Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book

The importance of good local government in promoting sustainable development
Carl Wright, Director, Commonwealth Local Government Forum

The Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) was established in 1995. It brings together over 150 local councils, associations of local government, research and training bodies and Ministries responsible for local government, from across the Commonwealth. CLGF works to promote effective, elected local government in Commonwealth countries, and to give local government a voice at Commonwealth level.

At the 1997 meeting in Edinburgh, the Commonwealth Heads of Government recognised that "effective, elected local government is an important foundation for democracy", and acknowledged "local governments' role in ensuring sustainable development". More recently, the 1999 CHOGM acknowledged "the role of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) and its close co-operation with the Commonwealth Secretariat in the promotion of democratic values and best practices in local government". This article looks at the work CLGF is doing on behalf of its members in this respect.

Strategic decisions are taken by the CLGF Board, which consists of members from all of the Commonwealth regions. The CLGF Chair is currently Cllr. Collin Matjila (South Africa) and its Vice Chair is Cllr Len Duvall (UK). The Director is Mr Carl Wright. The Board is elected at the CLGF General Meeting, which every member organisation can attend, for a period of two years.

CLGF works closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat, and has collaborated with the United Nations, UNCHS-Habitat and the UNDP in a number of joint activities. CLGF also works closely with key donor agencies such as the European Union, the UK Department for International Development and AUSAID.

CLGF receives funding from its members in some 40 Commonwealth countries, as well as project grants from a wide range of donor agencies.

Effective, elected government
CLGF activities in support of effective, elected local government cover a number of country-specific activities, several of which have been undertaken in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat. In addition, CLGF has organised policy events and study visits, designed to foster closer collaboration between senior representatives of central and local government and other key stakeholders.

CLGF sponsored two members of Gambia's Electoral Commission who visited Ghana to observe the local elections in June 1998, with financial assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat.

At the invitation of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, CLGF representatives formed part of a Commonwealth team of election observers in Nigeria during the local elections in December 1998. The CLGF group included the Mayor of Cape Town, the CLGF Director, and experts from Ghana and the UK. The team was led by the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General, HE Mr K Srinivasan.

Visits were made to polling stations in regional centres across Nigeria. The delegation passed a report back to the Commonwealth Secretary General, who commended the conduct of the elections. CLGF aims to continue working with newly elected councillors in Nigeria as the transition to democracy is completed.

A CLGF project for the training of elected councillors and local government officers in the Caribbean concluded with a regional workshop held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, attended by representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

In the course of the project, training workshops were held in Guyana (September 1998 and January 1999), in Jamaica (March and July 1999), and in Belize (April 2000). The project was organised in collaboration with the Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities (CALGA) and the Greater London Employers' Association (GLEA), with funding from the European Union.

In May 1998, CLGF organised an event attended by local government officials, elected representatives and trainers from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, examining decentralisation and local government reform strategies in East Africa. The symposium was held at the headquarters of UNCHS (Habitat).

Assistance and support were provided by UNCHS (Habitat), the Municipal Development Programme, the British Council and the Commonwealth Secretariat, in collaboration with the Association of Local Authorities of Kenya and the Kenyan Government.

CLGF held a symposium to examine the issues affecting the local governance of small states, in Malta in March 1999. The symposium was attended by some 40 local government, Ministry and NGO representatives from small states in the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. The event was organised in collaboration with the United Nations, the Commonwealth Foundation and the UK and Malta Governments.

The symposium adopted a Declaration on Local Government and Civic Society in Small and Island Developing States which affirmed the important role played by participatory local democracy in development and emphasised the role of local government in ensuring effective delivery of services to the community.

CLGF has been involved in organising study visits on a range of local government policy issues. In April 1999, two local government officials from Mozambique visited the UK. CLGF organised study visits to the London Borough of Camden and Crawley Borough Council and discussed different aspects oflocal administration in the UK.

In June 1999, CLGF was able to make arrangements for a team of experts from Australia and New Zealand to visit South Africa at the request of the Department of Constitutional Development to advise on performance management issues in local government.

Promoting sustainable development
CLGF, together with its member organisations, works to facilitate sustainable development at local level. This involves workshops and seminars on capacity-building, as well as exchange of information on good practice, especially at regional level.

In March 1998, CLGF organised a Symposium on Education and Training for local government in Durban, South Africa. Eighty delegates from seventeen Commonwealth countries met to discuss developments in the field since the first CLGF symposium on the subject in 1995. Their recommendations highlighted the value of national training policies specific to local government, and identified measures to standardise and enhance the quality of training on offer. The symposium was held by CLGF in association with UNCHS-Habitat, the Municipal Development Programme, and JUPMET South Africa.

