ISSN: 2173-8254

Special Issue. Balance of Decentralization in Ibero-America after after four decades

Balance of Decentralization in Ibero-America after after four decades

Country: España

The present special issue of the Iberoamerican Journal of Local Government is dedicated to illuminating the balance of successes and failures over four decades of decentralization in Iberoamerica and is made possible by financing by the Andalusian Agency of Cooperation in Development, which sought to invest in the work of a team of over twenty specialists from different countries for the study of the decentralization processes in their respective territories. 

The truth is, without a doubt, that many successes can be noted since the beginning of the decentralization process.

The first point to note is the effective increase in local political power (in 1980 only one country in the region voted to select its local and regional representatives) and that the associative movement for inclusion of municipal affairs in the public agenda has been strengthened. 

The expansion of local responsibilities must also be highlighted. Before the process began, virtually all localities focused their efforts on urban maintenance services, i.e., the maintenance of waterways, sewage systems, pavement, health standards, street lighting, vehicular transit, waste management, park and cemetery upkeep, and the outfitting of community markets. Later on, social services were added, such as health, education, and community involvement, and, most recently, environmental care, promotion of economic development, and citizen security. All of these areas are now included under the umbrella of local government. 

Not least, the increase in fiscal decentralization, both at the subnational and, more specifically, at the municipal level, is worthy of mention. While this process has been concentrated specifically in certain countries, over three decades local governments have been able to count on more resources for the exercise of new responsibilities, though much asymmetry persists. 

In addition, the increase in democratic governance produced by the strengthening of the local level of government must be emphasized. Local environments have become centers of political debate and discussion of citizens’ interests, bringing about the emergence of a profoundly impactful new political class with local experience.

It’s true, also, that decentralization is not a panacea capable of resolving all the innumerable problems municipalities suffer. Its potential should not be overrated at risk of causing frustration. Though localities have taken on new responsibilities, historical shortcomings in public service provisions and infrastructure endowments remain unresolved. 

Also on the docket is the loss of political programming in local government as government of territories and the assumption of leadership in the community. Municipalities are more than public service providers. 

The absence of horizontal and vertical cooperation and coordination mechanisms between executive and legislative bodies due to the survival of autocratic leadership has also impeded the achievement of planned objectives. 

Additionally, this process has been carried out with a flawed institutional (a lack of professionalization in employment and the function of governing bodies), as well as financial (scarcity of resources, flawed planning and execution) articulation, and with excessive informality (a coherent process has been nonexistent). 

What’s more, we now understand that a strong policy of urban ordinance is lacking in most countries, and the consequences have manifested themselves in a flawed urban structure and the uncontrolled growth of cities. We also understand that in some cases we must restructure the local level to find adequate environments for the provision of public services and the promotion of territorial development. 

Country by country the territorial clues that explain the current state of the decentralization will continue being threshed out, but at this time I must restate my gratitude to the Andalusian Agency of Cooperation in Development and give thanks to the directors of the Project (Dr. Daniel Cravacuore y Dr. Ady Carrera), to the Coordinator (Dr. Castillo Ramos-Bossini), and to all of the authors for their outstanding efforts. 


Proyecto financiado por la Agencia Andaluza de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo