996 that subsequently
recommended a four-tier local government structure.
China: The thirteenth National Congress of the Communist
Party of China decided in October 1987 to reform the
political system accompanying economic reforms. Five
years later, it decided to carry out political reform
and construct socialist democratic politics with Chinese
Fiji: After independence the ordinances governing towns
and townships were consolidated and administration was
transferred to elected councils.
India: A Rural-Urban Relationship Committee, set up
by the Government of India in 1963, pointed out that
local government can no longer remain merely instruments
of political education and civic conscience, but have
to become institutions for the promotion of social and
economic development of local community as well as an
integral part of the National Government. Thirty years
later the Seventy-Fourth Constitutional Amendment Act,
1992 has given effect to these by providing more power
at the local level.
Indonesia: Local government was recognized from 1945
in the constitution.
Japan: Unlike most other countries in this report,
local government has constitutional recognition guaranteeing
local autonomy and is in the midst of a "third wave
of reform" involving regional top down devolution. "Democratization
became priority with the end of the war (...) The new
Constitution promulgated in November 1946 treated local
self-government as an indispensable element of democracy
and guaranteed local self-government as a system with
a chapter devoted especially to the subject. A Local
Autonomy Law further bolstering these reforms was enacted
and took effect along with the Constitution in 1947.
Thus the foundations of the present system of local
self-government took final form.
Kyrgyzstan: Following the break up of the Soviet Union
the Government determined that the republic would become
a democracy. While initially the emphasis was on building
national institutions, the government is now paying
attention to local self-government. The President has
made it clear that local self-government is a corner-stone
of democracy: "it is necessary to ensure and preserve
humanitarian values. To preserve those, we need to work
as a country and there is only one way to reach the
goal - through the self-government institutions".
Malaysia: The British heritage was strong, but over
the years, local government authorities have evolved
into a system that has its own identity, characteristics
and laws that reflect the national socio-economic and
political environment. Local government suffered in
the turbulent years after independence; it was placed
under the state list and during subsequent years of
confrontation with Indonesia, elections were suspended.
New Zealand: Government Policy Statement stipulates
that: "As the main principle local government should
be selected to undertake responsibilities or functions
only where the net benefit would exceed that of other
institutional arrangements. Subsidiary principles are
to be applied, including functions to be allocated based
on appropriate communities of interest, operational
efficiencies to be achieved, clear, non-conflicting
objectives, trade-off of objectives to be explicit and
transparent and clear and strong accountability mechanisms".
Pakistan: Ironically, local government has been strong
under military regimes, not under democratic elected
Philippines: Developments towards decentralization
and devolution occurred in response to the clamor for
self-rule. Article 10 of the Constitution stipulates
that: "The Congress shall enact a local government code
that shall provide for a more responsive and accountable
local government structure instituted through a system
of decentralization with effective mechanisms of recall,
initiative and referendum, allocate among different
local government units their powers, responsibilities
and resources and provide for (…) matters relating to
the organization and operation of the local units".
Republic of Korea: It took nearly 50 years before the
promises of local autonomy were fully realized with
the election in 1995 of both local council members and
Sri Lanka: Local government continued to be influenced
by the legacies of British colonial rule until 1980.
Extensive attempts of decentralization have been undertaken
since 1987. Tiering of local authorities is not a common
practice. Instead, they are being regularly upgraded
Thailand: Did not gain independence from a colonial
power. Rather it gained independence from an absolute
monarchy. Since then it has taken nearly 70 years in
which Thais have struggled to find an acceptable constitution.
High hopes are held for the current , and sixteenth
II. Issues for Local Self-Government
This section discusses issues in moving to increased local
self-government. They have been grouped under three general
headings: structural (or institutional) arrangements; local
governance; and local capacity. For clarity these have been
further subdivided. The general pattern of the sections is
to raise issues from the country reports, discussing points
as they arise.
and institutional arrangements
Issues of finance, administration, legislation and central-local
relations provide the structural and institutional frameworks
within which local self-government is played out. These can
either facilitate its operations or impede it. Here we address
each of those issues in turn.
The ability to control their finances must be a mark of local
self-government. Of the countries examined here, New Zealand
comes closest under the terms of its new financial management
legislation. For the rest there are varying degrees of dependency
on central allocation and control of financial resources.
For some countries there are simply not enough financial
resources to provide their communities with anything beyond
the basest essentials. The bulk of expenditure by Fijian local
government, for example, is spent on maintenance with few
funds available for new work or major reconstruction. Present
financial resources seem to be barely keeping the system alive.
While local government in Bangladesh may have power for local
determination, it lacks the financial resources. Similarly,
Philippine local government has considerable administrative
autonomy, but central government retains control of the "purse
strings". Central governments can delegate as much as they
like, but it is meaningless without commensurate financial
resources. Malaysian local governments, on the one hand, have
considerable discretion, but on the other hand, it is little
more than rhetoric as they have insufficient funds to do anything
even when they have the discretion. At the local level in
Indonesia the proportion of expenditure of development or
capital works, as against maintenance, is increasing. But
expenditure on capital works rather than maintenance can be
deceiving. Too often it is classic political aggrandisement
where local politicians would rather build monuments as expressions
of their time in public office than undertake necessary maintenance
work. The end result is that the existing infrastructure is
run down at the expense of the new.
Other countries, while still not having an abundance of funds,
are able to provide higher level services. Australian councils
are moving from the early pioneering days of providing basic
infrastructure - transport, sewerage, water and electricity
- to providing higher levels of service; for example, arts
and culture, recreation spaces. This ability to provide higher
levels has been matched with demands for greater flexibility
and discretion to choose what services to provide. In New
Zealand and Australia it has also been matched by greater
requirements for accountability of both revenue and expenditure.
The four elements of the new regime in New Zealand provide
an important model of practice: (i) accountability, (ii) operating
guidelines, (iii) responsibility for outcomes and (iv) prudence.
One of the important elements is that local governments must
explain to the public why they are incurring the expenditure.
With autonomy comes greater responsibility and accountability
and some local governments do not want that responsibility
and accountability, preferring to leave it to higher levels
Involvement of central governments in the collection and
subsequent distribution of revenue varies, as do the motives.
In China the central government is expanding the financial
capacity of local authorities. The country report implies
that this increases central funds, presumably because the
increased local funds reduces the amount of central funds
needing to be allocated. Even though they have this increased
capacity their budgets still need approval from higher levels
of government. Indonesian experience suggests that central
governments collect those taxes that are easiest, leaving
local government with the most difficult.
