Public Administration, Local Governance & Participation: Key Debates & Implementation Challenges
By bringing government closer to citizens, decentralization has a number of potential benefits:
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Go to Consociation versus majoritarian democracy
First, governments, at times with the assistance of international organizations and donors, must opt for a system of direct versus representative democracy at the local level. Many actors emphasize the utility of representative forms of democracy in post-conflict situations, to empower voters through elected groups, minimizing the likelihood for clashes between groups. However, this may also force a choice between participation through a process of elections, or engaging in debates and deliberation through forums, caucuses etc.
Two key points of debate are:
1.Direct versus representative democracy. Political philospher Jean Jacques Rousseau believed in direct democracy, meaning participation through majority rule. 6 Modern thinkers emphasize a more representative form, where citizens select candidates to make community decisions.7
2.Participation versus deliberation. At times, local governance systems must choose between including everyone through a process of elections, or engaging in debate and deliberation around decision through a series of forums, caucuses and so forth.8
At the local level, elections function to institutionalize reform, establishing executive functions such as mayors, city administrators, ombudsmen, judges, law enforcement officers; as well as legislative functions such as city councils, district councils, neighborhood committees and so forth. A referendum or ballot initiative may also be used to garner support for, or to reject, spending on various public expenditures (e.g. infrastructure, educational facilities, etc).9
Within these systems, "many believe that the balance has tilted too much in the direction of representative over direct democracy and adversarial versus more collaborative forms of decision-making. The focus on elections and sharp differences between policy platforms among politicians has created a distance between citizens and public officials and created heightened divisions among social groups. The consequence is that the average citizen becomes apathetic and withdraws from political life. Academics studying local governance in todays world have argued that there has been a sharp reduction in the legitimacy of local government institutions, and a corresponding widespread skepticism about the ability of local political parties to represent and co-ordinate differing social interests."10 This diagnosis largely applies to post-conflict societies as confidence in the electoral process may take time to grow and first post-conflict polls may favor former warlords or political parties that are not widely representative.
Go to elections and political parties subsection
[Back to Top] 'Social capital' remains a much-debated concept.11 Many scholars have also undermined the stability of Putnam's argument, noting that the basis of his argument is premised on historically selective, endogenous data (amongst other methodological critiques).12
In addition, a vast literature in development anthropology has criticized the discourse about, and practice of, participation, showing that it considerably underestimates a number of fundamental questions, particularly in terms of the structure of power, which may lead to ambiguous if not contrary results.13 Some studies have shown how participatory government can result in unjust and illegitimate exercise of power, stressing the gulf between the almost universally fashionable rhetoric of participation, promising empowerment and appropriate development, and what actually happens when consultants and activists promote and practice participatory development.14
In the context of public administration reform and local governance, questions that have been raised in debates about participation and local participative structures in a number of countries include: the need for continuity, and for processes to be institutionalized; the frequently very high financial costs of consultation and participation; whether the complexity of some issues for decision is compatible with participation; whether to involve in decisions a large group of people, which might result in relatively superficial opinions, or a small group, to obtain more developed opinions; and the prospect of creating new elites when processes are captured by minority groups or the well mobilized, at the expense of marginalized groups.15 This last point echoes traditional questioning about the extent to which civil society is actually representative. Last but not least, practitioners also debate whether an emphasis on participation is fundamentally beneficial, or if, in some circumstances, it can in fact exacerbate conflict and corruption. Consequently, from both a theoretical and practical perspective, the notion of participatory processes demands more empirical analysis as well as much contextualized approaches.
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Reconstruction, institutional strength, and sustainabilityIt should be highlighted that starting from scratch, may be just as difficult as reform processes. "Peace builders have learned that although they can design new institutions with clear operating principles and guidelines, it is another thing to make them work. All too often, they collapse under the weight of unresolved local conflicts of interest and power-conflicts beyond the reach of UN officials."16 International organizations operating in such environments also must consider a critical paradox for involvement, wherein "faced with an inoperative institutional apparatus, an ambitious mandate, and an unmanageable timeline, peace builders can watch as their mission falters for lack of institutional capacity. Or they can improvise, stepping in to do the job themselves where possible. The first option has evident disadvantages. Less obviously, the second option threatens to undermine the mission's institution-building task by short-circuiting it. The danger is that, rather than create local capacity and institutions, the United Nations will create dependence on its own counsel and organizational capacity."17 Thus, attention to nuances in either context is a key consideration, to assure that to the extent possible, stable, and self-sustaining institutions are being constructed.
Sequencing reconstructionIn attempts to approach such challenges, practitioners recommend sequencing actions in order to distinguish between the immediate post-conflict reconstruction period, the transition, and the post-transition, so as to identify what a government is capable of:
1."The immediate post-conflict reconstruction period, often lasting from five to ten years, in which the government must address fundamental and urgent issues of maintaining peace and security, reestablishing governance, redeveloping the economy, and reintegrating society.
