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For two days, from 16 to 17 May, the representatives of local governments, CSOs, local government associations (LGAs) and academia discussed the relevance of local governance in the ASEAN discourse and the state of decentralisation across the region. Internal matters, such as the progress network members have made with their annual action plans, were the focus of the accompanying General Assembly.
The keynote speech on the importance of the local level of government was held by Dr Wilfrido V. Villacorta, former ambassador and permanent representative to ASEAN. He began his speech by citing the rationale for the Partnership for Democratic Local Governance in Southeast Asia (DELGOSEA). The premise is that the membership is “committed to the belief that any kind of good governance starts in the local level, dedicated to the principles of subsidiarity and meaningful self-governance and eager to promote democratic local governance.” He mentioned how timely the conference is because the world is being swept by a wave of growing discontent with traditional politicians. The mantra of ASEAN has always been that the association should be “people centred” and “people oriented.” Local officials who know the needs and interest of the people on the ground can fortify democratic institutions.
Associate Professor Woothisarn Tanchai, the Secretary General of the King Prajadhipok’s Institute in Thailand, took a closer look at the state of decentralisation in ASEAN, starting with an overview of the different types and stages of decentralisation present in ASEAN – ranging from the active decentralisation and self-government as practised in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand on one end of the spectrum to the centralised state as seen in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Brunei on the other. The main focus of his speech was, however, on Thailand and the key challenges the country faces in its decentralisation process: How do you balance decentralisation, democracy and development in the triangle between central, regional and local government. Thailand has had some success in dealing with these challenges and Professor Tanchai suggested that the lessons learnt from this process could be valuable to other DELGOSEA member countries as well.
The final presentation was given by Dr Ronaldo Mendoza, the Designated Dean of the Ateneo School of Government in the Philippines who looked at the issue of good local governance and inclusive economic development, focusing on the Philippine example. Decentralisation has a long history in the country, with the first steps dating back to 1991. Challenges remain, however, such as the subjugation of the public administration to the dominant political power, a complex and enduring web of connections between political executives, civil servants and business interests and, lastly, civil servants own inability and unwillingness to use the protection of laws.
Of course, every DELGOSEA workshop also provides an opportunity for the Network Council to meet and look at administrative issues, such as the activities of DELGOSEA members on the national level. The representatives of the National Steering Councils shared their progress and achievements, and it was encouraging to see the initiatives that were taken in all countries. These are focusing on best practice exchange and advocacy on the national level for further decentralisation of governance in ASEAN as well as broadening both the network’s membership and support for DELGOSEA.
For more information, please visit DELGOSEA website.