In Japan there is an interesting inverse relationship between
revenue collection and expenditure. Collection of the tax
revenue is 2:1 in favour of central government but through
fiscal transfers the expenditure is reverse 2:1 in favour
of local government. This unique sharing of revenues comes
from the strong belief that local government is the corner-stone
of democracy and as the level of government closest to the
people it should get a greater share of revenues to meet their
Local taxes are divided into two categories: prefectural
taxes, comprising prefectural inhabitants' tax and automobile
tax, and municipal taxes, comprising city planning tax and
municipal inhabitants tax. In addition to these taxes, collected
directly by local governments, local governments in Japan
are entitled to receive 32 per cent of the revenue from national
income tax, corporation tax, and liquor tax, 24 per cent from
the consumption tax and 25 per cent from the tobacco tax.
These allocations are considered to be independent and guaranteed
sources of revenue for local governments and no restrictions
are placed on their use. Moreover, in case of emergencies
or natural disasters the Ministry of Finance also provides
subsidies through the Ministry of Home Affairs. Independent,
sizable and relatively stable sources of revenues allow Japanese
local governments to plan long-term projects and meet the
needs of their residents.
Box 2. Major sources
of local government revenue
Australia: Grants and general or special purpose payments
of Commonwealth and State governments amount to 23 per
cent of local government revenues. Other sources include
tax on immovable property, fees and fines, net operating
surplus of trading enterprises and interest.
Bangladesh: Taxes, rates, fees and charges levied by
local bodies, rents and profits accrued from local bodies’
properties and sums received through its services. Government
grants and loans raised by local bodies and international
project funding are additional sources of income. Holding
taxes is the most important source of income, while
loans and voluntary contributions are rare.
China: Local taxes (e.g. on income, license plates
and real estate), shared taxes (e.g. on products, buildings
and income) and non-tax revenue
(e.g. from bonds and credits, assets and set quotas).
Fiji: Revenues generated from land tax (town rate)
and other local incomes such as grants-in-lieu, rental
fees, market and bus station fees, business license
fees, building fees and parking fees. In addition, most
councils raise loans from the local capital market.
Financial grants from the central government are very
India: Tax revenue (properties, octroi, professions
and vehicles), non-tax revenue (issuance of licenses
and services provided), grants-in-aids and state/central
Indonesia: Revenues from local taxes (e.g. on properties,
hotel and restaurant bills and entertainment), fees
and charges for services provided (largest contribution
to local government revenue), income (profit) from enterprises
owned by local government, foreign aid and funds from
higher government levels.
Japan: Local taxes (e.g. on enterprises, properties
and automobiles), local allocation taxes (contribute
to balance local government revenues and guarantee a
standard level of service provision), national treasury
disbursements or grants-in-aid and local government
Kyrgyzstan: Revenues, credits and subsidies, local
taxes, fees and charges as well as of other revenues.
The main local tax is the land tax. Other taxes include
hotel, health resort and retail tax and tax on private
New Zealand: Ranging from property rates, user charges,
fees, some central government financial assistance,
fuel taxes and returns on investments. The rating and
charging powers have been provided for in law since
1988 and remain an important source of local tax revenue
for local government.
Malaysia: Rents and fees for services, grants/subsidies
given by State or Central Government and local taxation
(assessment rate). In addition, some local authorities
receive grants-in-lieu of rates. Other sources might
include miscellaneous forms of charges and fees (licenses,
payment for various forms of services, rental penalties
and compounds and interest).
Pakistan: Tax and octroi (contributing to 60 per cent
of local governments revenues) and non-tax sources.
Property related taxes (such as local rates or leases
on all land assessable to either rent, land revenue
or use), the tax on the transfer of property and octroi
constitute the largest sources of revenue.
Philippines: Allotment of internal revenue share through
local tax collection, shares of local governments in
national wealth exploitation, shares of earnings of
government agencies or government-owned/controlled corporations
engaged in the utilization and development of national
wealth, local government borrowings and issuance of
bonds, debentures, securities and collateral notes.
Republic of Korea: Self-generating revenues and grants
from central and upper-level governments. Both categories
are broken down into categorical
grants, revenue sharing grants (meant to strike a financial
balance) and shared taxes (e.g. on liquor, telephone
and excessive land ownership).
Sri Lanka: Rates, taxes, duties, fees, fines, penalties
and other charges as well as sums realized by sales,
leases or other transactions, revenues derived from
properties and grants from other government levels.
Thailand: Tax collection (e.g. on housing and land,
value added tax on goods and services and specific business
taxes), fees, licenses and fines, revenues from properties,
public utilities and local government enterprises, donation,
grants and subsidies from the central government and
Similarly, under the new constitution in Thailand, local
governments are supposed to receive 10 per cent of Value Added
Tax (VAT) collected by the central government, in addition
to their existing sources of revenues. However, even with
the new constitution, Thailand's governance structure remains
strongly centralized, with the Central government controlling
most of the taxes in the country and distributing grants to
local governments at its discretion.
In what appears to be an interesting twist, the Kyrgyzstan
state administrative unit prepares a budget that is referred
to the local council for approval. Once approved, state administration
implements the budget. This suggests a higher level of government
administers a budget approved at a lower level.
The strategies for strengthening local financial capacity
outlined by the Malaysian Minister of Housing and Local Government
- restructuring local authority revenue sources,
- greater autonomy to revise taxes,
- deregulation and privatization,
- enhancing federal and state support,
- greater community support and participation.
Revenue sources will be addressed in more detail later in
this chapter. Suffice to say here that a fundamental weakness
in all these systems is that local revenue is so dependent
on fiscal transfers in some form. Such dependency is subject
always to the vagaries of central governments. The ability
to raise local taxes will need to increase for effective local
self-government, but present provisions are inadequate. One
of the most common forms of revenue is local property taxes.
One of the shortcomings of these is their dependence on the
ability of the local property owners to pay them - and the
experience of Fiji highlights that difficulty. Another shortcoming
- as evidenced in Australia - is the interference of central
governments by capping or pegging the annual increases in
property tax that can be applied. Alternatives such as Octroi,
VAT, (and GST now in Australia) can be more reliable. These
will be canvassed later.
Administrative reform is widespread in the region. This seeks
to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local authorities
as mechanisms of service delivery. Three types of reform emerge
from the country reports: sharing of administrative responsibility;
separation of powers; and integration of civil services.
The decentralization, deconcentration and co-administration
reforms in Indonesia exemplify moves to share administrative
responsibility. In the Indonesian context decentralization
means a transfer of higher level responsibilities to a local
entity or province or local government (called an autonomous
entity/province/local government); deconcentration means delegation
of administrative functions from a higher to lower level entity
(called an administrative entity). As the term implies, co-administration
means a sharing of responsibility.