A central aspect of CLGF activities in Africa has been the continuing work on a DFID/EU funded project to establish a local government information centre for the SADC region. This project is organised by CLGF in collaboration with the African Union of Local Authorities and the Municipal Development Programme. The Centre is based in Harare and the initial focus of the work has been on Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A series of study visits took place within the region, during which local government officials have examined specific issues relating to local government in neighbouring countries. In 1998, visits took place between Zimbabwe and South Africa, South Africa and Uganda/Zimbabwe, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Mozambique and Botswana/South Africa. In 1999, visits were organised between Swaziland and Zambia. Each visit has been followed by a national seminar in each of the countries to disseminate the findings.

The information generated through these visits are now available through the centre, which currently holds more than 400 publications on different aspects of local government policy, and maintains a web site ( and searchable databases. Access to this information allows government and local government in the region to develop policy in an informed and consultative environment, with long-term benefits to service delivery.

The official launch of the Centre took place in Johannesburg, in July 1999. CLGF's initiative in establishing the Centre was formally endorsed by the SADC Ministers and specifically commended by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Efforts are now being made to extend this initiative to other parts of Africa. A workshop on information sharing and dissemination held in Arusha, Tanzania, in August 1999 brought together local government practitioners from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to discuss the feasibility of setting up a regional information centre/network for East Africa.

CLGF managed an EU-funded project focusing on selected local authorities in Malawi. Five UK authorities (Crawley, Corby, East Staffordshire, Reigate & Banstead and South Staffordshire) worked with their counterparts in Malawi (Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Blantyre, Salima and Zomba), on a range of technical assistance projects to improve service delivery and local authority capacity.

Co-operation between the partners addressed issues such as financial management, a pilot drainage project, work with street children, and training in food-handling for street vendors. Local government officials from Malawi met in Lilongwe in July 1998 to assess the impact of the project. The meeting reported positively on the work undertaken, which was felt to have contributed towards the development of management expertise, improved service delivery, and an enabling environment within the authorities concerned.

CLGF activities in Asia have also focused on research into the potential for an information network for local government in the region. A group of Commonwealth experts met in Jaipur, India, in January 1998, to consider the information needs and existing resources of local government. The meeting was co-organised by the CLGF and the All India Institute of Local Self Government. This was followed by a further meeting in September 1998 at the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok.

Local government, national government, training institution and NGO representatives from South Asia met in Delhi in September 1999, at a workshop on capacity-building co-organised by CLGF and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. The event focused on the need to develop co-ordinated strategies for training and capacity-building at all levels to address the pressing needs within the region.

A regional capacity-building project in the Pacific has been launched, with a project base in Suva. The project will cover Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and builds on the recommendations of the 1997 Port Moresby Roundtable on Decentralisation and Good Government at Local Level.

The Commonwealth Local Government Good Practice Scheme, specifically endorsed in the Communique of the last CHOGM, was launched in April 1998 to support CLGF's on-going work in the field of exchange of local authority skills and expertise by practitioners across the Commonwealth. Funded by DFID (UK), the Scheme aims to promote effective, responsive and accountable delivery of local services, particularly to poor and disadvantaged groups.

Projects are supported between local authorities or local authority associations in different Commonwealth countries, either on a north-south or south-south basis. They adopt a joint approach to developing the capacity of one partner to deliver services more effectively.

Projects focus on seven key themes, namely the provision of services, the development of innovative institutional practices, the promotion of democratic and accountable local government, the development of efficient management, councillor and staff development, improved financial management, the local authority role in the promotion of economic development, sustainable development and Local Agenda 21, and gender equality in local government.

There has been a good take-up, and projects are beginning to show tangible results. Projects that have been supported so far involve UK authorities, and Association to Association links.

The Australian Government has also become involved, providing support for a number of projects under the scheme. The projects will initially involve technical co-operation between Australian local government and local government in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

CLGF has launched a programme of research and information dissemination focusing on local government reform and innovative practices in Commonwealth countries. The project draws on the expertise of CLGF members in different regions and is designed to develop a series of 14-15 case studies on innovative practices in seven to eight different Commonwealth countries. These will be disseminated to CLGF members, and used to build up a database on local government structures in the Commonwealth.

Case studies of best practices will begin with an investigation into co-operative government and public/private municipal service provision partnerships in South Africa. The project is being co-funded by the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Development Education materials for use both in schools and the wider community have been produced under a CLGF project, with funding from the European Union. Six UK authorities drew on their partnerships with Commonwealth countries to produce teaching packs, a video, a reading book and a web site.

A series of seminars were held in late 1998 and early 1999 to launch the materials produced. For example, East Staffordshire Borough Council made a video for use in schools about their link with Blantyre, in Malawi. The City of Edinburgh Council produced a pack entitled "Making Demands on Democracy in South Africa: Lessons for Scotland?" Lancashire County Council made a schools' pack for use in key stage two of the National Curriculum, focusing on "Gulu, An African Town", and drawing on their partnership in Uganda.

The increasing emphasis on good governance as a focus for Commonwealth activity has implications for local government - at the level closest to the people. CLGF continues to play a role in encouraging local democracy, the exchange of experience, and strengthening local capacity.

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