Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Decentralized Governance and a Human Rights-based Approach to Development - Series Note: 2

This is the second article on decentralization by Paul Lundberg.
This is taken from www.sudanjem.com and the article link is here.

Decentralized Governance and a Human Rights-based Approach to Development (10)
16.09.07 - 07:33:57


By Paul Lundberg
Independent Consultant
The issue of human rights has not figured prominently in the ongoing discussion on decentralization. In part, this is because human rights advocates have focused their attention on getting central governments to accept the basic HR principles.
Human rights advocates have only recently begun to consider the effects of decentralizing decision-making power to lower levels of government. As they begin to focus on this growing political phenomenon, they are increasingly recognizing that such process creates new opportunities to promote HR as well as threats to protection. Indeed, issues of justice, accountability, poverty reduction, employment/livelihood, environment, women and children are fundamental concerns of local development.
Experience in Tanahun District
The former chairman of Tanahun District, Ram Chandra Pokhrel, one of the founders of the Nepal Association of District Development Committees and an early partner with UNDP, remarked that the impact of the move to decentralized decision making was tremendous. He argued that, "During the Panchayat time, we were not free. There was no responsible government and no spontaneous development. If there was development in a village, it was directed from the center."
Pokhrel's own district of Tanahun has a population of 300,000 scattered in 46 villages and was one of the six original districts that received the UNDP funded DSP. According to Pokhrel, the development process definitely followed a "bottom up" approach. First groups of villagers assembled to discuss their common need and presented their ideas to the Village Development Chairman. In Tanahun, the villagers identified six priority sectors which were: clean drinking water, literacy, self-sufficiency in food grains, a health post for every village, a motorable dirt track linking every village to the main road and income generation (including access to credit). The villages then submitted the priorities to district committee members, who ranked the projects according to the number of men and women who will benefit from them coupled with the estimated cost and availability of funds. Money for the projects was then found from donor agencies and the Central Government. For example, 9 kilometres of road were constructed up a rock cliff in Tanahun with people donating labor and the Ministry of Roads covering the engineer's salary.
For drinking water, local villagers were willing to dig their own reservoirs, repair their irrigation systems with technical assistance. The UNDP "Seed Grant" funds were used to provide matching funds. Initially, people in Kathmandu argued that the rural villagers were too poor to be required to provide cost sharing to be eligible to access these seed grants. In reality, the people were more than willing to provide substantial contributions to create or repair infrastructure that was their own priority. In several cases, 90% of the costs was borne by the villagers with the UNDP project only providing assistance for those materials not available locally.
Some of the critical lessons learned from the Nepal experience can be summarized as follows:
- DSP/PDDP's catalytic role in support of decentralization not only enhanced participation and empowerment through capacity building and by being responsive to local needs, but it also contributed to UNDP's own SHD-oriented project pipeline development.
- Accountability is possible through strengthening various tiers of power; as exemplified by the Districts' growing awareness of both their rights and their responsibilities (until dissolution).
- Voice and choice were enhanced: local communities were empowered to direct their own development agendas with the assistance of UNDP
- Decentralization did not take place in a vacuum: democracy, economic liberalization of the economy and privatization were all part of the institutional context.
- The concept of ownership is crucial- it is an effective method of mobilizing development resources in rural areas; contrasting strongly with many "policy dialogue" type projects funded by donor agencies which can be confrontational and impose a set of foreign beliefs on resistant officials.
- Formation of policies is not enough - decentralization needs a strong political commitment with a legal basis.
- Decentralization is an incremental long-term process; there is no quick fix solution to institution building.
Bangladesh: Laying the Framework
The Mid Term Review of the UNDP Community Empowerment Projects in Bangladesh suggested that donor support to community based micro-credit and social mobilization does not have sufficient impact on poverty. The review argued that institutional linkages between communities and local government were needed as well as a process of channeling lessons learned at the local level upward to the national policy making entities. Subsequent to this review, the Bangladesh Country Office commissioned a team to design a new project. The team designed a one-year Preparatory Assistance project that was intended as an opportunity to explore the possibilities for addressing those proposals. The focus of the PA was on learning how local institutions interact with one another and the way in which they develop and share knowledge.
The PA was implemented in 2002-2003 by a local firm. During the project period, they engaged with elected leaders at the Union level, local and national NGOs, groups of private entrepreneurs and the deconcentrated national government staff at the sub-district level. The team spent considerable time to learn how the existing pattern of communication and decision-making is conducted at this level. In the limited geographic extent of the PA, the catalytic interventions of the PA team resulted in significant improvement in the communication patterns among all project partners. In particular, the elected leaders began to recognize a far broader mandate for themselves.
The PA carefully documented the existing vertical information flows in the system and the limited authority for local decision making. However, they also saw that small interventions could result in significant changes in those patterns. The conclusions of the PA team affirmed the initial hypothesis that the 'meso' level institutional linkages can be developed through external facilitation and without the need to create elaborate new systems or structures. The team also concluded that a broad spectrum approach to poverty reduction is required, far beyond the typical scope of micro-credit projects. Such an approach should include education, health, agriculture and social welfare. Associated with this finding was the conclusion that multi-sectoral collaboration should be focused on broad strategies for local economic development that extend far beyond typical 'development schemes'. The involvement of private sector was critical in expanding this development vision. Sharing information proved to be one of the most significant obstacles during the PA period. They concluded that considerable effort needs to be focused on this seemingly mundane matter.
Significantly, there were no conclusions drawn by the PA team that countered any of the lessons learned during the implementation of either the USAID GOLD project in the Philippines or the UNDP support to decentralization in Nepal. One of the strongest links was the finding in Bangladesh, as in the Philippines and Nepal, that local ownership requires local action. Creating a space for men and women to quickly get to work on activities of local interest, rather than getting bogged down in lengthy and intricate planning exercises, is an effective move. The need for national support was also affirmed.
During the PA period, Bangladesh underwent elections for local governments at several levels where no elected official had ever sat previously. There is still considerable confusion in the country regarding the level of political support for decentralized governance. Nevertheless, the supportive findings of the recent PA team provide a solid basis for moving ahead with an explicitly HRBAD programme framework in Bangladesh.

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