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Issue 535/ 28th Apr - 4th May 2012
Local Governments in Somaliland: Challenges and Opportunities III
By Abdirahman Adan Mohamoud
[Continues from our last edition]
There are some promising opportunities awaiting local governments in Somaliland. If these opportunities are seized competently, local governments could realize tremendous changes and positive reforms. Let us highlight these opportunities one at a time:
4.1 Upcoming Local Council Election
As the local councils election is now expected, if all goes well, to take place this year (exact date to be announced by National Electoral Commission), there is a great window of opportunity for change. In other words, it is an opportune moment to analyze what went wrong in the last local government election and so tighten up shoes to correct these mistakes. Therefore, electorates should seize this opportunity and elect honest, capable and qualified local councilors. As per the amended election law, the age limit of the councilors has been reduced to 25; thereby youth should actively participate in and run for the local government election. This will be beneficial for the country as a whole, for young, energetic and educated members will possibly join local councils and hence rejuvenate the council functions.
Political organizations are also expected to behave responsibly and identify competent and qualified candidates for the upcoming elections as mandated by law. Clearly, political organizations will play every possible trick that will help them emerge as national parties, but one way that will surely help them gain the minds and hearts of the electorates is careful and strategic selection of candidates. Electoral commission and other concerned institutions should check the rigorous compliance of the election laws and satisfaction of basic requirements. On the gender front, the exemplary performance of the mayor of Gabiley (the only female mayor in Somaliland) should serve as a living example to women in general and, therefore, they should play a proactive role in the election and aim at having more women councilors in local governments. In short, Somaliland needs to have pragmatic and able councilors who are not pre-occupied with the famous “dismiss and replace” attitude but rather focus on a development agenda.
4.2 Cost-Sharing Approach
The ever more popular approach of cost-sharing between local governments, on the one hand, and the ad-hoc development committees of the neighborhoods in major towns, gives an unprecedented opportunity to local governments in terms of delivery of services. Some local governments have introduced this concept and, as a result, a great change has been noticed in the services being delivered in terms of efficiency, cost effectiveness and satisfaction. Local communities, similarly, demonstrated their willingness to collaborate with local councilors when properly approached and convinced. A case in point is the collaboration between the two observed in several towns in the country, where they worked together and improved a good number of roads through this cost-sharing approach. In Hargeysa, for instance, the local council managed to construct more than two dozen tarmac roads through that approach. Reportedly, many more communities are willing to contribute to local development initiatives, and local councilors are taking tough decisions as to which road to be improved and financed. (Interview with the Mayor of Hargeysa, 2011). This positive development has not only contributed to the improvement of the deteriorated roads but equally shrunk the suspicion gap and, consequently, built the trust between the two. Thus, local governments should recognize this communal awakening and make the best use of it.
4.3 Availability of International Development Partners
The availability and willingness of international development partners to contribute to local governance capacity building gives yet another hope to local governments. Such development partners include the UN Joint Programme on Local Governance and Decentralized Service Delivery. In the last couple of years, this programme has focused on building the capacity of councilors and the administration, as well as systems and procedures. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that many civil servants at the central government institutions did not have such an opportunity and, thus, their capacity is comparatively low. This joint programme, where five UN agencies joined hands to improve local governance presents an unparalleled prospect to local governments. If capitalized skillfully, local governments could obtain the much-needed technical and financial support for systems reform, institutional and capacity development, as well as greater service delivery.
4.4. Association of Local Governments Authority in Somaliland
The formation of the first local government association is another opportune development for local governments. This organization is now active, and many local governments have already subscribed to its membership. It can facilitate such vital issues as peer learning and experience sharing. Local governments, as such, can learn one from another, avoid hiccups and duplicate best practices. Though the association is struggling with issues related to institutionalization, it has already played a crucial role in creating a friendlier environment between central government and the local governments (Prospects of Decentralization in Somaliland).
4.5 Improved understanding of Local Governance Issues
As a result of thorough trainings and capacity development packages, stakeholders now enjoy better understanding of local governance issues. Councilors are now clearer on their roles and responsibilities. Local communities are on their side willing to engage with local governments to ensure delivery of greater services.
