El Salvador

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el_salvador_mapPopulation: 6,300,000

HDI ranking: 107/187

HDI score: 0.680

El Salvador has made some progress in the transfer of responsibilities towards local governments. However, some important areas are still centralized and high levels of corruption and criminality are still an obstacle for the strengthening of local democracy.

Local governance at a glance

• El Salvador is made up of 14 departments, which are subdivided into 262 municipalities.

• While the president appoints the governors for the departments, municipal governments are directly elected every three years by the municipalities themselves (UCLG, 2007).

• The Ministry of the Interior and the Institute for Municipal Development play a minor role regarding responsibilities towards the local governments. The Investment Fund for Local Development (FISDL), which oversees municipals plans and spending, plays a more important role. The Legislative Assembly has legal authority over the local governments (UCLG, 2007).

• In 2013, El Salvador passed a gender quota both for the national level and subnational level and it states that at least 30% women candidates have to be included in the parties’ candidate lists for the municipal council (Quota Project, 2014).

Civil society actors include

• The Social Initiative for Democracy seeks to raise and strengthen the capacity of civil society as well as local and national government institutions.

• The Fundación Dr Guillermo Manuel Ungo contributes to the democratic development of the country and focuses on three programs: democratic governance, territorial management and citizenship, and public policy studies.

• The Fundación de Apoyo a Municipios de El Salvador works to promote and support local development strategies for regions in poverty by including the people and municipal governments to strengthen democracy and governance.

Capacity building institutions

• The Corporation of Municipalities in El Salvador (COMURES) plays an important role in the representation and strengthening of municipalities by promoting municipal autonomy, modernizing municipalities, increasing financial resources and raising awareness of civil needs. (UCLG, 2007)

Fiscal control

• While the approval of taxes is up to the Legislative Assembly, the municipalities have authority over four fields: 1) putting forward local tax proposals (which still have to be approved), 2) collecting local taxes, 3) fixing and approving rates/prices for public services provided by the municipalities, and 4) carrying out transfers either for operations or investment (UCLG, 2007).

• The central government collects up to 90% of taxes and transfers funds to the local governments, which account for 7% of the municipalities’ budget; around 35% of the budget is collected by public service rates (UCLG, 2007).

• Due to a lack of decentralization and political altercations, municipalities do not have significant responsibilities regarding territorial taxes, or significant funding by the central government. While local governments have limited fiscal as well as financial independence, municipal governments have restricted legal control over public lending and the management of local development projects (UCLG, 2007).

Key initiatives for participatory local governance

• The constitution of 1986 includes an amended municipal code stating greater autonomy for the municipalities and defines both the organization and function of the municipal governments (ICMA, 2004).

• At the beginning of 2006 a reform of the Municipal Code became effective, leading to more clarity of the powers and responsibilities local governments have, and improved their accountability. The reform also aimed to reduce and control corruption. However, the question of municipal financing remained open (EC, 2007; UCLG, 2007).

• Further reforms in 2006 brought additional authority for the municipal governments over local development plans especially in the following areas: energy supply (public lighting), public transport, urban services and support for company development (UCLG, 2007).

Challenges for participatory local governance

• Although reforms of the municipal code were conducted, areas such as health, education and water supply are mainly controlled by the central government while municipal governments just play a promotional role (UCLG, 2007).

• El Salvador is confronted with corruption, gangs and organized crimes, all of it being an obstacle towards the strengthening of democracy (Shifter, Schwarz 2012; Freedom House 2013).

Recent posts on this website about this country: 


List of sources (in order of citation):

United Citizens and Local Governments (UCLG), 2007: “Republic of El Salvador.”

Quota Project, 2014: “Republic of El Salvador.”

International City/County Management Association (ICMA), 2004: “El Salvador Country Report. Tendencies in Decentralization, Municipal Strengthening and Citizen Participation in Central America, 1995 -2003.”

European Commission (EC), 2007: “El Salvador. Country Strategy Paper.”

Shifter, Michael and Rachel Schwartz, 2012: “Democracy in Process: El Salvador’s Unfinished Transition.”

Freedom House, 2013: “El Salvador.”