Mexico City consultation of “localistas” held

2012-12 Mexico-012With the support of the UN Democracy Fund, The Hunger Project-Mexico (THP) organized two expert consultations in Mexico City, on December 4 and 6, as the next step in cultivating a global community of practice on capacity building for participatory local democracy.

Mexico is a geographically large country with a federal governance system in 31 states. Mexico’s strong tradition of local government in the municipios confronts significant structural challenges that impede effective participation, planning and action. THP greatly appreciates the generous and enthusiastic participation by committed individuals from government, academia, the private sector and civil society – who, by the end of the second meeting, named themselves collectively as the “localistas.”

The experts identified numerous challenges, the most significant being the three-year Municipio term, with no possibility of re-election. This creates a unique challenge to planning and continuity of public services. The most recent local government law (reference) proposes a multi-stakeholder Municipio Council on Sustainable Development (CMDS) which could overcome this challenge by giving an ongoing “home” to local long-term planning. To date, CMDS has not been very well implemented, and the central question of the December 4 meeting was if CMDS is a viable plan?

The experts – including one of the authors of the law – concluded that if there were investments and mechanisms to get these councils established, they could improve local planning and public services.

The December 6 meeting was a broader consultation gaining input on the “why, what, how, who, where and when” for building this community of practice.

Why Participatory Local Democracy? The consultation highlighted its advantages for governmental efficiency, effective monitoring and implementation, legitimacy of decision-making, people’s voice and ownership, transparency, participation, utilization of local knowledge, and achieving social harmony.

What needs to be done? Numerous challenges must be addressed in addition to the three-year term constraint: lack of democratic processes within parties in choosing candidates, the variability in size and participation culture between different municipios, conflicts between elected members and bureaucrats (sindico) assigned to the municipio, lack of knowledge among both representatives and the citizenry due to a lack of civic education, entrenched clientelism that works against participation, and severe resource inequality in the countryside.

How can we impact this?  Discussion centered on capacity building best practices. For example, the state of Chihuahua, provides mandatory training for municipios and an evaluation of its impact has been performed by CIDE and will be obtained and summarized on our website in the future. Mexico City has also carried out an effective awareness program on local governance.

We discussed the plan to develop a Community Score Card which, by the start of the consultation, we had streamlined into four major dimensions: active citizenry, political, fiscal and administrative – each of which have several sub-categories.

Given Mexico’s restrictive term limits, the group proposed that Planning and Continuity be included as a separate dimension, since it affects each of the other dimensions. The consultation agreed on the importance of including indicators that assess openness, response mechanisms, channels of objective information, mechanisms to address corruption and cultural constraints, clarity about responsibilities, safe spaces for participation, and the big gap between “declarations” and real planning.

Who can we enlist in the Community of Practice, and when? Perhaps the most inspiring part of the meeting for THP was the eager willingness of attendees to actively support outreach efforts to expand the localistas community. The Department for Municipios offered to help THP share the project in a February/March meeting with all the state government agencies responsible for this area, with Congressional Commissions, and with the four associations of mayors (one for each party) at their next meetings. The consultation compiled a list of civil society networks and universities that would be interested, and distinguished top experts on the subject who could perhaps serve on an advisory council.

Internationally, there is also a Forum of Federations among countries like Mexico with federal systems, at which this could be presented.

Communications in Spanish will be essential for the Community in Latin America, and THP-Mexico has offered to host the secretariat for Latin America, and a Spanish language version of the website – http://es.localdemocracy.net. (Sadly, the internet domain localistas.org is already owned by a restaurant in Texas.)

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