2.A transition period of an additional five to ten years, in which the government stabilizes the countrys economy and governance structure and the civil service moves toward performing the types of functions usually carried out in more stable political systems and societies.
3.A period of stabilized governance beyond transition, in which government approximates in its functions and the civil service performs those roles normally identified with growing economies and institutionalized governance."18
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Inherent in the notion of service delivery within tenuous political circumstances, are a number of key issues/paradoxes:
In service provision, practitioners and policy-makers must keep these challenges in mind when designing systems. Approaches include identifying entry points to build political will, capacity building for state policy-making functions, and the use of non-state mechanisms-- although these components must take into account the inherent paradoxes of service delivery.24
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Minority groups representationMany states recovering from, or attempting to avoid, civil war are ethnically heterogeneous, and experience deep cleavages along such lines as violence hardens group identification. This may be particularly difficult for minorities in such diverse states, because managing diversity when tensions between groups are high, presents a challenge. In such conditions, institutional reforms can be vital to dampen potential for ethnic related violence.
Implementation of decentralization, rather than administering through a central authority, is not without risk (see above section on Decentralization + case study on Constitution: Nigerian Federalism). However, it has been fairly successful in empowering geographically concentrated minority groups.25 Thus, localizing government, can be a useful means of making space for minority voices in governance, providing that appropriate mechanisms be put in place to check for accountability and anti-corruption (see below on neo-patrimonialism and corruption).
In reforming public administration, the principle of proportionality is also a useful tool to facilitate minority representation. One of two central features of proportionality, a pillar of consociation, dictates proportional allocation of civil service appointments. 26 This can take the form of overrepresentation of minority units, or parity of representation (which equates to overrepresentation to the point of equality amongst units).27
Additional reforms can be taken to accommodate space for minority integration in post-conflict environments, including provisions for education and culture, language, judicial and administrative bodies, religious rights, revenue redistribution, economic and commercial development and free exchange of goods.28 But such reforms may be difficult to adopt in situations where minorities are rarely among the "winners" at the end of a conflict; in most cases, they are pushed by the international community but are not necessarily fully implemented.
Women in local governanceIf local governance has brought empowerment to national ethnic minority groups, geographically concentrated in certain areas, for women, "the news is not as good." 29 While women have experienced greater representation, this does not necessarily translate into empowerment. Even where holding positions of power, women have, in several cases, deferred to husbands or other decision-makers, thus indicating that other factors such as norms exist besides opportunity. Such factors must be taken into account when dealing with the roles of women.30 This is particularly important in local governance and suggests that efforts need to be made at the national level, in the work with political parties and local civil society, so that a better understanding of the specificities of the context are taken into consideration and more adequate mechanisms are put in place. In many cases, greater partnership with existing womens organizations may be an important intermediary step as these associations significantly structure portions of the community life during war and post-war period. Go to employment and empowerment
Displaced peoples and repatriation in local governancePeacebuilding situations often have left large numbers of people displaced, either internally, or externally (as refugees who may be repatriated in large numbers), creating a host of issues to address.
In dealing with IDP and refugee return, consideration must be given on how local governance structures can concurrently incorporate the needs of both repatriated and local populations. It is considered crucial to reintegration that leadership from these communities be adequately represented. However, this may introduce a paradox. Failure to encourage IDP and refugee leaders may give rise to tensions and a renewed sense of marginalization; but empowering such groups may leave local communities feeling threatened, also giving rise to new sources of conflict.31 The fact that repatriated and local populations may receive different levels of aid is often at the origin of many local conflicts.
Tangibly, these concerns translate into questions of who can participate in local governance, and who is permitted to work in public administration. In Eastern Congo, for example, refugee influxes in the East flared tensions over who was considered local and who was considered Rwandan. The election of the first 'non-local' Congolese to the Legislative Council did not occur until 1970. The methods of inclusion of 'non-local leaders' was entirely ad hoc, wherein some localities refused their inclusion, which entailed greater compromise for other areas in the name of reconciliation, ultimately intensifying cleavages.32
Various mechanisms and measures can be instituted to anticipate these difficulties and facilitate local governance (confidence-building measures, workshops, networks, strengthening civil society structures).33
Connections and disconnections between rural and urban governance issuesWar and the immediate aftermath often generate large and frequent displacements of populations, movements that break down and restructure networks of solidarity and linkages between rural and urban/suburban areas. In the post-conflict period, rural and urban settings may well need to be considered differently as the impact of local governance mechanisms may differ in appropriateness and effectiveness. However, experience in development has shown that treating rural and urban governance as independent, largely unconnected sectors is misleading. Urban-rural linkages are often strong and frequently "families organize the flow of resources between generations and sectors."34 These linkages need to be incorporated into policy and planning through processes such as cross-jurisdiction planning for public administration.35
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Here, it may be useful to briefly define political clientelism. This term, also known as the patron-client model of politics, "refers to a complex chain of personal bonds between political patrons or bosses and their individual clients or followers. These bonds are founded on mutual material advantage: the patron furnishes excludable resources (money, jobs) to dependents and accomplices in return for their support and cooperation (votes, attendance at rallies)."36
Clientelistic networks of rent-seeking elites are pervasive in the political landscape of post and pre-conflict states. They may have been modified by the logics of war and are often reinforced by different practices of predation that accompany most violence. In the aftermath of conflict, attempts to encourage 'good governance' by bringing government closer to the people, through systems of decentralization and institutions of local governance, may, at times, allow this form of corruption to re-adapt itself and even to intensify. This may exacerbate weak control of central authority over clientelistic practices, as well as heighten inequities both within local contexts, and between regions. In some cases, the very purpose of public office is to benefit personal and exploitative interests. Many organizations and institutions, faced with working in climates where corruption and fragmentation is prevalent, have attempting to mechanize anti-corruption strategies.
