Where Do we Go from Here – Continuing the Advocacy for Democratic Local Governance Throughout ASEAN

Where Do we Go from Here – Continuing the Advocacy for Democratic Local Governance Throughout ASEAN

DELGOSEA might have reached the end of its project lifetime, but the advocacy efforts are set to continue! One of the main issues occupying the delegates at the final conference was the question of how to best to continue the promotion of better representation of local governance issues on the regional level. A roundtable discussion bringing together high-ranking representatives from all the project countries as well as UCLG-ASPAC gave the opportunity to explore this question and discuss ideas for the way forward.

The necessity for stronger support of local governance on the regional level was never in question: the ongoing economic integration of ASEAN that will be accompanied by liberation of the ASEAN labour market and free movement of people will present completely new challenges to local governments. According to Assoc. Prof Woothisarn Tanchai, the Deputy Secretary General of the King Prjadhipok’s Institute, cooperation between local governments across borders is vital to achieve some standardisation of services across the region; this was a statement that found general agreement in the conference hall.

Different options to ensure representation of local governance stakeholders in ASEAN were put forward by the Undersecretary of Local Government Mr Austere Panadero from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippines. These were ranging from the ambitious plan for the establishment of a specific working group on local governance within ASEAN to the rather more modest proposal to establish a liaison office focusing on the observation of developments of policies and guidelines in ASEAN, from the view of democratic local governance.

While there was a consensus from the speakers that a working group within ASEAN to fully concentrate on local governance would be a perfect solution in the long run and especially useful for supporting countries who have only recently started on the road of decentralisation – a sentiment well expressed by H.E. Sak Setha, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Interior and Chairperson of the Secretariat of the National Sub-Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDDS) in Cambodia – some speakers also cast doubt on the short-term achievability of such an aim. Mr Un Sovannasam, Senior Officer of Legal Services and Agreements in the ASEAN Secretariat, explained more about the workings of ASEAN and expressed his opinion that it would take a long time to establish such a new working group. He also emphasized that local governance is a cross-cutting issue that affects many already existing working groups, for example on urbanisation, environmental and labour issues. His suggestion would be to progress with establishing a committee outside ASEAN and let it be registered under Art. 16 of the ASEAN charter for privileged relations. The purpose of this committee could be following the issue of local governance in existing working groups and lobbying for the eventual establishment of an own working group.

Challenging the view that ASEAN should be at the centre of local governance on the regional level, Mr Basilio Araujo, Head of Division for International Financial Institutions and International Organization Cooperation in Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs, made a passionate plea for south-south cooperation, including cooperation between financial institutions, supporting private-public partnerships and intra-regional cooperation for infrastructure projects. He was full of encouragement for city-to-city cooperation, calling on the conference participants to sign agreements before the end of DELGOSEA project to ensure that cooperation continues.

It became clear, however, that the majority of speakers and participants were keen to find a way forward that kept them in touch with developments in ASEAN and allowed for a structured cooperation. The discussion moved towards option three, i.e. a combination of working outside of as well as with ASEAN, focusing more on existing structures rather than creating alternative ones. Dr Rudolf Hauter, Secretary General of UCLG ASPAC, made a persuasive case for creating a standing committee on Democratic Local Governance in Southeast Asia, within the existing structure of UCLG ASPAC, since the thematic areas would very well fit with priorities of his organisation and synergies could be created through using existing facilities. This standing committee would represent the inclusive DELGOSEA stakeholder network and could be connected with a small liason office to ASEAN.

After an intensive discussion, the delegates endorsed this option that would follow good governance as a cross-cutting issue within ASEAN and would continue to support the efforts of the partner countries to sustain cooperation on this issue and extend it to other ASEAN countries. A declaration to that effect was passed with the overwhelming support of the conference participants who were all keen to see DELGOSEA’s work continue.

Download the Final Declaration here: