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 Relations
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 by KLAFIR.
This publication was prepared for the Secretariat by Professor
Kevin Sproats, Western Sydney Research Institute, University of
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 Pacific.
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.
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
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 national identities.
Box 1. Post-independence local government
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
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 features.
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
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
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 ones.
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 chief executives.
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 or redemarcated.
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 attempt.
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.
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 of government.
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 needs.
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
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 rare.
India: Tax revenue (properties, octroi, professions and
vehicles), non-tax revenue (issuance of licenses and services
provided), grants-in-aids and state/central government loans/borrowings.
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
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 loans.
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 service industries.
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 loans.
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 are
restructuring local authority revenue
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
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
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".
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
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
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 authorities.
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’ performance.
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
Philippines: Local Government Code (1991); a comprehensive
document on local government touching on structures, functions
and powers, including taxation and intergovernmental relations.
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 three
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 of centralization.
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
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
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.
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 is compulsory.
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
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 local authorities.
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,
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
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
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 participation.
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 local
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
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 other authority.
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 law;
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
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 change.
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
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
"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
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".
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 charter
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.
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 of citizens.
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 participation
Direct engagement in the cities
can be through task specific non-governmental organizations
concentrating on and fighting for certain developmental
or remedial issues (India);
Less direct engagement can be
through mechanisms such as media and letters to newspapers,
posters and books (India);
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 mechanism (Indonesia);
Symposiums or informal gatherings
are held in each area, questionnaire surveys are undertaken
and people are encouraged to voice their opinions and
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
Citizen petition, resident voting,
resident request for audit and investigation, participation
in committees, etc. (Korea);
An important feature of participation
in the region is the referendum or similar form of direct
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 (Thailand);
Direct participation is possible
formally through referendums, polls, petitions, attendance
at committee meetings and informally through media, community
action groups (Australia).
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
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 six years".
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
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 local government.
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".