Decentralisation in Kerala: Problems and Prospects
Ever growing failures of centralized governance and the increasing concerns on good governance prompted the policy makers to pay increasing attention on decentralization and deeper democratic governance the world over for the past few decades resulting in more concerns on local governance. Most of those attempts in decentralization were characterized by “half-hearted reforms, blatant reversals and partial successes”. The state of Kerala, lying in the south west part of the federal polity of India, has been witnessing an initiative and experimentation in order to make the democratic process deeper through decentralization as part of this global phenomenon. The basic problems in decentralisation in the state are described below:-
Decentralisation is a very complex activity of devolution of political, administrative and fiscal responsibilities to the local elected governments. Decentralisation aims at establishing accountable, efficient, accessible and transparent local governance. Consolidation of major problems arising out during those changes is the main theme of this paper.
Kerala, the tiny state in the southernmost part of India, has the fertile preconditions such as traditional community life, land reforms, high literacy & education, qualitative health indicators, powerful grassroots institutions, vibrating civil society and sharp political affinities among people, for creating vibrant local government institutions. In decentralisation, the State had a long history of half-hearted reforms characterised by partial successes and blatant reversals right from its creation in 1957. Kerala, with appreciative development indicators comparable to developed countries, has been experimenting with decentralisation and participatory local democracy, ultimately aimed at realization of the constitutional goal of establishing genuine "institutions of local self government" since the enactment of Kerala Panchayat Raj Act & The Kerala Municipality Act in the year 1994.
Decentralisation process necessitates a large number of changes to be made in the political process, administrative structure, distribution of powers and responsibilities, allocation of resources, management of human resources and in the degree of autonomy in each tier of government.
The enactment of Kerala Panchayat Raj Act & The Kerala Municipality Act in the year 1994, in tune with the constitutional changes made in 1993, was the first step in the recent history of decentralisation in Kerala and the acts incorporated the bare minimum mandatory constitutional requirement. The act enlisted both mandatory and sectoral responsibilities and institutional structures of the local government system in Kerala.
The functional areas of local governments are made distinctly clearer by transferring a number of institutions and staff positions to the local governments, in September 1995, following the principle ‘work and worker going together’. With this transfer, local governments in Kerala got the services of fairly senior professional officers on Health, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Rural Development, Social Welfare, Scheduled Caste Development, Education etc. They are designated ex-officio secretaries with all powers and responsibilities of the secretary, in their sector.
The State budget of Government of Kerala, presented in February 1996 was the next milestone in the history of decentralisation in the state, which set apart a small amount of untied funds to draw local plan projects by the local governments. This paved way for legislative approval of resource allocation to local governments through a very unique budgetary process.
The process of decentralisation was pushed further forward in 1996 by introducing the participatory bottom-up planning process in a campaign mode namely People’s Plan Campaign (PPC). The Campaign initiated by the transfer of one-third plan resources of the State to the local governments in the ninth five-year plan, really infused life into decentralisation in the State. "The campaign had succeeded in deepening the process of decentralisation, bringing about qualitative changes in planning and implementation and altering of the mindset about participatory development." (Government of Kerala: 1999) The availability of enormous resources entitled the local governments to realise their functional responsibilities assigned by the new legislation. As well, the transfer of a lot of responsibilities and funds to local governments mounted pressure on the State Government to ensure that the responsibilities are carried out effectively and funds are utilized properly. Because of the heavy transfer of funds, it has become the responsibility of the State Government to ensure that decentralisation works well.
Kerala adopted a ‘bing bang‘ approach towards decentralisation, in ‘reversal’1 of the traditional approaches to transfer funds, functions and functionaries to local governments in one go and later made attempts to build up the capacity of the local governments to undertake the transferred tasks.
The Peoples Plan Campaign, consisted of a series of phases, 2 had been taken as an entry point in achieving a high degree of decentralisation in the State. The campaign could establish adhoc systems and procedures, which were later, corrected or were attempted to correct on trial and error basis. The campaign could succeed in setting the agenda of decentralisation and push its pace to a great extent.
The decentralisation efforts were expected to move from an experimentation, corrective and consolidation phase to an institutional phase. But the campaign could not go much ahead in transforming the existing administrative operating systems of local governments to the needs of decentralisation, with local political process, good local financial management, excellent procurement system and meaningful relation between elected and appointed functionaries. The interim systems strenuously made during the campaign could not be institutionalised or made sustainable. The expectation of the campaign was that it would accelerate economic growth and create new model of growth with equity in Kerala. (Thomas Isaac T M and Richard W Franke 2000)
The amendment made to the Kerala Panchayat Raj & Municipality Acts in 1999, consequent to the recommendation of the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers (Sen Committee), had transformed the acts proactive to the needs of decentralisation to a very great extend. The recent initiative to institutionalise the good features of learning from peoples plan campaign, in the ongoing tenth five-year planning process was a good beginning, but the institutionalization process had left much to be desired.
