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Decentralisation: a complex puzzle or a conflict between ministries?

May 16,2019 - Last updated at May 16,2019

One of the main features of the political and administrative system in Jordan is that it is highly centralised. For decades, the national planning and development process has been directed by the central government. When the current government thought about taking an advanced step towards decentralisation, it created the Ministry of Local Administration to oversee the development process in the governorates, abolishing the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Will this give decentralisation a step forward? Days and years will prove or disprove it.

For many years, observers of the decentralisation process in Jordan noticed that it has witnessed several interactions in terms of the body responsible for its implementation or management. Sometimes it was linked to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Other times, it was linked to the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Planning, and lately to the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs. In all cases, it was directly linked to the Ministry of Finance in terms of its dependence on the state budget. And today, it is linked to the newly established Ministry of Local Administration. Thus, from now on, the circle of competition between ministries will expand to include about four ministries, excluding the Prime Ministry.

When it first emerged in 1993, several decentralisation measures were taken at the municipal level, which were equipped with local development units. This was followed by several studies that culminated in the development of a strategy on decentralisation by the Ministry of Planning. In that period, it was understood that it meant merging the 328 municipalities into 99 municipalities.

The first forms of decentralisation that emerged in 2005 were the formation of a committee for the regions, where the first draft law for the establishment of the territories was presented on November 23, 2005. This was followed by the announcement of three regions: the north, centre and south. The idea was for each region to have its own capital, each region consisting of an elected council of 10 members, among of which one has to be appointed by the government. The idea was to manage each development area (region) of its own services, and adopt its own policy to attract investment and companies. But the project collapsed after being severely criticised.

In 2008, the process was revived again, when the Ministry of the Interior was tasked with managing local development programmes after it was extracted from the Ministry of Planning. However, the decentralisation process was postponed after the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring in March 2011. The government was busy changing the election and political parties’ laws, and even the Constitution, which has undergone some amendment following the formation of the National Dialogue Committee, which included a number of parties; including opposition and independent streams. I had the honour to be a member in that committee. There were calls for the restructuring of 100 municipalities that were merged in 2001.

In May 2009, the United Nations Development Programme, upon the request of the Ministry of Planning, submitted proposals in which the prime minister, at the time, appointed a specific ministerial committee to be decentralised, as well as a technical task force on decentralisation. The task was to develop a strategic framework for decentralisation, and to reform the structures of national administration and public administration.

In 2017, in the context of its efforts to bring policies and public services closer to citizens, the government asked the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to provide an analysis of the ongoing decentralisation reform from the perspective of the principles and practices of open government. The OECD defined open government as “a culture of governance based on innovative and sustainable policies and practices inspired by the principles of transparency, accountability and participation that fosters democracy and inclusive growth”.

It seems that there is no consensus to answer the questions raised. Does decentralisation mean annexation of the municipalities, establishment of development units in the ministries of interior and local administration, or establishment of development units from the ministries of planning and local administration? Does decentralisation mean a decline in municipal authority in favour of governorates? Or does it mean a decline of the authority of some ministries in favour of provincial councils, or the decline of the power of deputies in favour of provincial councils?
Do we want political, administrative or decentralised planning and financing, or all of this?

In my opinion, in order for the decentralisation process to succeed, we must be convinced that it is a viable project and the gateway to the full participation of all segments of the grassroots in the various aspects of the socioeconomic and political development process, rather than a struggle over powers between ministries.

 

The writer is director general of the Association of Banks in Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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