WHAT’S THE SITUATION?
Decades of civil war have destroyed much of Somalia’s physical infrastructure – from roads and hospitals, schools and ports, to police stations and government centres. Conflict has also torn apart the social infrastructure, disrupting traditional mechanisms for dialogue, undermining the concept of public goods, and severely eroding trust between different communities and between citizens and the state.
The key to restoring this physical and social infrastructure, is local governance.
But there are significant obstacles to overcome. Systems and policies need to be rebuilt from scratch, including the rules for procurement, procedures for financial oversight and laws on how different parts of government divide responsibility and authority. Government staff need training on these new systems and facilities need to be built, repaired or better equipped.
In addition, mechanisms to involve citizens in decision-making must be re-established to make sure their priorities are addressed and their representatives and other development actors are held to account. Whether this happens through traditional town halls and community consultations or modern online platforms, such mechanisms also help ensure efficient governance, build trust and maintain peace by allowing disputes to be resolved without violence.
This has to include better representation for marginalised groups, including women, who are shut out of governance for many reasons, including cultural biases, limited funding for women’s poltical campaigns and pressure to understake child-rearing and other work at home. When women do achieve poltical positions, they are often excluded from real decision making and so women’s needs are ignored in development planning.
Getting all of this right – the systems, the skills, the facilities and wider representation – provides an immense payoff, because local people know best about local needs and local government has the greatest impact on any project’s success. Because of this, supporting local government, and making sure it can draw on the capacity and knowledge of all local citizens, not just some, is one of the most effective and sustainable ways to achieve development in many other areas.
This support is even more important in the face of rapid urbanisation and growing displacement. In Somalia, 2.6 million people are already internally displaced – many forced out of the countryside by climate change and conflict. As towns and cities swell with new arrivals, local governments are on the front line of making sure that these people have somewhere to live and work; somewhere they can send their children to school; and somewhere they can get decent healthcare when they’re sick. How local councils and administrations implement development plans will decide whether a town is swamped by new arrivals or can integrate them and grow stronger and it grows larger.
WHAT DOES THE PROJECT DO?
The UN Joint Programme on Local Governance (JPLG) improves the way government is run at the city and state levels in all five Member States in order to boost economic development and make communities stronger in the face of conflict, climate disaster and other challenges.
Our most visible achievements are the roads, clinics, markets and schools we help build, but the programme is about much more than service delivery. It aims to create a “local government ecosystem” that includes:
(a) well-designed laws and systems for public procurement, budgeting, oversight, tax collection and other government functions
(b) well-trained staff with the administrative, financial and other skills needed to implement these laws and systems; and
(c) an empowered citizenry that is involved in decision making through regular discussion forums and consultation meetings in both towns and villages.
More than any one road or market, it’s these systems and skills that will have the deepest effect on people’s lives by allowing local governments to keep providing more and better services to their people.
Once these systems are in place, local government’s need for outside support – including donor funding – begins to fall. In this way, we create a virtuous circle where public services help foster economic development and this, in turn, boosts local government revenue that allows for the provision of more services.
To see how this works in practice, take the small town of Gabiley, where regular consultations with local residents identified the need for a new, covered market area so traders could operate in cleaner surroundings with better facilities, including women’s toilets and running water. Once the proposal was approved, clearly articulated systems for procurement meant that the most talented and cost-efficient contractors were hired for the work. Then staff trained on budgeting and financial management monitored payments to minimise corruption and waste.
When the market was completed, traders saw an uptick in business and more people opened shops in the area. This, in turn, led to a rise in tax revenue, which allowed the government to provide additional services, such as garbage collection. Local people now report that they have more faith in the government as a force for economic and social wellbeing – because they can see it delivering the services they need.
Such gains in efficiency and tax income have allowed local governments to increase the amount they contribute to JPLG-supported projects in areas where we work. And in areas where we don’t, some local governments are adopting the models we’ve developed elsewhere to implement their own entirely self-funded projects.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we have found a pathway that works for all people in all situations. One of JPLG’s advantages is that is it adaptable: we don’t come in with fixed solutions from abroad – or even try to migrate them in their entirety from one part of the country to another. Instead, things are worked out on the ground each time to fit the local context and make sure that local government and local people have ownership.
For example, when we first introduce models for how a local authority should function – what its responsibilities should be and how its systems should be set up – we share examples from other contexts. Then, through intensive discussions with local people, these skeleton frameworks are fleshed out to take account of location-specific issues. In this way, each community creates a form of governance system people recognise as home-grown. The JPLG programme may be implemented by five UN agencies, but in the end it’s not really our programme – it’s theirs.
A JOINT UN PROJECT
JPLG is a joint UN project with five agencies working together to combine their expertise and resources on one shared goal. Each agency is responsible for the following:
UNDP: laws and capacity development, district development planning, setting up the structure of local government, improving citizen-state relations and gender equality and women empowerment in local government (GEWE in LG)
UNICEF: citizen engagement/education and awareness raising, plus the health and education components of service delivery and gender equality and GEWE in LG
UNHABITAT: support to implementation in urban centres
ILO: public procurement for projects in rural areas
UNCDF: distribution of local development funds