Several reports discuss the separation of powers between
the local council (political/legislative arm) and the local
administration (executive arm). The separation can take two
forms: (a) where the locally elected council is required to
appoint a general manager who in turn engages an administrative
staff and council is prohibited from interference (e.g. Australia)
or (b) where the general manager/commissioner (or equivalent)
is an officer of the central civil service with responsibilities
to higher level of government (e.g. the separation of the
deliberative and executive wings of the municipal corporations
Some countries have vertically integrated civil services.
Indonesia is an extreme case where the recruitment, appointment,
dismissal, suspension, salary, pension, half-pay and other
matters concerning legal status of a provincial and local
public servant is done in line with the directives laid down
by the Minister of Home Affairs. Vertical integration can
provide stability and career paths for local government personnel
but it can also lead almost axiomatically to central control.
There are instances, such as in India's corporation cities,
where the commissioner has stronger allegiances to higher
government than to local legislative arm of council. In contrast
Australia has deregulated its public sector labour markets,
especially in local government, to allow greater movement
of staff in and out of the public and private sectors and
within different levels of the public sector.
None of these reforms seems to reflect the autonomous right
of a local community to determine its own destiny. It is a
transfer of administrative responsibility, which can always
be retracted, rather than moves towards greater local governance.
Bangladesh provides an interesting perspective on place management.
While the unitary system of administration has functional
departments, the Divisional Commissioners act as place managers
(that is, they supervise and coordinate the work of the divisional
and district administrations) and yet citizens are faced with
serious lack of coordination. The Bangladesh Government’s
response to a proposal for a metropolitan government for Dhaka
illustrates central government response to pressure for local
autonomy: establish a committee; "control by committee". Central
governments are not evidencing widespread commitment to reform
if it moves beyond administrative improvement.
A key manifestation of this lack of commitment to reform
local government is the plethora of organizations and agencies,
either central or sub-national, often with overlapping or
conflicting mandates, that have been created to manage large
cities. In Bangkok, for example, there are 17 different agencies
that address different issues within the city and often do
so without coordination. In India, a city may have a municipal
corporation (elected local government), a development authority
(responsible to the state government), a cantonment board
(answerable to the Ministry of Defence), a water and sewerage
authority (responsible to the state government), in addition
to state line agencies and federal government departments
each with its own programmes and plans. Because they are governed
by different laws, at the state and federal levels, and because
of political conflicts, particularly if the local government
is controlled by a party opposed to the state government,
coordination is often not undertaken.
The reporter in Malaysia raises an important issue when identifying
two roles for local government as "provider of services" and
"facilitator of socio-economic growth". The old paradigms
were more suited to the provision and regulation of services.
They engendered a propensity for the appointment of staff
as agents of, in most cases, higher levels of government.
As privatization increases as a public management policy,
as for example in Malaysia, local governments become enablers,
facilitating socio-economic growth. Their regulatory functions
also shift to regulation of activities in private markets.
As enabling local governments, these new roles demand new
mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability to communities.
Parastatal quangos and the like, without directly elected
membership, will not ensure accountability to the community.
In fact, it may result in less transparency than the old paradigms.
The challenge is to achieve balance between the need to foster
efficient and effective operations of private sectors while
ensuring appropriate levels of community control. The evidence
in these reports suggests that further work needs to be done.
Local government in all countries operates from a legislative
base determined by higher legislatures. In some case this
is the central government, in others it is the state legislature
(parliament) that determines the powers, authorities, duties
and functions of local government. What is evident from the
country reports is considerable expectation of comprehensive
reform on one hand, but reluctance of central government to
effect significant change, on the other hand.
Perhaps the most advanced is the Philippine Comprehensive
Local Government Code, 1991. In Bangladesh the Awami League
Government is contemplating increased empowerment of local
government, although there is a lack of enthusiasm in parliament
to actually devolve power. There were opportunities in 1990
and 1997 for significant recognition of Fijian local government,
but these were not taken up. Typical of central governments
they established a commission of review. The Fijian Local
Government Association has made a submission to the Commission
calling for autonomy enshrined in the Constitution. At the
time of writing the outcome is not known. In a national referendum
in 1988 the Australian people rejected a proposal to recognize
local government in the country’s constitution. This interest
could re-emerge in the current debate as to whether Australia
should become a republic. In the meantime significant changes
occurred in the 1990s extending discretion, but not relinquishing
control. Indian urban local bodies are looking expectantly
for comprehensive reform.
When it comes to major legislative reform, including constitutional
recognition, the question must be asked as to who is driving
the demand for change. Given the opportunity, Australians
rejected the opportunity; and voting is compulsory in Australia.
The opportunities were also not taken up in Fiji. It is interesting
to note that it was after a long struggle by academics and
public administrators that local autonomy was codified in
1991. In a country of people power it appears not to have
been the community at large who pressured for reform. In any
event, as the Indian country report insightfully points out,
constitutional recognition will not necessarily make for "vibrant
and effective institutions of democracy".
3. Legislative framework for local governments
Australia: Local government is not recognized in the
constitution. Local Government Acts have been legislated
by each state parliament and amended significantly in
the 1990s. Generally the move has been away from prescriptive
legislation to provide more enabling frameworks that
leave councils with some degree of discretion to initiate
their own policy directions.
Bangladesh: In 1996 a Local Government Commission was
constituted that came up with a Local Government Institutions
Strengthening Report in 1997.
China: The national Constitution and related laws.
Fiji: Local government is not recognized in the Constitution.
Legislation covering municipalities was streamlined
with the enactment of the Local Government Act in 1972.
Besides this Act that was amended in recent years, local
authorities are charged with responsibilities under
a wide range of legislation.
India: Seventy-Fourth Constitutional Amendment Act
(1992) seeks to provide more power and authority to
urban local bodies. It is the first serious attempt
to ensure stabilization of democratic municipal government
through constitutional provisions. The Twelfth Schedule
of this act lists the functions of urban local bodies
and specifies its powers and responsibilities.
Indonesia: Local Government Act No 5 (1974), stipulating
that local autonomy should be true and responsible,
focus on local government and give priority to harmony
and democracy, aim at increasing efficiency and productivity
in providing public services and in maintaining political
stability as well as national integrity and should apply
both the decentralization and the deconcentration principle.
Japan: Local Autonomy Law (1947), was recently amended
to create a core city system to boost the administrative
authority of cities that have relatively large capabilities
and scale as social entities, enable them to carry out
government as close to the residents as possible as
well as a wide-area cooperative system to cope effectively
and efficiently with diversified wide-area administrative
needs and improve the system to accept transfer of authority
from the state.
