From administrative transfer to participation
The Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development is using an approach that focuses on municipalities to strengthen citizen participation.By Susanne Lysholm Jensen
04. November 2004
The transfer from one local government to another in Nicaragua traditionally centres on administrative aspects, in which the books and the keys of the Mayor’s Office are handed to the incoming authorities under the supervision of a governmental agency, the Nicaraguan Institute for Municipal Development (INIFOM).
Following the elections scheduled for 7 November, the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development would like to see the transfer become a political event, understood here to mean a process in which the outgoing authorities are held accountable to the population and the population evaluates both municipal administration and the spaces the Mayor’s Office may have opened for citizen participation. The idea is to propitiate that democracy not be limited to exercising the right to vote every four years, but rather become a way of life in the daily practice of a participatory democracy.
The local agendas
The year 2000 was the first time in Nicaragua that municipal elections were held separately from national elections. Up until then the dynamics of municipal life were subordinate to the national agenda, and an independent local agenda was in effect non-existent. Today, civil society organisations in the municipalities have established their own priorities and municipal agenda, which they advance in tandem with other actors in the municipality.
Despite multiple efforts by the two major parties, sandinistas and liberals, to postpone these municipal elections and then merge them with the 2006 national elections, on 7 November of this year Nicaraguans will for a second time elect their local authorities separately.
Starting in August the Network began a project titled “Citizen Participation in the Transfer of Local Governments” in 42 of the 153 municipalities in the country. The idea is to encourage the population to participate in the evaluation of the outgoing municipal government and to become involved in the transfer of power. It is not a matter of “judging” the outgoing Mayor’s Office, but of undertaking a process of collective reflection that contributes to strengthen democracy and participatory mechanisms in the municipality, while ensuring the continuity of the local development plans agreed upon by the population and the outgoing Mayor’s Office.
During the first phase of the project, the members of the network used focus groups to validate two instruments of the evaluation: a survey for the citizenry in general and one for local representatives and leaders. The second phase has recently concluded, with over 7,000 interviews being conducted among the population at large and some 1,000 more with local representatives and leaders attending the workshops held in 42 municipalities.
After the elections, the information processed regarding the municipalities will be devolved to the elected authorities, so they may commit themselves to seeking solutions to the problems emphasised by the citizens in general. It will also be demanded that the spaces for citizen participation not only be respected and maintained, but indeed strengthened and expanded.
The Local Network initiative has not become involved nor has it attempted to exert an influence upon the electoral campaign of the political parties. The intention has been and continues to be to use the municipal approach as a means by which to strengthen citizen participation in the development of their municipalities.
In this regard, the project is an exercise in citizen participation that is intended to go beyond simply the electoral processes and contribute to finding ways to make municipal administration and local development a matter that is not exclusive to the Mayor’s Office, but rather involves the population at large.
It is expected that the instruments and processes developed during this project remain valid as a means to follow up on the municipal government’s activities and that the joint evaluation and reflection in the municipality be converted into a daily, non-partisan practice.
Susanne Lysholm Jensen is a development worker placed in the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development
MS provides financial support to the project titled “Citizen Participation in the Transfer of Local Governments”
The Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development is a coordinating body with 62 members, counting organisations and natural persons. Members have committed themselves to promoting democracy at local level, with a particular emphasis on the municipality and civil society. Its work focuses mainly around issues of local development, citizen participation and decentralisation.