Supporting decentralization and local governance and building the financial and human capacities of local governments

The purpose of decentralization

Development policies today tend to prioritize intervention at a local level. From this close perspective on people’s living conditions, the whole spectrum of government action, from exercising democracy to providing public services and ensuring economic progress, can be taken into account. This is where the everyday impacts of democracy, the rule of law and development are felt and it is the most relevant level for a partnership between the various actors involved in achieving these.

Decentralization, that is, the transfer of responsibilities from the State to local governments, is an adapted means of “re-legitimizing” government action, at a time when the latter is sometimes challenged, through the establishment of institutions that are closer to the citizens, fostering their participation in public life and encouraging the authorities, through their proximity with the citizens, to accept greater accountability for their work. It is also an opportunity to implement policies that are better adapted to the needs of the people, particularly in terms of basic services, and to generate local economic momentum to boost national development.

In Africa, decentralization has therefore been a political priority for many states since the late 1980s. The processes involved vary widely, each deriving from a specific heritage and history. The approach favoured by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, inspired by French experience, focuses on the institutionalization of local powers whose legitimacy is established through elections, as opposed to an approach focusing on traditional authorities and local associations and groups.

It is generally noted that administrative decentralization and the transfer of responsibility to local governments is not accompanied by a transfer of adequate and suitable human and financial resources. In many countries, there is no real civil service at regional level and not enough state funding or local taxation to meet the needs of local governments.

For this reason, local authorities often lack the human and financial means necessary to address the many challenges they face when managing the development of their region. At the same time, paradoxically, these local authorities are increasingly considered to be key actors in local development systems and civil society has high expectations of them as regards local public services and facilities.

French action to support decentralization and democratic local governance

France has been involved in this sector since the late 1990s. It offers support at different levels, as part of a coherent, integrated approach.

In international forums, France advocates decentralization and democratic local governance, in liaison with the many actors involved in these sectors and in the framework of the groups of donors to which it belongs.

At regional and sub-regional level, France has been working with the African municipal movement for a long time and continues to do so, in particular through United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA) and regional integration organizations such as the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).

At bilateral level, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is running a large number of projects to support decentralization and deconcentration, especially in Africa. These projects involve exchanges with States, associations of elected representatives, local governments and civil societies, in order to strengthen local democracy and enrich dialogue between citizens, local government and the State.

A network of around twenty international technical experts (mainly attached to ministries responsible for decentralization in Africa and Haiti, or to multilateral organizations such as CGLUA) is also present at these different levels; it supports the implementation of these projects, ensures their cohesion and assists States and associations of elected representatives in the processes of decentralization.

Evaluating France’s support for decentralization and local governance in partner countries

As part of its official development assistance policy, France has been supporting decentralization and local governance processes in its partner countries for over twenty years. For it has been established that the stability and harmonious development of territories partly depends on the success of these processes.

Through a thematic evaluation of its actions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wished to launch a global reflection, bearing in mind that decentralization has, for some years now, been slowing or even stalling in many partner countries.

The evaluation’s objective was twofold:

  • to report on more than twenty Priority Solidarity Fund (FSP) projects implemented between the early 2000s and mid-2014;
  • to inform the definition of a French interministerial multi-stakeholder strategy on support for decentralization and local governance, with a view to helping relaunch these policies.

The survey chiefly dealt with geographical areas which are the focus of French aid, as defined during the last meeting of the Interministerial International Co-operation and Development Committee (CICID) meeting on 31 July 2013, namely: priority poor countries, southern and eastern Mediterranean countries and countries in crisis.

This document summarizes the evaluators’ main conclusions and recommendations.

Read the document online (PDF, 850 ko)

A concrete example of a country-specific project: Priority Solidarity Fund support for decentralization and deconcentration in Haiti

The importance of this decentralization and deconcentration support project, which was launched before the earthquake in 2009, was reaffirmed by the Haitian authorities after the event. This €2.4million project seeks to build the capacities of the decentralized state services and local civil servants, in partnership with the French National Centre for Local Government (CNFPT). It also assists with setting up local technical agencies in municipalities.

Another objective of this project is to increase local resources, through operationalization of the fund for the management and development of territorial communities (FGDCT), allocating addresses and registering buildings, and local taxation. Citizen participation in local public policy-making is encouraged. A technical expert has been attached to the Ministry of the Interior since February2011. The project is being coordinated with French decentralized cooperation, the action of other donors (European Union, United Nations Development Programme), urban development projects run by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the French pre-cadastre and land tenure programme.

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Updated: 14.06.13