Kyrgyzstan: Legislative acts regulating self-government
are the Constitution, including local self-government
as a notion and a principle, its laws and presidential
and governmental decrees, determining its financial
basis, the powers and functions of local self-government
and its relationship with state structures.
Malaysia: Local Government Act (1976) regulating the
powers, duties, responsibilities and functions of local
New Zealand: Government Policy Statements (1987) leading
to local government reform in 1989. The main principle
of this reform was that local government should be selected
to undertake responsibilities or functions only where
the net benefit would exceed that of other institutional
arrangements. Besides, subsidiary principles were to
be applied, including functions to be allocated on appropriate
communities of interest, operational efficiencies achieved,
clear-non conflicting objectives, trade-off of objectives
to be explicit and transparent and clear and strong
accountability mechanisms enhancing local governments’
Pakistan: Local government is not formally embodied
in the Constitution, but exists under the supervision
of various provincial governments that have merely delegated
some of their functions and responsibilities by the
promulgation of ordinances, i.e. the Local Governance
Ordinance of 1979 and 1980.
Philippines: Local Government Code (1991); a comprehensive
document on local government touching on structures,
functions and powers, including taxation and intergovernmental
Republic of Korea: Local Autonomy Law.
Sri Lanka: Municipal Councils Ordinance, Urban Councils
Ordinance and Pradeshiya Sabbhas Act. Except for a few
statutes passed on to the management of local administrations,
most of their major activities are governed under these
Thailand: The Public Administration Act (1933) lays
down the foundation of local administration. To a large
extent, the administrative power of local government
is wielded under central government agents (governors
and district officers) and suggests a rather high degree
Local government systems in all countries have different
histories but their similarity in the end is marked. They
all must relate to higher levels of government, either state
or provincial level, or to national governments. The higher
levels, by and large, dominate relations.
Being a line agency of higher levels of government does not
of itself constitute local self-government. As pointed out
in the Korean report, even freely elected councils does not
mean self-government if all the local politicians do is administer
central commands. Central control, even to the determination
of local authorities themselves, is marked in Sri Lanka. Local
dependency on centrally allocated funds reinforces the respective
weakness and strength of the two levels.
There are signs of increasing strength at the local level
and cooperation between the levels. In China, for example,
local government is increasingly playing a part in local economic
development and some local governments are beginning to exercise
influence on central government. In general there is a co-dependency
and complementarity in central and local government relations
in Japan. Rapid urbanization and growth of the metro-cities
such as Bangkok, Tokyo and Manila has given them special status,
receiving particular arrangements. Sheer size of a city, however,
does not guarantee special treatment. It is more likely the
relative size of the city’s local government. Sydney, with
a population approaching 4 million, receives no special treatment,
largely because metropolitan Sydney has 40 local governments,
some with populations as little as 20,000.
States and provinces can get in the way of local-central
relations. This may be due to overlapping responsibilities,
such as in Thailand, or, as in Malaysia, the states retain
control even where the central government directly funds local
governments. Nevertheless, the provinces may be the routes
to greater local autonomy. In Pakistan the strategy in achieving
local autonomy and constitutional recognition, is to first
secure provincial autonomy and recognition. There may, however,
be risks in that. What certainty does local government have
that provincial governments, having secured autonomy and recognition,
would, in turn, work to secure local autonomy and recognition.
There is another side, the capacity of local government to
fulfill its side of the relationship. Some local politicians
show little inclination to build stronger relations. In Fiji
there is potential for significant political cohesion but
local politicians are not responding. Attaining greater freedom
from central control will not remove the need for accountability,
in fact in should result in greater accountability to the
respective local community. This increased accountability
to local communities is an important outcome of local government
reforms in Australia and New Zealand.
4. Government structure
Australia: At the Common Wealth level, the government
consists of a Prime Minister, ministers, a Parliament
made up of a House of Representatives and a Senate,
several departments and numerous statutory authorities,
boards, commissions etc. The judicial system includes
a High Court, Federal Court, Family Law Court and other
judicial bodies. State and Territory governments have
a similar structure and consist of a Premier, ministers
and Parliaments mostly consisting of two houses. At
local government level councils composed of councilors
and headed by a mayor and a city manager are in charge.
Since federation in 1901 there is an operational multi-party
government system. Contrary to local government elections,
voting in all Common Wealth and State or Territory elections
Bangladesh: Unitary form of government divided into
six Administrative Divisions headed by a Divisional
Commissioner. Each Division is sub-divided into Districts
with a District or Deputy Commissioner as Chief Administrator.
Districts are divided into sub-districts. The Divisional
level is the highest tier of administration after the
national level, whereas districts are the focal points
in the administrative system. Local government is entrusted
to elected Municipalities in urban areas and to elected
Union Councils in rural areas. Four of the largest municipalities
have been given metropolitan status of city corporations
and are run by elected mayors. In addition some urban
centres are under military Cantonment Boards.
China: The People’s Congress is the supreme organ of
state power and its permanent organization is the Standing
Committee that exercises legislative power. The local
People’s Congresses at different levels are the state
power organs at local level. The State Council is the
supreme administrative organ of the state and the executive
organ of the supreme organ of state power. People’s
Courts at different levels are the judicial organs.
The People’s Courts at local levels, Special People’s
Courts and Supreme People’s Courts exercise judicial
authority. The Supreme, Local and Special People’s Protectorates
at local levels are the organs of law supervision of
the state. Local governments are the administrative
organs of state under leadership the State Council and
are divided in autonomous governments of nationality
regions and governments of special administrative regions.
The organizational system of local government is divided
into provincial, city, county and village level.
Fiji: The Constitution provides for a multi-party parliamentary
system of representation at national government level
with a President as Head of State and a Prime Minister
heading the government. Parliament has two chambers;
the Senate and the House of Representatives. Communal
constituencies elect parliamentarians whereas members
of the Senate are nominated. The Prime Minister and
other ministers, each heading their own ministries,
form the Cabinet. Local government is administered through
elected municipal councils, comprising of elected councilors
representing major political parties active at the national
level and headed by an elected mayor as well as rural
India: Central government consists of a President who
has the power to summon or prorogue the House of Parliament
or the House of the People, Parliament (the supreme
legislative body), the House of the People and the Council
of States. Local government consists either of municipal
councils or municipal corporations. Both urban local
bodies consist of councilors and are headed by a regularly
(re)elected mayor, are supposed to be formed as democratic
institutions based on the principle of self-government
and to represent people’s desires and strengths.
Indonesia: The People’s Assembly has the highest authority.
