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2016-07-29 | Local governance

Decentralisation and local governance is a basis for democracy. And responsibility of the community for surrounding environment is a basis for sustainable development. In the world delegation of powers to local level lead to incredible results and unique solutions for local problems. Exactly because of than CLEEN project works with grass-root NGOs that are aware about problems of their communities and settlements.

Earlier or later, any NGO which wants to develop will have to interact with local authorities. Topic "Local governance" gives an overview of local governance for unaware reader. The quality of this interaction could smooth or complicate achievement of NGO's goals.

In this topic of Module 3 the student will learn about self governance and it's major features. The principles of self governance (especially - the European charter), forms of its exercising and functioning are examined. The attention paid to forms of participation of citizens in local governance and fostering such participation.


Local governance is a right and capability of a community executed directly in compliance with the established statutory procedures and through representatives of local authorities that are not affiliated with the system of state government bodies. These local government authorities are elected; they represent the interest of the community and make decisions on its behalf.


The role of local governance is to protect local interests concerning the livelihood of the community.

Essentially, local governance is a means for every citizen to express his or her will. Not the government, but citizens themselves can make decisions locally about the livelihood of their community. Certainly, the decision- making process is compliant with the state laws.


The European Community outlined its vision of and consent with the common principles of implementing local governance in the middle of 1980s in the European Charter of Local governance. The Charter is the main international legal act that regulates municipal relations in the majority of European countries.

The following definition of “local governance” is used in the Charter: “The right and actual capability of local government bodies to regulate and govern a considerate portion of public affairs, acting within the law at their own responsibility and for the benefit of local community” (part 1, article 3 of the Charter). Also, the Charter determines that local governance can be exercised only on condition that special elected bodies are created and they are responsible for the management of local affairs and have executive organs reporting to them.

The European countries-signatories to the Charter have different structures of local government and different political and municipal systems. All of them, however, acknowledge the democratic way of development - decentralization as the main characteristic of local governance and the basis for any democratic system. All of the state-signatories to the Charter oblige to formalize in legislation and put to practice legal norms that guarantee political, financial, and administrative independence of local government.


The European Charter contains the basic principles of local governance, which means these values can be considered common European values:

  • independent management of local affairs, based on municipal property, local taxes, and orders of local law-enforcement bodies;
  • election of local government bodies by means of free, equal, direct, and universal suffrage by secret ballot;
  • the freedom of local governments to organize their bodies in the state administration system;
  • certain fiscal independence;
  • accountability of local government bodies and officials to the population;
  • the right to enact pieces of legislation;
  • monitoring of the performance of municipal bodies and their executive agencies.


Democracy and legitimacy
  • the people of the country can exercise power directly (citizens can run for office and get elected) and indirectly through the local government bodies (when citizens by the means of elections appoint governing bodies);
  • local government bodies and their officials must act within the boundaries of their authority and by the means outlined by the law.
Transparency and openness
  • in a democratic society government must be not only effective, but transparent as well;
  • every member of the community is entitled to know what actions the government takes;
  • every government agency must operate in the state of openness to its citizens.
Collective nature
  • the majority of decisions of local government agencies are not made by one official, but by a group, which is a more accurate way to express public opinion;
  • collective decision-making prevents usurpation of power by one individual;
  • There is an established quorum necessary for a representative body to function and a quorum necessary for adopting decisions.
Appointment by election
  • the community independently appoints local government bodies by election;
  • the opinion of the community about who should hold office does not depend on the national policy;
  • it is the direct way to exercise democracy on the given territory.
Legislative autonomy
  • local government bodies must have their own functions and responsibilities outlined in the state law;
  • local government bodies are legal entities that act independently within their authority and that are accountable for their actions in compliance with the law;
  • local government bodies must have complete authority and exclusive rights not shared with other bodies to implement their initiatives concerning any issues falling within the jurisdiction of local government.
Organizational autonomy
  • the main subjects of local government - its communities and bodies - are not a part of the state apparatus;
  • communities and their government agencies must have a capacity to determine their own structure that takes into account local factors and can provide effective administration and management;
  • when acting within the law, local government agencies are not subordinate to other authorities, and any kind of administrative control of their actions is possible only in order to secure compliance with laws;
  • actions of local government bodies and officials can be monitored by the state only under the law, and this should not lead to the interference of state bodies and officials in the issues within the authority of local government.
Financial autonomy
  • a community and its local government bodies have the right to possess, use, and dispose of communal property as well as communal funds, sufficient for a local government to perform its functions;
  • the economic and financial base of local government consists of movable and immovable assets, local budget revenues, and other assets, such as land and natural resources within the communal property;
  • communal ownership is an independent from state form of public ownership;
  • local budgets are independent and are not included in the national budget.
State support and guarantees for local government
  • national government supports local governments via partial funding on condition of compliance with the regulations concerning the administration of local governance, such as self-organization and self-responsibility;
  • a democratic state politically supports local government by creating constitutional, administrative, legal, economic and financial guarantees for its effective operation.
Accountability and responsibility of local government bodies and officials to communities
  • local government bodies and officials are held accountable for breaking the state law;
  • local government bodies and officials report on their actions to their constituents;
  • in the case that a local government violates the law and interests of the community, its bodies can be terminated early.
Judicial protection of the rights of local government
  • communities and local government bodies have a right to appeal to a court in order to protect their rights and interests judicially;
  • When prescribed by law, state bodies can also represent rights and interests of communities and local government bodies.
Balancing local and state interests
  • the purview of local government consists of issues that represent the needs of the community;
  • in its actions, a local government must balance communal and state interests. For example, it must exercise efficiently and responsibly certain functions of state government bodies if such authority is delegated to it by the law;
  • the state may entrust local government bodies with certain responsibilities of the executive branch of the government, and the local government has to administer those responsibilities;
  • when local government bodies administer their own responsibilities, they act independently and comply only with the law. However, when they administer delegated responsibilities,they are under the control of corresponding state bodies.
  • functions of local governance must be performed primarily by those bodies, that are the closest to citizens;
  • when entrusting a local government body with one or another function, it is necessary to take into account the volume and type of tasks, and also the requirements of “efficiency and cost-effectiveness”;
  • the division of responsibilities between various levels of local government must be organized in such a manner as to both bring the decision-making process as close to citizens as possible and to ensure that these levels of local government possess all the necessary organizational, material and financial resources.
  • local governance must be exercised throughout the entire territory of the country, which means there are no territories that are not under the jurisdiction of a community and a local government.