Holistically speaking, anti-corruption must tackle what is a multi-faceted problem. Though institutions may specialize in approach or aspects, it is important to understand that corruption has many tiers. UNDP identifies that components attempting to mitigate anti-corruption should focus on "(1) prevention, (2) enforcement, (3) public participation and coalition building, (4) strengthening national integrity institutions, and (5) working with the international community," noting that "improving efficiency, accountability and transparency in the delivery and administration of public services often close the loopholes for corruption."37
[Back to Top] 38 They present a certain number of specific challenges with regards to the reform of public administration and establishment of functioning local governance mechanisms.
The main challenge arises from the immediately apparent contradiction "between the stated end of transitional administration legitimate and sustainable national governance and the available means benevolent autocracy under the rule of the UN Security Council or some other international actor."39 By their actual nature, transitional authorities may make fostering trust in an administration exceedingly difficult. They may encourage populations dependence on intermediary authority, rather than put sufficient pressure on long-term administrators and government officials. They also constitute a diversion for funding.40
Trying to foster a sense of ownership in such contexts is a particularly complicated matter. In fact, “with an explicit ideological position, and the political power to influence the transition process, […] international administrators should be viewed as one of the key elite groups that determine the ultimate path of transition, along with the range of domestic actors.”41 International administrations tend to impose an external notion of what a legitimate/desirable government looks like.42
In many ways, these relatively exceptional circumstances exacerbate difficulties and contradictions that may arise when international actors interfere in reforming public administration and fostering local governance processes.
1. In practice, the implementation of such services comprises three patterns of delivery: i) functional delivery, carried out by a specific institution in line with its tasks, functions, and responsibilities; ii) centralized delivery, involving authorized institutions; and iii) combined delivery, involving several institutions in one place. See: Awang Angwaruddin, "Improving Public Service Delivery Through Bureaucracy Reform," (In Jak Jabes ed. Selected Papers from the Launching Conference of the Network of Asia-Pacific Schools and Institutes of Public Administration and Governance, The Role of Public Administration in Alleviating Poverty and Improving Governance, Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia, December 6-8, 2004), 538.
2. T. Sisk et al eds., Democracy at the Local Level: The International IDEA Handbook on Participation, Representation, Conflict Management and Governance (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), 2001), 23.
3. United Nations Peacebuilding Commission Working Group on Lessons Learned WGLL/12/07, Background Note: Local Governance and Decentralization in Post-War Contexts (New York: United Nations, 2007), 2-3.
4. Ibid., 543.
5. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Public Administration Reform: Practice Note (New York: United Nations, 2004), 4.
6. Sisk et al eds., Democracy at the Local Level, 13-14.
7. Gerry Stoker, "Local Governance and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century," (In T. Sisk, et al, eds. Democracy at the Local Level: The International IDEA Handbook on Participation, Representation, Conflict Management and Governance. Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), 2001), 31.
8. Benjamin A. Olken, Political Institutions and Local Public Goods: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia, Harvard University (2007), 23.
9. Sisk et al eds., Democracy at the Local Level, 117.
10. Ibid., 14.
11. Janine Aron, "Building Institutions in Post-Conflict African Economies," Journal of International Development 15 (2003), 476.
12. Sidney Tarrow, "Making Social Science Work Across Space and Time: A Critical Reflection on Putnams Making Democracy Work," In American Political Science Review 90 no. 2 (1996).
13. See for instance: Wendy James, "Empowering ambiguities," (In Angela Cheater, ed., 13-27, The Anthropology of Power; Empowerment and disempowerment in changing structures, New York: Routledge, 1999); D. Mosse, "People's knowledge," (In Project planning : the limits and social conditions of participation in planning agricultural development, London: Overseas Development Institute, 1995); N. Ellamna. Relativism in Agricultural Research and Development: Is Participation a Post-Modern Concept? (London: Overseas Development Institute,1999); S. White, "Depoliticising development: the uses and abuses of participation," Development in Practice 6 no. 1 (1996): 6-15.