The President appointed by the People’s Assembly is
the highest national executive and acts in concurrence
with the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives
is an elective body, composed of representatives of
political parties and appointees of the armed forces.
The Supreme Court, the State Audit Board and the Supreme
Advisory Council are of equal standing to the President
and subordinate to the People’s Assembly. The President
forms and leads the Cabinet and appoints Ministers to
lead the ministries. Regional government consists of
a governor with a secretariat and regional offices of
central ministries, while provincial government consists
of a governor with a secretariat and a number of departments
as well as a provincial House of Representatives. Local
government at county/municipality and district level
is exercised through autonomous localities, headed by
a county commissioner or a mayor of a municipality.
Japan: The Diet is the highest and sole legislative
organ, comprising of a 500-member House of Representatives
and a 252-member House of Councilors. The representatives
from both houses are selected through election. The
Cabinet is the supreme executive body and is collectively
responsible to the Diet in the exercise of its executive
power. The Judicial branch is made up of the Supreme
Court and several high courts, district courts, summary
courts and family courts. Local governments, consisting
of prefectures and municipalities, are classified as
ordinary local public entities, whereas special wards,
municipal co-operatives, property wards and local development
corporations are classified as special local public
entities and have limited responsibilities.
Kyrgyzstan: The national government structure is divided
into three branches: the executive, legislative and
judicial branch. The executive branch is headed by the
President who is the head of state and comprises the
government and its local state administrators. The legislative
branch comprises Parliament that consists of two houses,
the Legislative House and the House of the People’s
Representatives. The judiciary comprises the Constitutional
Court, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Arbitration Court
and smaller courts and judges. Local self-government
is implemented through elected local councils, comprising
of elected deputies and headed by an elected chairman,
their executive bodies and through direct referendums,
people’s assemblies, meetings, conferences etc.
Malaysia: Parliament is bicameral consisting of a House
of Representatives and a Senate. The Cabinet is a council
of ministers leading the ministries and corresponding
departments and agencies. It is chaired by the Prime
Minister and consists of an unspecified number of members
of Parliament. The Cabinet is the highest coordinating
executive body collectively responsible to Parliament.
At state government level, the heriditary Ruler is supreme,
acting on the advice of the State Executive Council
that is chaired by the Chief Minister. All states have
unicameral elected legislatures. The Executive Committee
is the Federal Cabinet equivalent at state level and
is the highest coordinating body. At local level government,
district councils, headed by a district officer, and
municipal councils are in charge. Both authorities fall
under the exclusive jurisdiction of state governments.
New Zealand: Central government is based on a unicameral
parliamentary system. The electoral system is known
as mixed member proportional representation allowing
electors to have a party vote and an electorate vote
that are used to select a total of 120 members to Parliament.
Local government is executed through regional, unitary
and territorial authorities as well as single purpose
authorities, united, regional and district councils
and community boards. Community boards are set up by
councils and are composed half of elected councilors
nominated by the city/district and half elected by the
local electorate. In unitary and territorial authorities
the mayor is elected at large. Regional councilors elect
one of their members as the chair, most of them by postal
Pakistan: At national level there is a bicameral system
of government, with a President as the head of state,
an elected Prime Minister, a National Assembly and a
Senate. In addition, four Provincial Assemblies operate
at provincial government level. Elections are to be
held every five years with every Pakistani over the
age of 21 entitled to elect representatives from each
constituency. Pakistan’s political and electoral system
is loosely based on
the principles of the Westminster model. A thriving
multi-party system exists both at the national and provincial
levels. Local government consists either of Town Committees,
District Councils, Municipal Committees, Municipal Corporations
or Metropolitan Corporations, depending on the size
of the corresponding entities.
Philippines: National government consists of the executive
branch headed by the President, the legislative branch
and the judicial branch. The executive consists of cabinet
secretaries, the national bureaucracy and the military.
The legislative or Congress comprises a 24-member Senate
and a 220-member House of Representatives. The judiciary
consists of a Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, Regional
Trial Courts and special courts (juvenile, family or
sharing courts). The political sub-divisions of the
state are provinces, cities, municipalities and villages.
Republic of Korea: Presidential multi-party system
that is democratic in nature with a separation of powers
between three branches of national government: the legislative,
the executive and the judiciary. The President is directly
elected by the people and has a wide range of powers.
The executive consists of boards, ministries, offices,
administrations and outer bureaus. The legislature has
one chamber and is called the National Assembly, consisting
of 250 elected and 259 appointed members. The judicial
consists of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals and
Trial Courts as well as of special, juvenile and family
courts. Local government is divided in upper-level and
lower-level local government. The first are autonomous
local authorities with relatively broad territorial
jurisdiction, whereas the second are basic level local
authorities. Local councils are freely elected.
Sri Lanka: The democratic system of government is governed
under a unitary Constitution. The legislative power
of the people rests with Parliament whose members are
elected on a political party basis, while the President,
elected from the total electorate, exercises the executive
power. Parliament exercises judicial power through courts
and other tribunals for sovereignty purposes. However,
the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and other courts
are free from outside interventions and maintain judicial
independence. Political sub-divisions at other levels
of governments include Provincial Councils and elected
Local Authorities such as Municipal Councils, Urban
Councils and Rural Councils headed by a nominated mayor
or a chair person and comprising of member-committees.
Thailand: Parliament consists of two chambers; a 500-member
House of Representatives and a 200-member elected Senate.
The House of Representatives consists of 100 proportional
representatives and 400 Members of Parliament directly
elected from 400 constituencies. Central administration
comprises the Office of the Prime Minister, 13 ministries
and 36 ministers constituting the Cabinet. Provincial
governors, district officers and sub-district chiefs
are in charge of provincial administration. Local urban
government is executed through the Bangkok Metropolitan
Administration, Municipalities governing urban centres
in the provinces and the City of Pattaya. Rural-based
local governments include the Provincial Administrative
Organization, the Tambon Administrative Organization
and the Sukhapiban Administrative Organization.
The previous section addressed issues of structure and institution.
Central control over local government is characterized by
financial control, in some cases, appointment of senior staff
and local politicians, determination of powers and functions
of local authorities and strained relations between the levels
of government. In this section the focus changes to that of
governance. Autonomy has two dimensions: administrative and
financial autonomy, and autonomy of governance. Administration
can be delegated, as an agency function, but governance, particularly
local self-governance, must have a local or grass-roots basis.