Decentralization of power means delegation of authority in such a manner as to devolve the main part of power from the central government upon local authorities.

Decentralization of power in a state promotes democracy, as communities, social groups, and the society in general have more influence over public affairs and issues. A democratic state always strives to engage its citizens in the execution of functions of public management in order to satisfy many-sided needs of individuals and people as a whole.

Means and principles of the expression of citizens’ will and the participation of the public in decision-making at the local level

Local Referendum

  • The local referendum is a tool for citizens to make decisions of local importance by a general vote. Territorial communities are the ones that ensure that a local referendum takes place and its results are implemented.
  • All citizens of the full legal age that are not subjects of legal restrictions are able to participate in a local referendum.
  • The results of a local referendum are subjects to compulsory implementation.
  • Local referenda are an embodiment of local direct democracy that allows communities within their respective administrative districts to exercise their will and public authority.
  • The local referendum is the main rulemaking instrument of a community that allows its residents to participate directly in the administration of local affairs.

Public Evaluation

  • Public evaluation of government performance reviews an overall performance of the government and estimates how efficiently it makes and implements decisions.
  • The goal of public evaluation is to draft proposals for solutions to issues of public importance.
  • In order to conduct a public evaluation, citizens submit a written request to a public authority.
  • A public authority issues an order to conduct an evaluation and to make arrangements to prepare a report. If needed, it can also create a task force responsible for collecting data.
  • In cooperation with public authorities, members of the public who submitted the request conducts an evaluation and make proposals.
  • Public authorities examine drafted proposals and announce the outcomes.

Public Consultation

  • Public consultation is a discussion concerning the framework and implementation of local policies. It is organized by the government in order to encourage citizens to participate in administration of local affairs, to create opportunities for the public to freely access information about the actions of government bodies and, also, to ensure openness and transparency of the government operation.

  • Consultations concern such matters as social and economic development of the region, implementation and protection of human rights and freedoms, as well as satisfaction of political, economic, social, cultural, and other interests.

  • The public consultation is one of the most common tools of local democracy, since it allows to have a multifaceted and fruitful dialogue directly between the government and the public. It promotes confidence not only in particular decisions, but also in government bodies as a whole.

  • Consultations are organized by the body in charge of drafting a particular piece of legislation or working on proposals concerning certain local policies. This body gathers and published informational materials, develops proposals, and analyzes outcomes.

  • Non-governmental organizations can request to address issues not on the agenda (it is mandatory to carry out consultations when at least three civil society organizations request to discuss a particular issue).

  • The conclusions made during a public consultation are available to the public after the end of the session (publications, the Internet, etc.).

Public Discussions

Types of public discussions:

  • conferences;
  • forums;
  • public hearings;
  • round tables;
  • meetings;
  • meetings with the public;
  • television and radio debates;
  • online conferences;
  • consultations via the Internet;
  • webpages of government bodies;
  • sociological research and observations;
  • operation of call centers;
  • monitoring of feedback;
  • interviews;
  • examination of other materials and summarization of citizens’ requests and suggestions.

