Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lack of good political institutions, not resources, make countries poor!

'Lack of good political institutions, not resources, make countries poor (AKA who will make local actions plans for global development goals?)

World leaders representing 150 countries gathered in New York City last week and agreed to work towards 17 global development goals. More than three years of brainstorming and negotiations took place in every corner of the world to build consensus over them. They are designed to provide a roadmap for countries to finance and shape government policies over the next 15 years. Out of these 17 global development goals, three are highlighted here – end extreme poverty, fight inequalities or injustices, and fix climate change. These three are truly the biggest challenges faced by the world today.
Now comes the hard part. Only time will tell if these goals will remain empty rhetoric or whether they will be instrumental in changing people’s lives for better. Without adequate financing, evidence-based planning and the political will to implement the goals, 2030 will not deliver the transformative agenda desired. It is obvious that the global goals cannot remain completely top-down. Conventionally, all the decisions, plans and finances flow from the top (national level) to the bottom (city level). The real challenge is to translate these goals from national level to the city level and from the city level to the local level. Global goals require local actions. Nothing will change unless you and I see changes in our own neighbourhoods and be part of these changes. But do we have mechanisms in our cities to take the global goals to local levels?
Who will take the ownership of these local action plans based on the global goals? So who is in-charge of our local area - the neighbourhoods we live in? If there are issues like the lack of proper footpaths, problems with water supply or filthy streets then whom should we contact? Do we even know our municipal ward corporator? In fact, we do not have any occasions, which bring the local voters and their representatives together – except the elections held once in five years. Unless we put such mechanisms in place where the local corporators have to take people along, nothing much is going to change. Local communities are in the best position to ask for better infrastructure and public places or support an increase in the green cover. Pune city experimented with ‘participatory budgeting’ where the citizens of particular local areas participated in deciding what is required the most in their areas. 
Urban local bodies are the key local institutions to further any developmental agenda and yet they are the weakest links in the hierarchy of governance. There are a number of peculiarly disjointed efforts, which are far from good governance practices. We have city level plans without budgets and municipal budgets without proper plans. . We have the development plan of the city being prepared for 10 or 20 years but they are not linked with city level budgets. Again, city level plans are not sensitive to local issues.
American political scientist Francis Fukuyama says that ‘institutions matter’- poor countries are poor not because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions. For the local institutions to be effective, they need their own roadmaps – short-term action plans linked with municipal budgets emerging out of various local areas in a city.

21st September, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)

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