Decentralisation in Kerala, as in other countries is proven to be a very difficult process for three obvious reasons. The most obvious reason is that many powerful forces influencing the State have little interest in decentralisation. The second is that there is much institutional inertia to overcome. The third is that even when state’s elites commit themselves to decentralistion, the task of institutional building such as enacting new laws and regulations, redeploying personnel, rechanneling personnel, building up local administrative capacities etc. is herculean. But Kerala has a long and celebrated history of social mobilization and a dense and vibrant civil society, which make the task slightly easier than everywhere else. (Heller, Patrick 2000:7)
In spite of many debilitating factors, the decentralisation process in Kerala has become almost irreversible and concrete steps are being made to institutionalise the decentralised governance in the State. (Government of Kerala 2003)
But weather decentralisation will deliver good or bad is still a debating question. On the one hand, there has been a growing criticism that in the name of decentralisation, democratically elected governments are urged to abandon social welfare responsibilities and local communities are urged to take up more responsibilities, forcibly dictated by undemocratic international lending agencies. On the other hand, decentralisation can be a way to achieve more quality in the content of democracy.
Kerala shows that democratic decentralisation strongly buttressed by state support can be an effective strategy for reducing inequality in living standards. (Franke, Richard W and Barbara H Chasin 2000)
Refining legislative framework.
Decentralisation in Kerala is a process launched by legislative enactments and framing of Kerala Panchayat Raj Act & The Kerala Municipality Act and associated rules in accordance with the constitutional amendment and not by any political or social movement. Continuous refinement of legislative framework, in tune with the discernible political reality, is essential for promoting decentralisation. The contradictions, lack of clarity, possibility of multiple interpretations, critical grey areas of silence etc. in the provisions of the statutes, rules and orders, make the decentralisation initiatives very slow, cumbersome or difficult.
The issuance of numerous government orders to address ever emerging problems without considering the holistic perspective, the delay in or absence of communicating the Government orders to the field level functionaries and the difficulty in ascertaining the correct interpretation of defective statutes or orders, create a lot of confusion in the minds of practitioners of decentralisation process in Kerala. Unless efforts are made to communicate the government decisions in time, to the field functionaries, with absolute clarity, decentralisation in Kerala cannot march ahead.
An advisory legal cell for continuous examination of statutes, rules and orders and for submitting the possible policy options to the Government, should be established as part of academic institutions like Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), to make a refined and meaningful legislative framework for decentralisation. Instantaneous communication of statutes, rules and orders to the field functionaries could be possible by uploading them in a website regularly and the documents thus uploaded can be made accessible to the functionaries through the commercial internet kiosks without lapse of time.
Problem of departmental integration
The decentralisation expected to bring about all developmental programms earlier run by Rural Development Department (Government of Kerala) to the local government institutions. The existence of Rural Development Department in addition to the Local Self Government department with almost similar functions, the existence of District Rural Developmental Agency (DRDA) separate from District Panchayat with same functions, emergence of MP/MLA Local Area Development as a separate programme outside local government system, the separation of a part of Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) from the local government realm, the existence of many state level Corporation or Boards in areas devolved to local governments and existence of many agencies like Urban Development Authorities and the difficulty in integrating all activities of sectoral departments horizontally at local body level, results in duplication of activities, programmes and projects and thereby weakening the decentralisation process through absolute lack of integration.
The existence of parallel organisations such as DRDA which were originally set up to enhance peoples participation and flexibility in implementation of projects, weakens the domain of local governments and empowers the beaurocracy in handling the local affairs.
The existence of Urban Development Authorities, which were created when local governments were weak, to plan and implement the provisions in the Town Planning Act, have failed in their original intention and majority of them are now taking up road construction and shopping complex construction etc. They are also conflicting with the local governments.
The existence of such parallel structures, surviving as creator of burocratic powers, lead to unhealthy competition for space and even pose challenge to legitimate activity of elected local governments. They need to be disbanded or harmonized with local governments.
Absence of horizontal and vertical integration is another problem. All the functions of the departments and agencies coming under the 29 items of functions constitutionally earmarked to local government institutions as per the eleventh schedule of the Constitution should have been horizontally integrated at the District and below level with the local government institutions, without retaining the department or agency identity as far as possible. As well, the vertical integration of plans of all tiers of local governments under the multi-level planning is another requirement. The existence of many Corporations / Boards, as centralized structures, established for professional attention and operational efficiency should not have been allowed to continue. The District Planning Committee (DPC), working in the manner of a Standing Committee of a district panchayat, at present, should be strengthened to enable them to integrate the rural and urban local body plans at the District level more rigorously. The MP&MLA Local Area Development funds, which should have been gone to local governments otherwise, should be wound up/merged with local development plans, so as to avoid the ineffective and wasteful utilization of resources earmarked for the purpose.