Community Council

The community council is a standing elected advisory body created to ensure citizens’ participation in the administration of local affairs, to provide control over government actions, and to learn about and take into account public opinions when drafting and executing local policies.

Functions оf a community council:

  • prepares and submits proposals to the public authorities under which it was formed and suggests changes to the agenda of public consultations;
  • submits to public authorities legislative proposals to draft laws and regulations concerning advancement and implementation of local policies;
  • collects, summarizes, and presents to public authorities proposals of non-governmental organizations on how to resolve important public issues;
  • conducts public evaluation and public anti-corruption monitoring of pieces of legislation;
  • organizes public events;
  • reports on its activity;
  • forms standing and ad hoc bodies, engages state and local government officials, international and national experts from think tanks, scientific institutes, etc.;
  • obtains information necessary for its operation from authorities.

Decisions of a local council are of an advisory nature and it is mandatory that a local government body reviews and considers them.

General Meeting of Citizens

  • The general meeting of citizens is a meeting where all or a part of village/town/city residents gather to resolve issues of local importance. The meeting is a direct form of citizens’ participation in local affairs.
  • Within the framework of the meeting, by one means or another, every participant expresses his or her opinion and demonstrates interest in a particular event, which raises the level of political and social engagement of a community.
  • When necessary, a community-based general meeting is convoked, and it is generally considered to be quorate when more than half the citizens living in that territorial district and eligible to participate are present.
  • Decisions are usually adopted by an open or secret majority vote of citizens present at the meeting.
  • A general meeting has the right to terminate local government authorities early.
  • When in compliance with the existing laws, decisions adopted during the meeting are binding on bodies of self-organization of population and on residents of that territorial district. They also must be recognized by local government bodies.
  • Decisions of a general meeting that contain an address or a proposal to corresponding councils, their executive bodies and officials, and to the management and heads of businesses, establishments, and organizations are not binding, but must be reviewed and considered within the timeframe determined by the law.

Territorial Self-Organization of Population

Territorial self-organization of population is the right carried out by citizens within the boundaries of the law to pursue independently and on their own responsibility their agenda on issues of local importance. This right can be exercised directly by citizens or through local government bodies.

Bodies of self-organization of population (BSOP) are representative bodies created by legal residents of a village/town/city or its parts in order to solve issues prescribed by the law BSOP are formed based on principles of:

  • voluntarily participation;
  • territoriality;
  • accountability to corresponding councils and submission to their control;
  • financial and organizational independence.


The expression of the will of citizens must be practiced based on principles of:

  • connection of local governments with their communities;
  • transparency of the activity of local governments;
  • accountability of government authorities to communities;
  • efficient systems of administering local resources and funds;
  • participation of community members and sufficient level of their political consciousness and culture.


Depending on the extent to which the principles of the expression of will are guaranteed, citizens demonstrate:

  • Passive participation - limit their participation to receiving information about certain events taking place in their community. This is a unilateral exchange of information.
  • Participation in providing information - members of a community participate in surveys, but they do not have any influence on the process itself.
  • Participation by voicing their opinions - at this level government authorities consult with the population about a particular issue existing in the community, but members of the community do not participate in decision making.
  • Participation because of financial incentives - when citizens provide their resources in exchange for different material incentives, for example, labor for money. This form of cooperation is often called participation, even though many citizens are not interested in continuing their activity after they stop receiving their financial incentives.
  • Functional participation - at his level action groups are formed to achieve goals connected to development projects. As a rule, these groups are created on the initiative from outside.
  • Joint participation - when members of a community take part in a joint analysis which later results in formulation of action plans, creation of new local agencies, and improvement of those that already exist. Created groups monitor local decisions.
  • Self-mobilization - members of a community participate in development and advance initiatives independently from outside bodies.

Public participation in local decision-making must be an everyday part of citizens’ lives. The high level of public participation is indicative of a developed constitutional state.

How to encourage the public to participate in decision-making?

  • Raise public awareness. Citizens’ participation depends on how familiar they are with the policies of authorities and with the state of affairs in the community. Materials published in the press, TV and radio broadcasts, the Internet, and social networks are all tools of communication and provision of information.
  • Conduct consultations with the public on a regular basis. Public hearings, roundtables, meetings of stakeholders and parties involved, etc., are tools that can engage a wide range of citizens in the analysis of government services and in the process of policy-making.
  • Implement public control over government actions, using such tools as performance evaluations and monitoring of administrative services; monitoring of actions of authorities, supervisory committees, and public panels; creation of coalitions of non-governmental organizations. Control over public authorities helps to promote their accountability and transparency. It can be carried out by constant monitoring, by encouraging public feedback and by strategic planning of communities’ development. Engaging communities in strategic planning not only allows to focus on local issues, but also implies identification and use of communal resources.


Related materials




More about European charter.


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