Designing the Blueprint for Better Local Governance in Southeast Asia

Speaker: DSG. Bagas Hapsoro (Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for Community and Corporate Affairs); Mr Andreas Röttger (Head of Economic & Regional Cooperation/Good Governance, European Delegation to Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam and ASEAN); H.E. Sak Setha (Secretary of State of the Ministry of Interior of Cambodia and Chairperson of the Secretariat of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDDS))

After two days of intense and stimulating discussions, the co-organised regional workshop between DELGOSEA and UCLG produced in ‘The Phnom Penh Record of Principles on Strengthening Decentralization and Local Governance’. The statement is calling to look into options for a more permanent dialogue on decentralization and local governance in ASEAN across the regional, national and local levels in view of expanding collaboration with local authorities (LAs), local government associations as well as civil society, in a multi-stakeholder approach.

How to strengthen regional cooperation on local governance between stakeholders? This important issue was the overarching theme of the workshop. As the Head of Regional Cooperation/ of the EU Delegation to Indonesia, Andreas Röttger, put it “, regional integration is not only a matter for the capitals, but has a supranational, national and local dimension.” The discussions focused on possible joint approaches on how the results of DELGOSEA could be beneficial also for such larger context.. Reflections also covered avenues to build on the momentum of advocacy for decentralization and local governance, as well as enhanced regional exchanges of better.

One of the main outcomes of the existing project was establishing a methodology for inter-regional better practice exchange and cooperation – now that this is in place, the perspective is on further lasting outreach. There was general agreement that this could best be done within the ASEAN framework, something that would fit well with ASEAN’s avowed ambition to become, in the words of ASEAN Deputy Secretary General,  Pak Bagas Hapsoro, in charge of Community and Corporate Affairs“a more people-oriented organization.”

The ‘record of principles’, which summarized and distilled the essence of the discussions during the workshop, proposes the establishment of an on-going forum to work on the issues of increasing and improving cooperation between the regional, national and local level, to persevere with decentralization efforts in all ASEAN countries and to encourage the sharing of experiences through genuine cross-border initiatives within the ASEAN community. The need to work in partnership across all levels and sectors of government and society was emphasized repeatedly during the workshop and featured highly on the final statement. Another important aspect was the recognition of the need for legal frameworks for decentralization, and for the strengthening of LGAs, CSOs and international alliances and networks.

It was stressed, however, that achieving these aims also requires advocacy efforts of the national governments towards ASEAN – Dr. Peter Köppinger, the director of the DELGOSEA project, appealed directly to government representatives present when saying that “ASEAN actually needs the cooperation of governments and an initiative from them to suggest a mechanism.” He felt that a two-pronged approach is needed, from both the local and the national level, to reinforce that regional cooperation for decentralized local governance becomes anchored in ASEAN.

While the current DELGOSEA project concentrates on cooperation with local authorities, it is quite clear that CSOs have an important part to play in ensuring good local governance as well. A roundtable discussion on strengthening cooperation between local governments and civil society explored the rlinks between the role of civil society as a ‘watchdog’ on local governance on the one hand, and CSOs being valued and effective partners in joint projects on the other. The consensus was to trust in the power of cooperation and that working together on well defined projects with clear roles for CSOs can only enhance governance on a local level. Everybody agreed that in any regional discussion on local governance, CSOs were crucial partners and should definitely be included in a evolving DELGOSEA network.

During sessions on disaster risk management and the financing of urban economic and infrastructure development projects, the great need for a more in-depth exchange of best practices across the Southeast Asia became apparent– in both thematic areas, some local authorities have done exemplary work and introduced innovative measures to reach their goals; the reaction from the conference floor showed that participants are very keen to exchange ideas with their counterparts from other countries.

DELGOSEA’s effort at strengthening regional cooperation on local government was further boosted by the high level participation of the ASEAN Secretariat in this regional dialogue, involving UCLG-ASPAC, DELGOSEA, KAS and other representatives in the region. The participants were delighted to be able to publish a communiqué to that effect – yet another important step towards sustainability.

The workshop, which took place from 3 - 4 May 2012 in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), brought together more than 80 representatives of the pilot cities from the five DELGOSEA partner countries, as well as from local government associations (LGAs), civil society organizations (CSOs), ASEAN and the European Union (EU). It was in itself a good exercise in regional cooperation and coordination, since it was jointly organized by two regional projects projects, i.e. from DELGOSEA and  from United Cities and Local Government (UCLG) and the United Cities and Local Government Asia Pacific (UCLG ASPAC), both co-funded by the EU.