14. Bill Cooke, Uma Kothari eds., Participation: The New Tyranny (London: Zed Books, 2001).
15. Keng-Ming Hsu and Chun-Yuan Wang, "The Institutional Design and Citizen Participation in Local Governance," (In Jak Jabes, ed. Selected Papers from the Launching Conference of the Network of Asia-Pacific Schools and Institutes of Public Administration and Governance, The Role of Public Administration in Alleviating Poverty and Improving Governance, Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia, December 6-8, 2004), 337.
16. Eva Bertram, "Reinventing Governments: The Promise and Perils of United Nations Peace Building," The Journal of Conflict Resolution 39 no. 3 (1995), 413.
17. Ibid., 414.
18. Dennis A. Rondinelli, Reforming Public Administration in Postconflict Societies: Implications for International Assistance (Bethesda, MD: The Mitchell Group, Inc. for the United States Agency for International Development, 2006), 2.
19. Chris Berry et al., Approaches to Improving the Delivery of Social Services in Difficult Environments (London: Department for International Development, 2004), 8.
20. Ibid., 14.
21. Ibid., 18.
22. Robertson Work, The Role of Participation and Partnerships in Decentralised Governance: A Brief Synthesis of Policy Lessons and Recommendations of Nine Case Studies on Service Delivery for the Poor (New York: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2002), 12.
23. Berry et al., Approaches to Improving the Delivery of Social Services in Difficult Environments, 23.
25.Harry Blair, "Participation and Accountability at the Periphery: Democratic Local Governance in Six Countries," World Development 28 no. 1(2000): 23-24.
26. Arend Lijphart, Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 38.
27. Ibid., 41.
28. See for instance the case of Presevo Valley in Former Yugoslavia. Dusan Janji, "From Conflict to Multiethnic Coexistence: The Program of Crisis Solution in Presevo Valley" (In Nenad Dimitrijevi and Petra Kovacs eds., 239-270, Managing Hatred and Distrust: The Prognosis for Post-Conflict Settlement in Multiethnic Communities in the Former Yugoslavia, Budapest: Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative/Open Society Institute, 2004).
29. Blair, "Participation and Accountability at the Periphery," 24.
31. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities (Geneva: United Nations, 2004), 1-23.
32. Koen Vlassenroot, "Citizenship, Identity Formation & Conflict in South Kivu: The Case of the Banyamulenge," Review of African Political Economy 93/94 (2002), 505-506.
33. Ibid., 1-28.
34. Robert H. Bates, "Ethnicity and Development in Africa: A Reappraisal," The American Economic Review 90 no. 2 (2002), 131.
35. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Decentralised Governance for Development: A Combined Practice Note on Decentralisation, Local Governance and Urban/Rural Development (New York: United Nations, 2004), 11.
36. Derick W. Brinkerhoff and Arthur A. Goldsmith, Clientelism, Patrimonialism and Democratic Governance: An Overview and Framework for Assessment and Programming (Bethesda, MD: Abt Associates; Washington, DC: USAID, 2002), 2; Clientelism encompasses both patrimonialism and the practice of prebendalism. "Patronage, can be defined as the practice of using state resources to provide jobs and services for political clienteles. Patronage is designed to gain support for the patron that dispenses it." The practice of prebendalism "refers to the handing out of prebends, in which an individual is given a public office in order for him/her to gain personal access over state resources.[...]Prebends and patronage overlap, but I wish to emphasize their fundamental difference. Hiring a member of ones ethnic group to a senior position in the customs office is an example of patronage. Allowing the customs officer to use the position for personal enrichment by manipulating import and export taxes is an example of a prebend. Patronage is often perfectly legal, though it is frowned upon and constitutes a 'grey area' of acceptable practice; it remains present in the bureaucracies of the most advanced economies of the world" (Nicolas van de Walle, "'Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?' The Evolution of Political Clientelism in Africa," In Herbert Kitschelt and Steven I. Wilkinson, eds., 50-67, Patrons, Clients and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition, Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007, 53).
37. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Anti-corruption: Practice Note (New York: United Nations (2004), 9.
38. Simon Chesterman, Ownership in Theory and in Practice: Transfer of Authority in UN Statebuilding Operations, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 1 no. 1 (2007), 6.
39. Ibid., 6.
40. Ibid., 7.
41. Oisn Tansey, "Democratic Transition in the Context of International Administration," (Prepared for delivery at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 2-5, 2004), 7.
42. Robert Jackson, "International Engagement in War-Torn Countries," Global Governance 10 no. 1 (2004), 28.