In any public agency, a conscious effort needs to be made to establish an organizational structure that increases the opportunities for transparency. This may include structuring the various offices of the organization and applying ethical codes and approaches already elaborated in the previous section.
Much of the work of local government is reliant on administrative processes that are often complex and time-consuming. These processes govern how land is allocated, how businesses obtain licenses, how staff is promoted or hired, and many other activities. If such processes are not understood by the public, they are likely to generate unfavourable comment because the decisions that are made may not be viewed as fair. Transparency assists in building this understanding. It is equally important that administrative processes be as simple and direct as possible, with limited staff discretion. This reduces the possibility of abuse in administrative systems both internally, e.g., for hiring and promotion, and externally, e.g., for the sale of land or the provision of business licenses.
There are a number of different approaches to doing business that can enhance openness and transparency in local governance. Seven of these are described below. Some focus on improving the local government’s communication with the citizens and streamlining administrative procedures to make the local government more responsive (for instance, the Complaints and Ombudsman Office, Municipal Front Office and One-Stop Shop). Others describe special organizational elements or arrangements that can prevent malpractice and counter corruption (e.g., Oversight Committees, Independent Audit Function and Independent Anti-Corruption Agency). Finally, the Participatory Budgeting Approach describes how the municipal budgeting processes, hitherto solely under the control of local bureaucrats and politicians, can be opened up to the communities, with positive results.
While this section mainly covers institutional changes in the sphere of local government, there are also examples of how institutional changes in other spheres of government can help to enhance transparency in local governance. For instance, in recent years, one organ of the government that has increasingly played an important role in catalysing institutional reform in public organizations is the judiciary. The judiciary is the custodian or the law and the Constitution. In many countries, the judiciary has taken on a more proactive role, especially in matters of public interest, and where malpractice and corruption are involved. Of course, using the judiciary to enhance transparency depends in a large measure on the independence and honesty of the judicial system itself. Taking recourse to the judiciary, however, should not be the first step but should form part of a comprehensive strategy that might include involvement of the media, town meetings, and approaches to government agencies most directly involved.
The tools included in this section are listed below:
2.23 Complaints and Ombudsman Office
2.24 Municipal Front Office (or Public Office)
2.25 One Stop Shop
2.26 Oversight Committees
2.27 Independent Audit Function
2.28 Independent Anti-Corruption Agencies
2.29 Participatory Budgeting