Strengthening Local Self-Governance through Community Unions - Main Users / Purpose

files/images_static/user.jpg Mayors, councillors, local governments, NGOs, development organisations

Worldwide political changes have given rise to the necessity to address local demands and the need to bring economic and political systems closer to local communities. On the one hand, economic mobility has led to the creation of supernational bodies to manage the growing economic integration amongst nations. On the other hand, more and more “public” services can be efficiently provided by decentralized (and often private) organizations. Finally, the sheer collapse of central economic systems has been an important impetus for the emergence of regional and local governments in the political and economic process.

Local self-governments are meant to be more responsive to their citizens and decision-making is to be more transparent and predictable. Opportunities for poor to voice their opinions are to be strengthened. Frail democratic systems should be strengthened in order to render the electoral system to greater accountability. Strong local participation can overcome weak formal election systems, but powerful elites make this difficult in many places. Formation of an association or council of local self-governments is one approach for counteracting the power of the elites and existing central administrations. In many countries the existing legal framework provides sufficient scope for the formation of associations.

Community Unions (CUs) or Community Associations (CAs) can be established under several typology:

  • Where communities have been organised into some form of  community organisations (CO’s);
  • Where there are elected representatives at the village or municipal level;
  • Where there are elected representatives at the village/municipal level and elected representatives at the district level or sub-national level.

Community Unions or Associations (CUs / CAs) are designed to strengthen the individual community or municipalities ability to represent their views and/or to strengthen their bargaining position with the formalised (central) government structures.

A “mobilised” community at the grassroots level has proved to be an important ingredient for successful local self-governance and community unions / associations.

Linking the CU’s to decentralised development funds has proved to be an important ingredient for success. Operating in institutional environments where government agencies have singularly failed to improve the living standards of the poor, CU’s coupled to development funds (i.e. District Development Funds) put into place mechanisms for channelling resources directly to community groups; they empower these groups to take on responsibilities for such activities as organizing community labour contributions, procuring goods and services and other project management tasks; and they are also important instruments for mobilizing both public and private sector institutions in an effort to improve basic services.

Since community unions often work with elected representatives it is important to assure their legitimacy in representing the communities. Experience shows that representatives of “mobilised” communities effectively practise basic participatory and transparent decision-making processes since they have been extensively trained to apply these methods.