UNCDF at the seventh Commonwealth Local Government Conference

As the seventh Commonwealth Local Government Conference came to a close, a number of recommendations were crystallizing from the four day consultations which involved in total more than six hundred participants from national and local governments, academics, international organizations, the civil society, the private sector and development partners (C.f. Kampala Declaration on Developmental Local Government The conference acknowledged the central role local governments play as key stakeholders in development ensuring service delivery, but also promoting economic and inclusive development, environmental sustainability, climate change adaptation and mitigation, food security and managing fragile and post-conflict environments. This with special regard to the post 2015 development agenda, which is set to reach past the existing goals of poverty reduction and basic service delivery, focusing on the fields stated above.

UNDP’s administrator Helen Clark reiterated in her powerful address to the congregation the “great importance UNDP places on the role of local government as a key partner in the fight against poverty... Local governments with clear mandates, adequate financing, and sufficient capacity help drive development.” She continues stating that UNDP and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) strongly support the CGLF’s objective to maximize the potential of local governments for development and that in recent years they helped building local government capacity joining forces.

Indeed, UNDP and UNCDF have a longstanding expertise in working together with national and local governments to help build sound administrative systems and devise decentralization policies and mechanisms. Focusing on the public finance and investment aspect, UNCDF supports local governments to manage effective resource mobilization, planning, budgeting and delivery and accounting of public resources. By providing development funds, public investments and service delivery are improved on the one hand, while on the other hand implementing, planning, procurement and monitoring procedures help developing sustainable and transparent regulations and operating mechanisms of decentralized public finance. In the spirit of the ongoing Post 2015 consultations, UNCDF recognized a few years ago the need to venture beyond its core contribution to local development and create innovative programmes pursuing larger policy goals including economic development (country programmes in Sierra Leone, Senegal, Uganda, Lesotho and the global programme LFI), women’s empowerment (GELD), food security (Benin, Malawi, Burundi), climate change adaptation (LoCAL) and post-conflict environments (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia).

As one of the smallest UN agencies, UNCDF, in order to generate a significant contribution to development, needs to fuel its impact through innovation and creativity, paired with sound technical expertise. In this context, exchange, coordination and cooperation with partners and colleagues working in the same and related fields become crucial, not only to share experiences and ideas, but also to identify and create opportunities to generate more effective and meticulously targeted interventions. With respect to the quality of its participants and contributions, the Commonwealth Local Governance Conference was an important event on both accounts.

UNCDF’s technical advisors, Dr. Dmitry Pozhidaev and Dr. Kadmiel Wekwete shared their experiences in policy development and advocacy for successful decentralization and Local Economic Development (LED) interventions in Wednesday afternoon’s session on “Making the case for effective national policy making and decentralization to strengthen the development approach to local government” and in Thursday morning’s panel on “Partnerships for development: the leadership role of local government and involving all actors in inclusive local economic development”.

In his presentation, Dr. Dmitry Pozhidaev defined different stages of decentralization from the policy formulation to the framework and policy implementation. He went on by describing four different pillars of fiscal decentralization, explaining the related diagnostics, the challenges of intergovernmental fiscal transfers and the advantages of using performance-based grants, presenting a number of related experiences and lessons learned. His contribution was followed by a panoply of questions from interested delegates including Uganda, Lesotho, Zambia, Namibia and Sierra Leone on effective ways to finance Local Governments' activities.

Dr. Kadmiel Wekwete in his presentation on Local Economic Development – the Africa experience, went from explaining different LED approaches, to ways and frameworks of financing LED, giving examples of LED interventions in different African countries. He stressed the importance of creating a sound basis, with the local government playing a central role. LED interventions can be based on this with the main goal of building abilities, capacities and the productivity of localities and communities.

Parallel to the conference, representatives of CLGF, UNDP and UNCDF explored the possibility to establish a Regional LED Platform and Resource Center to support African countries in the formulation and implementation of LED strategies. The goal is to provide context specific practical advice and technical assistance to participating countries, moreover offering an experience sharing platform and peer learning mechanisms.

In his closing remarks, Carl Wright, the Secretary General of CGLF, gave his respect to UNCDF to be a most competent research partner. On this note, the CGLF and UNCDF decided to further align their research.

As a leading institution and driving innovative force in the field of local development, the relevance of UNCDF’s work did not go unnoticed by partners, national and local governments. The colleagues from DeLOG highlighted as a main challenge to devise concise climate change adaptation interventions with the local government playing a central role in the implementation. With the LoCAL programme, UNCDF combines exactly these variables to form a very targeted intervention. As another main challenge the fragmentation and non-harmonization of interventions were mentioned, though as best practices, the cooperation of five UN agencies (UNDP, UNCDF, ILO, UNICEF and UN-Habitat) on the Joint Programme on Local Governance and Decentralized Service Delivery (JPLG) in Somalia was commended upon.

Much mention revolved as well around UNCDF’s LED interventions in Uganda, Malawi and Sierra Leone, which were referred to in a number of presentations.

As a small organization, UNCDF follows Mayor Felicity-Ann Lewis' advice to “work strategically, not trying to do everything, but to try and get the basics right.”