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International guidelines on decentralisation and the strengthening of local authorities

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These UN-Habitat guidelines are in line with making the international dialogue on decentralization as open-ended and inclusive as possible. They are aimed at forging consensus among member states on decentralization policies in the development process.
A number of developed and developing countries are involved in streamlining functions, redefining decision-making powers and reallocating resources. The consequences of such changes have a bearing on the political, economic and administrative roles and responsibilities in the management of social, economic and environmental affairs at the local level.



The guidelines are subdivided into four sections looking at governance and democracy at the local level, powers and responsibilities of local authorities, administrative relations between local and national authorities and financial resources and capacities of local authorities:
  • Governance and democracy at the local level - Political decentralization is an essential aspect of democratization, good governance and citizen participation. It should involve a good mix of representative and participatory democracy 
  • Powers and responsibilities of local authorities - The principle of subsidiarity constitutes the rationale underlying to the process of decentralization. As per the principle, public responsibilities should be exercised by those elected authorities who are closest to the citizens. In terms of incremental action, an increase in the functions allocated to local authorities should be accompanied by measures to boost their capacity to exercise those functions
  • Administrative relations between local authorities and central government - Local authorities should be acknowledged in national legislation, including the constitution, as legally autonomous sub-national entities with a positive potential to contribute to national planning and development. They should be empowered to freely exercise their powers bestowed upon them by national and regional authorities within the limits defined by legislation. The powers should be full and exclusive and not subject to interference by another authority except as provided by law. Their supervision should only be exercised in accordance with the legislation
  • Financial resources and capacities of local authorities - Local authorities should be supported by central government in the development of their administrative, technical and managerial capacities, and of structures, which are responsive, transparent and accountable. They require appropriate financial autonomy which should commensurate with their tasks and responsibilities and ensure financial sustainability and self reliance.