Finally, as I am writing this paper, I came to know that Hargeysa Municipality reinvested part of its revenue in local meat vendors in order to help them grow and prosper. This is indeed a way of paying back to tax payers, and the Hargeysa local government deserves to be applauded for this another commendable move (after a road construction scheme which it pioneered). Above all, it demonstrates greater responsiveness and increasing understanding of the local governance issues.
4.6 National Development Plan
Lastly but not the least, the finalization and recent launch of a five-year National Development Plan that envisions creating an enabling environment that is conducive for economic growth and efficient governance constitutes a major landmark, as it clearly articulates national priorities and development needs both at local and national levels. At the district level, availability of a 5-year District Development Framework that is in line with the National Plan is another opportunity.
Clearly, the challenges stated above can’t be met successfully with simple shortcut solutions but, instead, they require a multi-faceted approach. Listed below are some recommendations that, if adopted, will hopefully provide short and long term remedial measures.
5.1. Capacity Development:
Continued capacity development package for all local governments is required. As mentioned, efforts aimed at capacity development were carried out and some positive changes were recorded. However, continued capacity and institutional development will be required, in the short term at the very least. This is meant, in the first place, to upgrade technical, administrative and managerial skills of councilors and administration staff so that they can undertake effective strategic and participatory planning process at the district level.
Moreover, as new councilors are expected to be elected, there will be a greater need to launch another cycle of capacity development package to help incoming councilors better adjust to the new settings. However, the proposed capacity development effort needs to be based on a comprehensive training needs assessment to be carried out right after the election to determine the level, background and qualification of the new councilors. Equally, other technocrats that will stay there regardless of the local government election will need a refresher package so that they will not only sharpen their skills but also keep pace with the new councilors. Nevertheless, the need to have focused and relevant trainings for councilors and local government staff must be noted and conducted accordingly. Specifically, thorough trainings on land management, urban planning and local economic development are the top priorities for the time being.
The recently-finalized National Development Plan is crystal clear about the capacity development of both national and local government and other institutions. “The national capacity in terms of the effectiveness of institutions, and the quality of human resources available is low and must be addressed strategically. The strategy must aim at building the capacity of central government institutions, local governments, private sector enterprises and community organizations” (NDP Pg 23)
As part of this capacity development package, local councilors should be assisted in undertaking study tours to the countries in the region, preferably to the ones that have undergone similar socio-economic upheavals and successfully emerged. Such exposure visits would serve as an eye-opener experience for local councilors.
Local governments on the other hand are required to come up with a sound strategy that would enable them to retain the empowered staff, otherwise the proposed capacity building packages would not have a tangible impact. If local governments can aggressively raise legislated taxes, effectively manage public expenditure, eliminate redundant staff, they can offer competitive pay.
5.2. Civil Service Reform and Development of Human Resource Policy
Civil service reform is critical if Somaliland wants to build a cadre of motivated professionals who can provide the mandated service delivery. The development of a comprehensive human resource policy – to address the key gaps identified related to human resource management issues – could be the first step towards that reform. The current practice is that staff at local governments does not have even terms of references let alone a human resource policy that guides the recruitment process, promotion, staff training, as well as retirement schemes. In the absence of such a policy, it will be difficult to seriously address the said issues. The policy will also guide the different steps of the recruitment process and will eliminate the ever-increasing recruitment without considering the needs on the ground. More importantly, it will advise the best way of undertaking staff right-sizing and the elimination of “ghost employees”, while taking into account local government development priorities and resource constraints. As an immediate intervention, however, terms of references for each staff should be developed by local governments, and close supervision and monitoring mechanism must be put in place.
5.3. Revenue Collection and Budgeting Improved
Local governments need to have adequate and sustained sources of revenue, so that they can be responsive to the needs of their communities. Revenues are not presently collected in an efficient manner, though resistance from tax payers cannot be ruled out. Financial management practices employed at the local governments was, until recently, quite primitive but perhaps, thanks to the UN-HABITAT’s assistance, now an automated system has been introduced and it is making a difference. The advantages of these systems have been widely recorded and debated at the local and central government levels, and an agreement to expand the system has been reached. There is still a need to institutionalize the automated system and then adopt it as the sole accounting system for the country as a whole.
