Strengthening local government integrity
Filed under - Politics and government
What’s at stake?
More and more we see powers, responsibilities and budgets devolved from the central government down to the local level. From social welfare to commercial licensing, health and education, local governments are playing a greater role designing policies and delivering key public services.
Although decentralisation processes can help strengthen accountability by bringing government closer to the people, decentralisation can also present corruption risks since corruption is a problem at all levels of government. Local officials may have greater vested interests based on family, friendship and business ties that can influence decision-making. Wages at the local level can be low in comparison to the national level and institutions designed to hold local public officials to account are not always adequate.
It is at the local level where citizens and the public sector interact most regularly and directly – be it registering for school, attending a health clinic or applying for social housing. So when corruption occurs locally, the impact on citizens’ lives can be the most damaging, with the poorest being hit the hardest.
When elections are rigged, bribes paid in order to access basic services, and public funds diverted into private hands, the public good comes second; citizens’ interests are harmed and trust in those that govern us is eroded.
At the same time, opportunities for direct civil society engagement and oversight are greatest at the local level, providing an opportunity of strengthening integrity and accountability through civic oversight.
What we’re doing about it
When transparency, accountability and integrity are put at the heart of local governance systems the risks of corruption are reduced. Citizens can participate in and influence policy design and implementation, and hold local officials to account for their decisions. Local government officials act effectively in the public interest and are open about their activities and take responsibility for them.
Transparency International promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in local governance, regardless of size and context, to ensure that corruption cannot take root.
Transparency International chapters in many countries have worked on aspects of local governance, from city-level transparency projects to tech tools that help citizens report on local problems. Chapters in several countries, from Argentina to Senegal, have also piloted our Local Integrity System tool (see below).
We address local-level corruption through a holistic approach, which aims at strengthening Local Integrity Systems. This approach is based on the belief that a functioning Local Integrity System with strong institutions and oversight systems, which ensure high levels of transparency, accountability and integrity in local governance, is the most effective way to prevent and sanction corruption at the local level.
- By assessing the existence and effectiveness of procedures to promote these principles at the local level, we can identify risks and advocate for reforms.
- The Local Integrity System assessment allows our chapters and other civil society organisations to develop recommendations and conduct evidence-based advocacy, which seeks to engage key local governance stakeholders in the development of a strategic local integrity plan.
- Working with our network of national chapters, we develop and implement innovative approaches to enable citizens and civil society to better participate in local decision-making, monitor local officials and advocate for improved laws and practice.
Assessing local level integrity for evidence based advocacy
The Local Integrity System (LIS) Tool assesses the effectiveness of procedures and mechanisms to promote transparency, accountability and integrity in order to fight corruption at the local level, provides recommendations on areas for reform and develops a follow-up action plan for strengthening local integrity in collaboration with key local stakeholders. The LIS supports a process of continuous improvement of local integrity systems through long-term engagement between civil society and other key stakeholders.
The tool has been successfully piloted in five countries: Argentina, Kenya, Palestine, Portugal and Senegal. Other reports coming soon
Municipal Transparency Indices
Indices and rankings have proven to be an effective advocacy tool to foster upward competition between governments (or companies) by fostering a ‘race to the top’. So far, no index exists to assess the transparency or integrity of local governments. Transparency International has developed and is currently piloting a Municipal Transparency Index to assess and rank a selected number of local governments and municipalities within a country. More information on this index and methodology is forthcoming.
José María Marín, Head of Public Sector Integrity Programme (Acting)
Michel Gary, Senior Programme Coordinator