Local governance is ultimately about control. It is the ability
to reach decisions locally outside the control of a higher
level of government. Local governance is discussed in terms
of local autonomy; local elections; and civil society and
The proposed World Charter of Local Self-Government is based
on principles of autonomy, subsidiarity and proximity. A copy
is attached as an Annex. Articles 3 and 4 of a draft released
for discussion in May 1998 outline the concept and scope of
Article 3. - Concept of local self-government
- Local self-government denotes the right and the ability
of local authorities, within the limits of the law, to regulate
and manage a substantial share of public affairs under their
own responsibility and in the interest of the local population
- Councils shall exercise this right or assemblies composed
of members freely elected by secret ballot on the basis
of direct, equal, universal suffrage and which may possess
executive organs responsible to them.
Article 4 - Scope of local self-government
- Local authorities shall have full discretion to exercise
their initiative with regard to all matters that are not
excluded by law from their competence nor assigned to any
- The basic powers and responsibilities of local authorities
shall be prescribed by the constitution or by law. However,
this provision shall not prevent the attribution to local
authorities of powers and responsibilities for specific
- In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, those
authorities that are closest to the citizen shall generally
exercise public responsibilities. In the same spirit, any
allocation of responsibility to another authority must be
based on the requirements of technical or economic efficiency.
- Powers given to local authorities shall normally be full
and exclusive. They should not be undermined and may not
be limited by another authority except as provided for by
- Where a central or regional authority delegates powers
to them, local authorities shall be given discretion in
adapting their implementation to local conditions.
- Local authorities shall be involved in due time and in
an appropriate way in the planning and decision-making processes
for all matters which affect them.
In these terms New Zealand local government seems to have
the greatest autonomy where central government has transferred
substantial powers and responsibilities to the local level.
In Australia the system is often characterized as "the Commonwealth
collects and holds all the money, the states hold all the
power and local government is left with all the problems".
The Government of the Republic of Korea is reluctant to transfer
power and maintains control on local affairs even to the extent
of cars and lunches. There are, nevertheless, expectations
that the new president will devolve powers to the local level.
Currently in China, local autonomy is of subordinate autonomy,
typical of not just command economies. That is, lower levels
of government must complete tasks derived from higher levels
of government and what local autonomy they exercise can only
be within the guidance of those higher levels. This is different
from the concept of subsidiarity where local autonomy is excepted
only where it has been excluded by law from their competence
or assigned to any other authority. In the Philippines a highly
centralized system developed under Spanish colonization. "Filipinization"
of the national government was undertaken during the colonial
government of the United States of America. In 1991 the national
government moved toward local autonomy and decentralization.
The central government has a role of policy formulation and
setting standards together with the power of general supervision.
Central government has the power of dismissal, but can only
proceed to do so on the basis of a favourable referendum.
Local government in Sri Lanka is supposed to be a democratic
administrative unit under national policy and provincial management
supervision, but lacks autonomy.
Of interest to this study is not only the fact of the transfer
of power from higher to lower levels of government - or the
resistance to transferring such power - but the motivations
and process. New Zealand and Pakistan provide contrasting
examples. In the former power has been transferred, in the
latter central governments have retained power. Whereas Japan
views local government as essential to democracy, New Zealand
local government has achieved independence and autonomy through
the managerialist reforms of the New Zealand economy, based
on principles of efficiency and subsidiarity. Subsequent independence
and autonomy arose firstly, by making local governments directly
accountable to their local communities through annual planning
processes, and, secondly, through withdrawing central funding,
forcing dependence on local funding. Importantly, while central
government retains oversight of local government's stewardship
roles, it does not have the power to either dismiss a council
or run one. As the country report points out, now that all
the microeconomic reform is behind them, the challenge as
New Zealand sees it is to create a vision and future for local
government. Management strategists would suggest that the
vision should be developed first and then the necessary change
implemented. But in New Zealand’s case it has been the reverse.
Like Victoria (Australia), change was short, sharp and widespread.
The question is, would that change ever have happened with
the more rational approach? One suspects that without the
rapid change there may have been much talk but little actual
Despite its long history, for the last 40 years local government
in Pakistan has been a dispensable commodity of national and
provincial governments, whether they were military operating
under martial rule or democratically elected. In Pakistan,
elected local governments have been recently restored only
in one province, since their dissolution in 1989. In the other
three provinces, local administration is in the hands of an
administrator appointed by the provincial government. The
country report makes the point that: "Provincial governments
can dismiss local governments by themselves, or on the advice
of the Federal government. Clearly, this is a highly subjective,
dominating, relationship with local government having no independence
from, leave alone influence on, the provincial government".
The country report also points out that funds are given to
central politicians to spend on development projects in their
electorates. It might be argued that politicians are more
sensitive than bureaucrats to the needs expressed by their
local constituents and that placing this responsibility in
the hands of elected politicians ensures accountability to
local communities. This might be so, but it does put immense
power in the hands of the politicians and is open to charges
of political patronage and largesse.
A most important aspect of local autonomy is the trend to
the transfer of power from local authorities to other parastatal
(semi-government) agencies, through corporatization, or through
privatization. Corporatization refers to the reshaping of
a publicly owned organization to operate on private sector
corporate principles. Corporatized public agencies are often
called parastatals. Privatization refers to the transfer of
a function entirely to the private sector. This can be by
contracting out with the local authority maintaining some
control mechanisms or "getting out" of the function entirely,
leaving provision of goods and services to the marketplace.
Privatization and Corporatization are most pronounced and
advanced in New Zealand, with Australia moving down a similar
path, although, at this stage, not at the same pace or as
dramatically. What has been described as its "Great Experiment"
the New Zealand reforms started centrally with the principle
that "the state was to deliver policy and goods and services
only where market failure demonstrably existed". Where the
state was to remain a deliverer, - i.e. those policies, goods
and services not transferred to the marketplace through privatization
- corporate principles were to prevail. At the local level
corporatization has been more common where the local government
becomes more market oriented, policy and trading arms are
separated, wholly owned government trading enterprises are
established and activities are contracted out to private companies.
Accountability is required to the local community rather than
central government through rigorous consultation and reporting.
Australia's national and state governments have pursued policies
of privatization and corporatization, although, with the exception
of the state of Victoria, privatization has been less common.
Local government is, however, becoming more corporate, particularly
with the introduction of the purchaser/provider model. These
reforms are reinforced by the national competition policy
that requires market contestability on the provision of goods
and services. One Australian local government researcher has
described the Victorian experience.
"Victorian local authorities, in particular, have been forced
to competitively tender many of their services. To operate
in this competitive environment, local authorities have established
internal business units that lodge tenders to perform work
for their council in competition with external organizations.