Likewise, the GIS-based property survey exercise, which was carried out in Hargeysa, Borama and Berbera, proved to be extremely useful in the maximization of municipal revenue. This intervention was made through the assistance of UN-HABITAT, and it demonstrated convincing results regarding the maximization of the local government revenue. For instance, in Hargeysa, where this GIS-based property survey had made the greatest impact, property tax increased more than %250. (UN-HABITAT Local Government Finance Reports, 2011) To this end, there is a great need to expand this initiative to other major towns of Somaliland, in order that the revenue base can be strengthened and enlarged. The current budgeting system of the local governments needs also to be modernized and eventually, principles of participatory budgeting applied. One recent bold step was the introduction of a service-based accounting system, where local governments will have opportunities to link services to both revenues and expenditures and, as a result, determine which section is paying off.
A comprehensive revenue study, which should explore potential sources of income, should be carried out. Such an exercise will prove extremely helpful if it highlights sustainable and viable sources of income that local governments should focus on, so as to sustain and maximize revenues. Besides, the current inter-governmental fiscal transfer needs to be revisited and streamlined. The revised resource transfer should be based on key factors such as population figures, human development requirements on the ground, and basic social indicators. In addition, its disbursement procedures should be carefully designed and systemized.
5.4. Improved Service Delivery
Councillors and local government staff should realize that, by law, they are mandated to provide services to the communities in their localities. Hence, greater service delivery must be planned and budgeted. Specifically, the systematic collection and proper disposal of garbage should be given utmost attention, as it grossly affects the health and well-being of the society. It is, therefore, imperative that premier consideration should be given to better ways of waste management. This includes the availability of adequate sanitary infrastructure.
Councillors, on their part, should pass by-laws imposing fines on those who are behaving unscrupulously and throwing garbage in every place they can find. This should be embedded in an aggressive and sustained civic education programme, educating citizens on their rights and responsibilities. Citizens should also contribute to the betterment of their environments and, in this regard, properly dispose of garbage.
Local governments should also capitalize on the willingness of the local communities and systematically plan and finance quick impact projects that are sustainable and beneficial to all. The recent practice of local governments in enhancing service delivery capacity should therefore be sustained and strengthened.
5.5. Improved Oversight Role of the Central Government
Though local governments are autonomous, the law also gives the Ministry of Interior the oversight role related to the performance of local governments. Presently, the Ministry of Interior is over-loaded, since it is responsible for national security, coastal guard, immigration issues, as well as local governments. One would not expect a close oversight role from such an over-burdened national institution.
In order to enhance institutional development of local governments as well as service provision capacity, Ministry of Local Governments should be established. Since the Ministry of Interior is over-burdened, and often pre-occupied with issues other than the enrichment of local governance, the creation of a separate entity that sets the required legal framework and formulates relevant policies is much needed. The proposed ministry can take care of additional national tasks, when and as required, but its primary focus should remain on local government development.
Moreover, this ministry would act as a watchdog over the performance of local councils and ensure the proper usage of tax payers’ money, central government grants as well as funds received from development partners concerned with development purposes.
5.6. Legal Framework Harmonized
As effective regulatory framework is key to successful governance; harmonisations of the existing laws that govern local governments is paramount, in order to streamline local government functions. The demarcation of districts will lead to taxation demarcation and, as such, there will not be confusion about who collects what. The amendment of local government law and the setting up of reasonable service delivery functions for municipalities or developing subsidiary regulations, will clarify service delivery mandates of local governments. Furthermore, the development of effective policies and a sustained legal framework should be aimed at, so that local governments will be held accountable and an environment conducive for equitable service delivery will be created. The on-going review of acts and policies of the sector ministries should be carried out in a coherent and well coordinated manner. In short, an effective institutional legal framework will foster and facilitate the quest of turning local governments into credible and accountable sub-national structures that are responsive to the needs of the local people whom they serve.
