Since the early 1990s, the issue of transparency has assumed prominence in improving governance, primarily through the increased attention given to increasing citizen participation, enhancing civil society engagement in the public arena, fostering closer accountability, as well as in combating corruption.(1) Transparency has been recognised as a means of ensuring an informed citizenry and for pursuing a collective vision. It exposes the public space thus allowing every stakeholder to remain aware of achievements and setbacks of the government. It motivates collective engagement and builds community identity by enabling every member to identify with processes, results and outcomes. Indeed, through transparency the boundaries of responsibility and action are rendered visible thus easily determining the locus of accountability. In addition, transparency limits corruption, which tends to thrive in closed systems that are ridden with ambiguity and discretionary behaviour. Transparency is thus a central pillar of good governance.
In the past decade and a half the focus of transparency, both as an aspect of improving governance and combating corruption, has been at the national level, mainly associated to the global trend of democratisation, pluralism and improved corporate governance. In some sense, this is understandable because corruption – the most conspicuous consequence of lack of transparency – is often most visible at the national level, and because national level institutions such as the executive, legislature or judiciary have been the traditional entry point for tackling corruption. Lately, however, there is a shift towards enhancing transparency at the local level. It is being increasingly recognised that building transparency is important for addressing some of the major challenges to sustainable development at the local level.
UN-HABITAT’s Global Campaign on Urban Governance argues that there has never been a more important time than now, to focus on the quality of governance at the local level. The new social contract arising out of the emerging democratic dispensation, the strong re-emergence of the civil society and the expansion of the public space, foster the need for taking responsibility and accounting for outcomes and impacts. In addition, the forces of globalisation and the movement towards decentralisation are putting cities and local governments under tremendous pressure to deliver an ever-expanding range of benefits. The realisation of these expectations, however, is affected by several important realities related to urban governance.
The emerging partnership between local government, private sector and civil society in sustainable development requires not only a reconfiguration of public space, which was earlier dominated by government only, but also new mechanisms for creating operational linkages among these spheres. This is all the more important due to the enlarged area of competence of local authorities, the increased volume of resources under its custody, and the expanded scope of transactions being handled by local governments. In fact, the complexity of local governance not only makes it vulnerable to corruption and other aberrant types of organizational behaviour but also renders it susceptible to alienation from its citizenry.
Another aspect of the urban reality that has to be taken into account is that times of major transition, such as those we are currently experiencing, create a system of perverse incentives that actually tend to reward corrupt behaviour. Lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities, confusing regulatory frameworks and complex administrative procedures create numerous opportunities for officials to calculate that the chances of getting caught, or the punishment they may risk, are not great. (2)
A central argument of this Toolkit, therefore, is that transparency can serve as a strategic entry point for catalysing a revolution in local governance. Cities, due to their smaller scale and the greater proximity of local authorities to citizens and other stakeholders, offer two important advantages over the national level for initiating efforts to enhance transparency.
First, the negative effects of poor governance, including alienation and corruption, are more acutely felt at the local level. The immediate life system of a citizen is predominantly affected by factors that are ultimately determined at that level. This relates to the location of habitat and quality of living environment, types of services, facilities available for gaining a livelihood, and even the opportunity available for influencing the range of choices and options available for sustainable living. Similarly, with regard to corruption, citizens and businesses sharply feel the impact of non-transparent and corrupt practices at the local level such as illegal or arbitrary allocation of land, poor service delivery, bribery and extortion. Moreover, the stakeholders can be readily identified and, as members of a more limited community, the power of “peer pressure” more effectively applied for reforms.
A second major benefit of localising transparency efforts is their potential catalytic effect for more fundamental reforms. As Transparency International has suggested, cities “may be the training ground needed to gain the experience and confidence necessary for action at the national level.” (3) Experience suggests that a successful anti-corruption campaign at the national level requires some 10-15 years to generate significant results, whereas at the municipal level, meaningful results can be achieved in as little as two years.(4) The complicated nature of legal or constitutional reforms makes transparency-enhancement/anti-corruption efforts time consuming and therefore more difficult to sustain, especially through changes in political leadership. A local campaign, however, has the potential to mobilise a committed constituency and generate significant positive results that can build the momentum necessary for more central – level reforms such as constitutional changes.
The remainder of the Chapter is structured as follows. For those readers wishing more background information regarding the current urban context, Section 1.1 describes how the forces of urbanisation, globalisation, decentralisation and democratisation are shaping cities in the 21st Century. It concludes that the quality of urban governance can mean the difference between cities characterized by growth and prosperity, and cities characterised by decline and social exclusion. Promoting transparency can play a pivotal role in improving the quality of urban governance.
Sections 1.2 and 1.3 discuss the subject of transparency from the Toolkit’s two strategic entry points. Section 1.2, Transparency and Good Urban Governance, focuses on how transparency can improve the quality of urban governance. Transparency can considerably enhance inclusion in cities, improve accountability and foster civic engagement. Section 1.3, Transparency and Corruption, aims to create a common understanding of corruption and its negative social, economic, environmental and political effects. It provides an overview of the nature and types of corruption and highlights the importance of transparency and good urban governance in efforts to minimise its negative impacts.
Section 1.4 puts forth a “governance approach” to promoting transparency at the local level. It emphasises the need for all stakeholders in local governance to fulfil their responsibilities based on what they can best contribute. A framework of five strategies for promoting transparency at the local level is developed and serves as the organizing rationale for the tools included in the Toolkit. The five mutually reinforcing strategies include: (i) assessment and monitoring; (ii) promoting access to information; (iii) improving ethics and integrity; (iv) institutional reforms; and (v) targeting specific issues that have proven to be key entry points in improving urban governance.
Finally, in Section 1.5, a simplified approach is presented for developing a local transparency programme. It has been adapted from the programme cycle proposed in the UN-HABITAT publication “Tools to Support Participatory Urban Decision-Making,” the first Toolkit in the Urban Governance Campaign Toolkit Series. The purpose of this section is to encourage and support any stakeholder in the urban arena who can and wishes to initiate local discussion on the design and implementation of a local transparency programme. The suggested approach is flexible and is expected to be adjusted to local realities.
- See Klitgaard, Robert, Ronald MacLean-Abaroa and H. Lindsey Parris (1996) A Practical Approach to Dealing with Municipal Malfeasance. Urban Management Programme Working Paper Series No. 7, Nairobi, p.12.
- Pope, Jeremy (2000) TI Sourcebook 2000: Confronting Corruption: The Elements of a National Integrity System. Transparency International, Berlin, p. 133.
- Gonzalez de Asis, Maria (2000) Coalition-building to Fight Corruption: Draft Paper. World Bank Institute, Washington, D.C., p. 8.
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