In touch with the people: decentralised political and administrative systems

Across the world, countries are facing the challenge of meeting the growing expectations that their citizens have towards a modern state – even when public funds and administrative staff are in short supply. Citizens are increasingly well educated and well organised and are demanding greater participation and better services in their regions and municipalities.

This is precisely where the decentralisation of the political and administrative system comes into the picture: Decision-making powers, tasks and resources are distributed between national and subnational levels in such a way that public services can be provided close to the citizens and efficiently throughout the country’s territory. Decentralised political and administrative units can involve citizens more directly and extensively in planning and decision-making processes. Urgently needed public services are provided close to where people live and are adapted to suit each particular region.

This implies that each level of government and administration needs to be responsible for the tasks that it is best able to cover. Close cooperation between the various levels is imperative, because many decisions require approval from several levels. And many services can only be provided jointly.

We help governments, parliaments and administrations at various levels to establish decentralised political and administrative systems so that they can offer the citizens the services they require.

More about decentralisation


Designing decentralised political and administrative systems

A country’s constitution, its laws and implementing regulations stipulate how centralised or decentralised the structures of the state are. They also determine which public tasks will be performed by which level of government and administration, and the extent to which citizens play a role in government decision making. These documents therefore play a crucial role in shaping the relation between citizens and the political and administrative system of the country. Decentralised systems are based on the subsidiarity principle, according to which tasks are always performed by the tier of government and administration that is closest to the citizens that can competently fulfil these tasks.

Regions, cities and municipalities are the tiers of government and administration that are in direct interaction with the citizens. In many countries, however, the frameworks affecting the status, tasks and modus operandi of regions, cities and municipalities are not favourable to this interaction. Often, important legal, policy and organisational regulations are either lacking, or the regulations that do exist are inadequate.

In our partner countries, GIZ therefore supports the government, administration and parliament in establishing the legal, policy and organisational framework for a decentralised, citizen-centred political and administrative system. At the same time, GIZ strengthens the capacities of decision-makers to effectively manage, communicate and monitor the decentralisation reform process. In doing so, GIZ also promotes exchange and joint learning across national borders.


Strengthening local self-government

Local governments and administrations play the key role in citizen-centred political and administrative systems. They interact on a daily basis with citizens in their constituency, know their needs and preferences, and are therefore able to provide local public services in line with their demands. Hence, they are best placed to perform public tasks within their jurisdiction in a customer-oriented, efficient and innovative way.

In many countries, however, regional and municipal governments and administrations are not yet in a position to perform their core tasks in a way that satisfies their citizens. There are often no established structures, organisational models or procedures for general administration, local planning, construction project management, budgeting, archiving of records or delivering services in a way that is responsive to citizens’ needs.

GIZ supports regions, cities and municipalities in performing the tasks within their sphere of responsibility duly, efficiently and to the satisfaction of the citizens. For instance, GIZ strengthens structures and core processes for regional and municipal administration, and promotes inter-municipal and inter-regional cooperation. Furthermore, GIZ strengthens local government associations well as regional administrations in overseeing and providing advice and support to the cities and municipalities.


Promoting local democracy and citizen participation

In regions, cities and municipalities many opportunities exist for citizens to contribute their ideas and put forward their interests in local decision-making and planning processes. These include, for instance, regional and municipal elections, local development and land-use planning procedures, public hearings and citizens’ initiatives. At the local level, it is easier for citizens to experience democracy and citizen participation first hand. It is also easier for them to understand how decisions are being made and how they can influence these processes directly.

In many countries, however, citizens are either not involved in local planning and decision-making processes, or they are involved too late or without concrete outcomes. This may be because there are no participatory procedures with sufficient legal safeguards, the local administration possesses too little experience in involving citizens, or citizens are not yet able to make effective use of the existing opportunities to participate.

GIZ therefore supports the respective agencies in conducting regional and local elections and in introducing civic participation procedures. At the same time, GIZ advises local administrators on actively involving citizens and civic associations in decision-making and planning processes. Finally, GIZ strengthens citizen participation, civil society, local elected representatives and journalists in actively shaping local decision-making and planning processes.


Improving local services and infrastructure

Regions, cities and municipalities play a key role in the country-wide and citizen-oriented provision of public services and infrastructure. This is particularly true of services provided by citizen services offices such as issuing of birth certificates, identity cards, or ballot papers as well as social and business services delivered at the local level. The latter include water supply and sanitation, solid waste management, energy supply, and the granting of planning permission and business licences. These services make a key contribution towards sustainably in improving the quality of life of broad sections of the population.

In many countries, the regions, cities and municipalities are not yet able to deliver these services to all citizens with a sufficient standard of quality. One reason is that the division of responsibilities between different levels of government and administration is not clearly defined. It may also be that coordination and cooperation between the actors does not run smoothly, or that the capacities of local governments, administrations and public service providers are too weak.

GIZ therefore supports national ministries, local governments and administrations and public service providers in developing favourable frameworks for the delivery of public services at the local level. At the same time, GIZ strengthens and enables local governments, administrations and service providers in delivering the aforementioned services to the satisfaction of local citizens and the local business community.


Strengthening fiscal decentralisation and local financial management

Regions, cities and municipalities can only provide public services effectively and involve citizens in local planning and decision-making processes, if they have sufficient funds at their disposal. Fiscal decentralisation is therefore crucial for the functioning and performance of local governments.

In many countries, however, regions, cities and municipalities are chronically underfinanced. Allocations from central government are too low, rather unpredictable or tied to too many conditions. At the same time, the ability of local governments and administrations to generate their own revenues is often limited by an absence of local fiscal and fee-raising autonomy, a local tax administration that is too weak or a failure to fully profit from the existing potential for generating revenues. As a result, regions, cities and municipalities are either partially or entirely unable to finance the services urgently needed by citizens.

GIZ supports public institutions at all levels of government and administration in providing sufficient funding for regional and municipal administrations and their services. At the same time, GIZ supports these administrations in using these funds in a citizen-oriented, responsible and transparent way. Last but not least GIZ also aims at strengthening oversight bodies, enabling them to effectively oversee the generation and expenditure of public funds at the local level.


Training local officials and elected representatives

Regions, cities and municipalities can only perform the public tasks assigned to them properly and responsibly if they have a sufficient number of well-qualified and motivated local officials and elected representatives. Local officials such as administrative directors, treasurers and officials in citizen service centres are the backbone of local administration. Democratically elected local councillors form the link between citizens and their local administrations.

In many countries, local government officials and elected representatives are either partially or entirely unable to perform the tasks assigned to them in a citizen-friendly and professional way. This may be due to legal, organisational or material constraints, poor training, or lack of motivation caused by low remuneration, low job security or poor career opportunities.

GIZ supports the establishment and development of institutions to provide country-wide training for local government officials and local councillors. It also promotes the introduction of standardised and accredited training courses which are based on practice-oriented curricula as well as the establishment of continuing education measures for local government officials and elected representatives.


Dr. Ute Böttcher

Advisory and service portfolio

Here you will find an overview of the technical and methodological services we offer.


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