5.7. Careful Selection of Executive Secretaries
In an effort to make local governments effective national sub-structures, the Ministry of Interior should be careful in its appointment of executive secretaries. Even in the complex situations where balanced representations seem inevitable, key qualities of competency, proven leadership and relevant experience must not be compromised. It should also be understood by all that the position of executive secretary is meant to be purely technical, not a political nomination; thus candidates should be equipped with the necessary qualification and expertise. Only then can our local governments make serious efforts towards institutionalization.
5.8. Strengthened Local Government Association
Presently, there is an Association of Local Governments in Somaliland, aka ALGASL, though it is at an infant stage. This association needs to be supported and encouraged to grow further so that it can fully unite the voices of the local governments and thus advocate local governance issues, facilitate experience sharing and peer exchange programmes, not only within its members but also with similar associations in the region and beyond. The association must also be linked to the similar institutions in the region for the benefit of experience sharing. An effective local government association can provide the much-needed capacity and institutional development packages that all its members can benefit from it.
5.9. Creation of a Local Government Award
The introduction of a Local Government Award will create healthy competition among the local governments in the country. Once formed and pertinent information adequately disseminated, the concerned parties will surely compete in relation to greater service delivery, better management of waste, installation of street lightings, and the invention of better strategies for poverty reduction. The introduction of a meaningful and valuable award with transparent eligibility criteria will hopefully serve as a watershed between two eras: the end of the era of internal power struggle and greediness and the beginning of the era of delivery of greater services, and the implementation of more development projects with greater public participation. The proposed award can have a yearly changing theme such as waste management, roads improvement, flood protection, local economic development, etc.
Studies have suggested, for instance in Rwanda when a Local Governments Innovation Competition was introduced, that such an award scheme can completely rejuvenate the sub-national structures and promote a healthier competitive spirit, replacing the struggle over the meagre available resources. In Rwanda it also proved to be a great way to build the capacity of local governments. Somaliland could also do the same!
6. Concluding Remarks
Local governments in Somaliland have made tremendous progress in their efforts to achieve institutional development, creating a better understanding of local governance issues and, above all, building trust between them and the local people. However, given the strategic importance of local governments in addressing local needs, local governments in Somaliland need to be assisted in standing their feet firmly on the ground.
Such crucial assistance could take in the form of technical and financial assistance in the areas of resource mobilization, planning and budgeting processes, as well as capacitating councilors and administration staff. Capacitated local governments with clear-cut policies, sufficient resources, or at least reasonable subsidiary plans, will be in a better position for delivering the mandated services and, hence, will contribute to fostering local economic development.
JPLG: “Report on Institutional Assessment for Service Delivery in Somaliland” 2009.
UN-HABITAT: “Report on Local Government Finance Report” 2008
Ibrahim Hashi Jama: “Somaliland Local Government Re-organization through Presidential Decree in an Election Year”
Academy for Peace and Development: “Pillars of Peace” Sept, 2010.
Interview: “Mayor of Hargeysa” Feb, 2012
Interview: “Mayor of Berbera” Feb, 2012
Ministry of Interior: “Ministerial Decree on Accounting and Budgeting Format” 2011
UNDP/JPLG: “Organizational/Institutional Review of the Structure of Sub-National Levels” 2010
UN-HABITAT/JPLG: “Proposed Roadmap on Municipal Finance Policy” 2010
Abdirahman Adan Mohamoud: “Prospects of Decentralization in Somaliland” 2011
Local Government Election Law, 2011
Regions and Districts Law, 2007
Intermedia NCG: “Report on Outcome Evaluation System”, April 2011
GeoPolicity: “Study on Sector Functional Assignments on Health, Water and Education in
Somaliland” January, 2012
National Development Plan 2011-2016
Abdirahman Adan Mohamoud
 New political organizations (15 in total) plus the three existing political parties will participate in the forthcoming local government elections. Preparations are currently underway, though at a lower pace.
 Due to the improved trust between councilors and local people, neighborhoods now in Hargeysa organize themselves, identify priority needs in their neighborhood, mobilize almost 40% of the cost of the project, and approach local government for the rest, which often co-funds such projects and mainly for the road sector.
 District Development Framework is finalized in Hargeysa, Borama, Berbera, Buroa, Sheikh and Odweine
 Currently the situation is that any capacitated municipal employees are likely to be lured by the private sector since working conditions and pay of the civil servants is generally very low.