August 20, 2009     cib    

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINBUZA) launched last February an online debate on decentralization as a key element in poverty reduction, forming part of email debates organized by MINBUZA on specific themes in development cooperation. As the topic is of importance for the CIB Working Group members, CIB members were invited to participate in this online debate. The topics of the online debates are connected with a series of essays published by the MINBUZA under the title “A rich menu for the poor – Food for thought for effective aid policies”.

The synthesis of the debate is already available: provisional synthesis of the electronic debate.

Some of the main findings include:

  • There is a general consensus on the potential of decentralization processes to contribute positively to poverty reduction and to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and at the same time the necessity to strengthen local governance as a key factor for effective poverty reduction is underlined;
  • Likewise, it is essential to emphasize the implementation methods of decentralization, which needs to detail the involvement of the stakeholders (ownership if activities are selected and implemented by local actors); the legal definition of the stakeholders responsibilities and power; transfer of resources etc;
  • Some believe that weak capacity at the local level will make it impossible for decentralization to make a contribution to poverty reduction, whereas other discussants are more optimistic and state that it is a time-consuming process;
  • The debate stresses that donor approaches are still too much project-based and not realistic as national strategy;
  • Local governments are often excluded from national policymaking by central governments, because of fear of power at central level and a lack of capacity at local level. Donors can help local governments in various indirect ways i) to put pressure on central government politicians, ii) to be inspired by external experience. Lack of capacity at local level cannot be solved without external assistance;
  • Not only donors can help local governments to achieve stronger local governance, but rather municipalities would organize themselves in national associations to strengthen their negotiation position in relation to the relevant national ministries. If these national local governments associations receive support from experienced national associations in other countries they can develop meaningful expertise and challenge the national government;
  • Finally, the synthesis emphasizes that development stakeholders should act as facilitators for change processes instead of the driving force of change, which should be the role of the local actors.