It has not been uncommon for an external contractor to win
over the internal business unit. Not all external contractors
are from the private sector, nor are they always Australian
organizations. In several instances the winning contractor
has been a business unit of a New Zealand council. Many of
these changes have not been universally welcomed, such as
the downsizing of the local government workforce. Some have
argued that withdrawal from service delivery by local authorities
has enhanced local business opportunities. Others have lamented
the impact that workforce downsizing has had, especially in
smaller communities." (Aulich 1997)
But these trends are not confined to these two countries.
The Malaysian government is pursuing a policy of deregulation
and privatization, including "deregulation of building control
by giving this task to professional bodies or privatizing
cleaning and maintenance works of parks to private contractors".
In pursuit of a more market-driven, customer-oriented and
corporate approach Malaysia is introducing corporate management
techniques: total quality management, Client’s Charter, ISO
9000. Until recently, local governments in Pakistan had their
own staff in the taxation department collect Octroi, but the
tax is now collected by contractors who bid in an open auction.
"These contractors who reap the benefits above the guaranteed
minimum pledge a certain minimum amount." In Sri Lanka
some local authority functions have been even handed over
to Government owned and operated Boards/Corporations/Statutory
Authorities that directly serve the local community. Local
leaders have lost influence on central government, but studies
indicate that the public prefers these government corporations
to manage public utilities such as water and electricity.
The situation with the Fijian villages in the urban areas
provides an interesting twist on privatization. Because the
villages do not pay municipal rates and councils make only
ad hoc arrangements, they look to private contractors to provide
services such as garbage collection.
Corporatization and privatization have important implications
for local self-government in that they may provide for local
decision-making but not necessarily local governance or local
democracy. As discussed earlier, where there are local committees
of parastatal organizations, membership usually reflects special
interests and expertise rather than the community as a collective
of people. Membership is mostly appointed rather than elected
from and by the community. These trends towards committees
and trusts, albeit with local membership, reflect prevailing
managerialist approaches. This is the "culture of technical
control" that stresses information, not judgement. Decisions
are delegated to groups of technical experts or those with
special interests. Their role in decisions is important but
will not inevitably reflect wider community opinion and values.
This may be local decision-making, not necessarily local governance.
Article 3 of the draft world charter of local self-government
stipulates the right of local election.
(Draft) Article 3 - Concept of local self-government
- Local self-government denotes the right and the ability
of local authorities, within the limits of the law, to regulate
and manage a substantial share of public affairs under their
own responsibility and in the interests of the local population.
- This right shall be exercised by councils or assemblies
composed of members freely elected by secret ballot on the
basis of direct, equal, universal suffrage and which may
possess executive organs responsible to them.
The certainty of that right of election of local councils
or assemblies varies across the region. In Kyrgyzstan "local
Keneshes are elected by their citizens on the basis of
a general, equal and direct elective right, through a secret
vote", although leadership of state administrations and Bishkek
city are under ultimate control of the President of Kyrgyzstan.
"Political participation is the core content of the people's
participation" in China where communities elect their respective
congresses that in turn select the administrators for the
country towns, counties, cities and provincial levels. In
Bangladesh increasingly local representatives and mayors of
metropolitan cities and large municipalities are elected directly
by the people.
Several issues emerge in relation to local governance. Firstly,
there is the provision for special places reserved for women.
Women in Bangladesh can stand for open seats or those reserved
for them. Similar provisions apply in India. Secondly, there
is the degree of central control on who is elected. Elections
in Fiji are centrally controlled administratively and politically,
run by the Electoral Commission that decides the number of
councilors for council as a whole and for the wards. India
has a dual system involving elected and nominated councilors.
For each Municipal Corporation or Municipal Council the community
directly elects the prescribed number of councilors. These
councilors in turn nominate additional councilors on the basis
of their "special knowledge or experience in Municipal administration."
This dual system avoids problems of decision-making being
in the hands of elected representatives who may have no expertise
in the area. It also avoids the corollary of technocracy where
decision making is left to experts who may have no sense or
interest in the values and interests of the local community.
Malaysia has "Malayanised" local government, moving away from
the inherited British model into a more centralized system
with limited devolution. Councilors are appointed by the government
to sit in the local councils. "Even though the state government
[appoints] them, the councilors may be viewed as representatives
of the area from where they hail or representing various business
communities or interest groups".
Thirdly and fundamentally, there is the matter of dismissal
or withdrawal of the right of election. Ultimate political
control was illustrated, in Fiji, when elections were suspended
after the military coup in 1987. Pakistan provides a picture
of hope for a return to election against a reality of central
reluctance to do so. To quote the country report:
"The reasons why elections to local government have not been
held are revealing. If we look back at the history of local
government, interestingly, elections have only been held by
Pakistan's two military authoritarian regimes, that of Ayub
Khan and Zia ul Haq. Since all other avenues for public participation
were closed under these dictatorships and elections to the
national and provincial assemblies not allowed, perhaps local
body elections were the ploy used by the dictators to allow
the public some minimal recourse to participation. Interestingly
though, under both the military regimes, elected local bodies
played a very useful and productive role in many areas of
the lives of people. With the return to democracy, however,
when elections to the national and provincial assemblies were
held, elected local bodies lost most of their importance and
their role and potential was severely undermined by elected
representatives of the higher tiers of government. This is
despite the fact that a very large number of members of the
national and provincial assemblies had previously been elected
to local councils when other forms of representation did not
exist. Moreover, patronage and grants to members of the provincial
and national assembly, bypassing local governments, helped
further weaken the position of local government. Possibly,
by realizing the potential of effective local government,
representatives of higher tiers of government, many of whom
had themselves experienced the power of this lowest tier and
had hitherto played a prominent part at the local level, felt
threatened by the possibility that this level of government
would undermine their new roles and privileges. Hence their
reluctance to revive this institution".
"Although democracy in Pakistan at the provincial and national
level has been wrought with glaring inconsistencies and shortcomings,
an uninterrupted process of participation at all levels of
government may, given time, initiate a process which improves
the quality of participation and representation and hence,
of governance. Hence, the minimum condition for the improvement
of government and governance, is that elections be held at
regular intervals at all levels of government".
Civil society and community participation
Local self-government is more than structures and instruments
of government. It includes the engagement of citizens in voluntary
associations, networks, alliances and other forms of connection
that contribute to local governance. To cite the draft world
Article 10 - Participation of citizens and partnership
- Local authorities shall be entitled to define appropriate
forms of popular participation and civic engagement in decision-making
and in fulfillment of their function of community leadership.
- Local authorities shall be empowered to establish and
develop partnerships with all actors of civil society, particularly
non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations
and with the private sector and other interested stakeholders.
