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THE FINAL STAGE: municipalities as local development agents [1].

Author: Oscar Domenella

In the previous publication, we presented the strategy and approach through which it is possible to “leap” from the normative compliance stage to the quality of services’ phase in the municipalities involved by the PASCAL Programme, implemented in Dominican Republic. In the current post, we will analyze, in the most synthetic way, the strategy raised by the transition from the quality of services’ phase to the final stage: municipalities as local development agents.

The compliance of legal frameworks, in force for transversal systems of management, together with an improvement of production and public services’ provision, doesn’t guarantee that local governments assume the role of local development agents. If they engender an increase in autonomy margins and a reduction of the clientelist system, thanks to a professionalization of human resources, they cannot be considered as local development agents yet.

For this, a new qualitative “leap” is required and related to their autonomy, transparency and accountability for citizens. In reality, the leap required to convert them into local development agents supposes to indentify, potentiate, align and articulate the endogenous productive forces in the governed territories, based on participative mechanisms relying on agreements between the representatives of the community.

It necessarily leads us to issues of a structural nature. The conditions for the “leap” to the phase of “local governments as local development agents” imply deep changes in the “game rules”; in other words, the variables conditioning the framework for action, giving identity to the problems and defining the possible frameworks. It doesn’t only involve regulations, but also law rules and we must also take into account the habits or implicit standards working as rules. Consequently, those structural issues tend to change according to the historic, economic, social and cultural evolution of each country. However, this situation of changes in the game rules remains unalterable when time comes to assume the role of local development agent. In the specific case of Dominican Republic, we will detail hereunder the structural issues requiring a specific approach.

A first element to take into account was the relation between the types of municipalities and the competences and obligations allocated. A tight analysis of the Dominican situation in this sense indicated that:

  • The normative framework in force did not concretely define the reach and deliverables to citizenship of the municipal authorities
  • It was assumed that all the Local Governments had the same competences, roles and attributes, independently from their size, budget or capacity
  • It defined a series of minimum services that all the Local Governments must deliver, without specifying to where and the quality of the delivered.
  • The main part of the competences related to the territorial development in their area of government was not municipal, but belonged to the Central Government.
  • For the competences coordinated between both, the coordination mechanism and the reach of each one of the levels of Government in the application of public policies was not accurately defined.
  • The proper capacities were generally defined and subject to several interpretations in their reach and covering

A concrete proposal of local administration typology, based on this problematic, was created with the aim to give an answer to the situation of social and territorial inequity in the country, and oriented to a redefinition – more than the functioning and operating of Local Governments – of the deployment of the statehood on the territory and the role developed by Local Governments in the State.

The definition of local administrations typologies and of the deployment of the State in the territory led us to the second structural element conditioning the required momentum in the reform process: criteria used by Central Government to transfer economic resources to the local administrations. Currently, transfers from Central Government to Local Government are based on demographic criteria, creating deep social inequities, especially for what is received by the citizenship in terms of goods and services.

From this typology, new criteria were developed to determine the modality of transfer, contemplated – in a first stage – for each increase of resources provided by the Central Government to the municipalities, on the amount currently transferred. Concretely, a set of additional criteria has been suggested, some automatics and others progressive, that are currently being studied for the formulation of the Budget 2018.

The third structural element to be considered – and probably the most significant – was the introduction of the tax and tributary issue in the agenda of reform and modernization of local administrations. The most notorious difference of Dominican Republic with respect to other Central America countries is the management of their own incomes, since the municipal fiscal authorities are very limited. Municipalities can barely collect some means and taxes, together with contributions for improvements. Actually, the current municipal law explicitly prohibits the collection of taxes for monitoring, lighting and cleaning of the public road. To complete the picture, the real estate and asset taxes and property taxation, which is the local tax par excellence, is collected at a central level and has a very low impact on public finances. The lack of a local tax and tributary policy represents then a determining obstacle when time comes to visualize municipalities as territorial development agents.

Finally, as a fourth element, based on the accumulation of knowledge and proposal to overcome the structural issues, it has been possible to progress in the formulation of a project of Organic Law of Local Administration and Territorial Regime as an evolution of the current Law Nº 176-07, which incorporates in a rational way the improvements required as new game rules for local management.

The approach for the introduction of a new Organic Law of Local Administration, scheduled in the Constitution and in the National Development Strategy, started from the consideration that it is not only aimed at defining the functioning, reach, competencies, deliverables of local administrations, but also needs to define the functioning, interaction and articulation of the State in the territory and the role of local administrations as part of this State, accordingly with their typology. It involved, then, to start from the reduction of inequity to “equalize the citizens” assuming that it implies to “inequalize” and categorize the local administrations in the framework of a new Organic Law.


This post has been drafted for the Blog Society Gov:


[1] This post is an extract of the paper Processes of Reform and Modernization of Local Administrations in Dominican Republic – The experience of the PASCAL Programme, currently in phase of edition.


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Mélanie Romat
5 May 2017

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