The privilege of observing South-South at a junction
18 Nov 2016
By Enrico Gaveglia
Deputy Country Director, UNDP Philippines
As I walk out of my meeting with a delegation of high-level representatives from the Cambodian National League of Local Councils and the National Association of Capital and Provincial Councils that recently visited the Philippines to meet their counterparts, I was again reminded why South-South cooperation remains relevant – even more so perhaps – these days.
The exchange between the Philippines and Cambodia was aiming to trigger the sharing of best practices, exchange of ideas for resolving practical development issues and offer valuable peer to peer experience between two southern countries.
UNDP is privileged to be able to connect and facilitate roles to steering South-South cooperation initiatives. For this visit of Cambodian delegates, UNDP has assisted local civil servants to elevate their daily, at times inward looking work, to an international platform of dialogue.
With the support of the European Union, UNDP in Cambodia is implementing the Associations of Councils Enhanced Services Project and the initiative is attempting to turn the Cambodian associations of sub-national councils into effective organizations able to efficiently represent the interests of their members and provide services to them.
As I am plunging into the Philippines context, I strongly wanted the delegation of Cambodian civil servants to engage in dialogues with officials from the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, the League of Cities of the Philippines, the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Office of the Vice President. They shared experiences with the officials of the local government of Quezon City and visited the municipality of Gerona and Tarlac to learn from the local government units how climate resilience and agriculture are embedded into local the budgeting process.
While issues and challenges local civil servants face in Cambodia and the Philippines may be the same, obviously some differences in local governance structures exist. Perhaps the most relevant is the Barangays legislative, executive and judicial functions, the latter alien to the Cambodian Communes/Sangkat Councils. Similarly, fiscal decentralization at the level of cities and municipalities was also taken up, and it is not a surprise that the local governments across the two countries face challenges in performing devolved functions, with national government allocation not always covering service delivery aspirations. Partnership strategies are not, and should not, always be centered around resource mobilization particularly in tapping potential contributions of the private sector and academia.
Both Philippines and Cambodian administrations acknowledge the pivotal role of citizens and how their participation in development planning, budget processes and monitoring of development programmes needs to be sustained by national institutions. This while keeping in mind the need for maintaining political independence of the leagues when resources are received by national authorities. There is also a need for public representatives to champion advocacy around issues of human rights, gender empowerment and innovations in the delivery of social services.
Overall this exchange experience was about how best to promote the local councils’ democratic voice and provide mechanisms for problem-solving and downward accountability. This goes much beyond addressing administrative, financial and planning concerns and challenges that currently face Cambodian local councilors. Within this context, the Philippines decentralization and local governance strengthening process since the enactment of the Local Government Code in 1991 has emerged as a very significant learning experience for Cambodian delegates. As the Cambodian Local Government Authorities endeavor to refine further their strategic objectives, they acquired practical lessons from the Philippines on core issues such as advocacy, policies, capacity building, planning of resources, diversification of service provision to members, social accountability, financial sustainability as well as income generation, gender equity and social inclusiveness.
I found the engagement between local civil servants refreshing as this exchange looked more genuinely at sharing and learning from each other on how to better deliver public service to the people of their countries, rather than the type of south to south exchange solicited too often by unbalanced trading logic or seasonal geopolitical interests.
Mr. Enrico Gaveglia has joined the UNDP in the Philippines team since July 2016 as Deputy Country Director.