Demands for participation
There are two sides to demands for participation. On one
side there are arguments that citizens should participate
in the affairs of state. Its importance is emphasized and
promoted as a democratic right or, as in China, participation
"is the expression and essential character of the socialist
democratic system". On the other side, as evidenced in Bangladesh,
"civil society groups are now coming forward to begin action
and invite/encourage local governments to participate with
them." This has been in response to the inaction or incapacity
of local governments to develop innovative approaches to problems.
Likewise, increased public participation in Japan has been
a response of citizen action.
Much of the debate about participation presumes that people
will participate. Such presumption may be misplaced. For example,
an unsuccessful attempt was made to engage citizens more closely
through Community Development Councils in Colombo. You can
provide mechanisms for people to participate but you cannot
make them do so. The Sri Lanka reporter laments that "it is
sometimes disheartening to note that popular participation
ends after elections, making way for the traditional stronger
member participation". It may be that citizens do not necessarily
want to participate but demand the right to be able to participate
if they choose. In other words, they want the right to participate
but accept no responsibility to do so.
Geography and population are also important features that
shape of participation. As is the case in Fiji, the close
proximity and ready access of local communities to their national
politicians may, to some extent, negate the need for local
civil action. In marked contrast, Indian local politicians
face daunting tasks of engaging such large populations. The
large areas and huge population mean that participation through
small groups may be the only effective mechanisms for engagement
The Malaysian report identifies four general features of
participation: consultation, direct involvement, power sharing
and community action. The emergence of a larger middle class
has given rise to a proliferation of interest and pressure
groups and non- governmental organizations, voluntary welfare-oriented
organizations, citizen watch groups, consumer and neighbourhood
associations and environmental protection societies. For their
part, such groups seek to contribute to issues pertaining
to urban management such as environmental pollution, beautification,
improving the quality of life of residents and preserving
the heritage of the community. Malaysian governments capitalize
on this by promoting and supporting community-driven programs
such as the "Love Your River Campaign". Communities are loaned
equipment such as lorries and provided with refreshments in
return for their self-help on maintenance and routine services.
As evidenced by participation in slum improvement projects
in Bangladesh, especially by women, it is easier to engage
people in identifiable projects than to convince them of more
general concepts of participatory democracy.
Japanese governments have recognized
that as society has grown more complex and people’s thinking
and sense of values become increasingly diverse they must
take the initiative to look to new ways to engage their communities.
Not only can they not rely on old ways, the onus is on the
authorities to generate innovative mechanisms for building
partnerships with the civic society. In the face of a lack
of participation local authorities are all too ready to blame
the apathy of local communities rather than acknowledge the
deficiency of their own outmoded techniques.
Box 5. Techniques for
- Direct engagement in the cities can be through task
specific non-governmental organizations concentrating
on and fighting for certain developmental or remedial
- Less direct engagement can be through mechanisms
such as media and letters to newspapers, posters and
- Formal attempts at engagement have been through
the ward system with members acting as public auditors
of the development process (India);
- The most practical way for local communities to
engage is through the so called bottom up planning
- Symposiums or informal gatherings are held in each
area, questionnaire surveys are undertaken and people
are encouraged to voice their opinions and ideas.
- Advisory community boards operate in New Zealand
with dual roles. They provide a more approachable
engagement for people daunted by large organizations.
They also maintain, on behalf of the community, a
watching brief on the performance of the local authority;
- Direct participation takes the form of social consultation
and dialogue; writing letters and visits to state
organs; worker and staff congresses (China);
- Citizen petition, resident voting, resident request
for audit and investigation, participation in committees,
- An important feature of participation in the region
is the referendum or similar form of direct democracy;
- A court of governance (Articles 276-280) where the
conflicts between citizens and the state and their
officials are settled. Parliamentary Ombudsman will
be established to receive complaints and petitions.
An independent anti-corruption commission will be
also created by the parliament to conduct investigations
- Direct participation is possible formally through
referendums, polls, petitions, attendance at committee
meetings and informally through media, community action
Equipping for participation
Central governments espousing participation as a basic element
of democracy, the latest techniques being available and civic
groups emerging, are no guarantee of successful participation.
As pointed out in the Thailand report they provide only the
potential for engagement. No amount of institutional structures
will ensure meaningful participation when "the general public
by and large have little knowledge about local government"
and the education system at all levels produces graduates
with little or nor knowledge of "the functioning, the problems
and the general affairs of local government". Not only should
governments devise innovative techniques of engagement, they
must also equip their communities to participate. This is
an important element in the formation of the community’s social
Having said that, the evidence of these reports indicates
widespread reluctance of higher levels of government to equip
citizens to engage with them. The situation in Pakistan highlights
the problems of centrally controlled formal institutions of
public participation where, "despite playing such a potentially
prominent role in the lives of the people in Pakistan, elected
local government in Pakistan has been non-existent for almost
Participation by disadvantaged groups
In the preamble to the draft World Charter the conviction
is stated that gender equality and social inclusion must go
hand in hand with local democracy and participation and that
these goals are mutually reinforcing. On the basis of these
country reports progress on both gender equality and social
inclusion has not been great.
Inclusion of indigenous peoples in local self-government
is an issue in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand, although inclusion
in what may well be the deeper issue. Native Fijians already
enjoy special status under the auspices of the Great Council
of Chiefs. For Australian aborigines and New Zealand Maoris
it may be more a matter of self-determination than inclusion
in the vestiges of ruling colonial institutions. In a particular
way the multicultural composition of Australian communities
places additional demands on inclusion.
Several countries have specific provisions for election of
women, others are working towards that. One of the sweeping
changes introduced by the Indian Seventy-Fourth Constitutional
Amendment Act, 1992 has been the "reservation of one-third
seats for women and weaker section in municipal bodies". Pakistan
makes provision for separate representation of non-muslims,
peasants, workers and women., although that would seem meaningless
if elections are not held. The election of women in Bangladesh
so far has been indirect. The present government's Local Government
Commission has recommended election of women representatives
(in reserved seats) directly by the people at all levels of
Gender balance and social inclusion may not be attained easily.
In Sri Lanka the relatively excessive cost of electioneering
has meant gross under-representation of poor people. A stronger
economy and consequent rises in income are seen as part of
the solution, permitting more people to fund an election campaign.
Attaining gender balance may confront cultural issues. In
Sri Lanka between 1991 and 1997 the already minuscule representation
of women fell. Reasons for this include "their reluctance
to compete with men of different political parties, expensive
nature of the present system of proportional representation,
cultural background where women are reluctant to be involved
in conflicting political situations etc. The hectic campaigns
are also not to the liking of women".
to III. Local Capacity
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