Absence of Managerial Efficiency
The recent decentralisation efforts in Kerala veered round peoples plan campaign activities even though the former is more comprehensive concept touching a broad spectrum of areas than the latter. The management functions in local bodies, which follow traditional administrative practices, remained almost ignored or unattended from any improvement. ‘There has been no improvement in areas like budget preparation, office management including records maintenance, control over staff, procedures relating to meetings of panchayat committees including sub committees and so on” (Chathukulam Jose, and M S John 2002:4917-26) There is urgent need to explore the possibility to develop efficient management systems and new office procedures relating to maintenance of files, flow of files for decision making, storing and retrieving of data or files, providing feedback to elected representatives and establishing public procedures with elements of professionalism in our local bodies. It appears that there is no systematic way of preparing timely agenda notes, accurate recordings of minutes and drafting of speaking resolutions in the meetings of the local governments. For increasing managerial efficiency elaborate management manuals for office administration and for the management of each sectoral institutions coming under local governance, on the lines of election manual, need to be prepared as envisaged in the Report of the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers. The manual should contain all the mandatory obligations as well as suggestive ideas to be followed by the local government with reference to that particular function. The manual should provide guidelines for smooth control of day today work in the local governments. The number of registers maintained in local governments would be reduced to an optimum level to avoid unnecessary duplication and easy maintenance. Newly inducted staff needs to be given induction training. The practices of non-maintenance of proper records regarding collection of taxes and issuance of certificates need to be corrected.
Ineffective distribution of work, absence of job description, dual control of officers by sectoral departments and local governments, location of several wings in different places with weak links between those units, lack of supervision and lack of relevant well identified operational practices, are other essential managerial issues. The present day local government offices are characterised by inefficiency, corruption and nepotism, to a large extent .The old office procedures have deteriorated due to pressure of work, imprecise instructions from above, untrained staff, ineffective supervision, imperfect procedures and corrupt motives. Establishment of scientific management based on 'system approach' and simplicity coupled with continuous training and social control, is the only way out. The use of e-governance to simplify the management of offices should also be explored.
Kerala decentralisation has made possible clear distinction in delineating the functional domain of each tier of local bodies. It has been "found that it is easier to define the functions in the management of institutions, creation of infrastructure and provision of services but when it came to the question of defining the functional areas in sectors like agriculture and industries there is bound to be certain overlaps, and only based on several years experience can the comparative advantage of each tier in performing various functions would be known early"(Vijayanad S M: 2001). Thus overlap in the demarcation of functions in the sectors like agriculture, industry etc. remains as a difficult task.
Lack of clear demarcation of functional responsibilities exists among the three tiers of local governments and between state government and local governments in economic development sectors such as agriculture &allied activities, rural industries, poverty reduction etc. lead to duplication of efforts, waste of resources and unnecessary conflict over identification of localities and person to be benefited.
Ineffective management of institutions
Most of the institutions at the district level and below levels like hospitals, schools, anganawadies, hostels, farms, agricultural offices etc. providing important services to less privileged people have been transferred to local governments. The local governments have not been very effective in managing the transferred institutions and professionals, except in improving the infrastructure, particularly in education and health sectors. This is a major area of concern as the efficiency of services of these institutions is dependent on the manner in which they are managed by the local governments.
Improvement of healthcare and educational institution is a serious problem area, which needs attention. The local bodies are unable to formulate good projects for sustainable development in those sectors except creation of infrastructure. Serious efforts are needed for local assessment of problems and finding local solutions in those sectors, which constitute the core of Keralas development paradigm. Local governments need to manage professionals and run institutions and to enhance quality of services and efficiency of institutions in both the sectors in a better way. The support of officials and the State Government departments in those sectors are lukewarm. As well, planning and development in health and education is more complicated than in other sectors.
Lack of clarity on the role of elected local government in the management of these institutions, absence of positive working relationship between the professionals managing these institutions and the elected local governments, dual control of these institutions by the State Government departments and local governments, focus on improving infrastructure rather than on quality of services and weak capacity on the part of elected functionaries to manage these institutions are the reasons for such a sorry state of affairs.
Neglected human resource management
Decentralization process in Kerala envisaged that the excess staff in various state government departments which devolved functions to local governments, when transferred, would meet the shortage of staff in local governments and the local bodies would discharge those function more effectively than earlier, while allowing the staff to retain the cadre conditions to allow their career prospects. The local governments are expected to have administrative control over the transferred staff while the department would have professional control over them. In the case of officers transferred to local governments, their professional power and responsibility increases whereas their administrative power remains more or less the same. The transferred officers who are the defacto secretary to local government in their respective sector, need to be equipped to play their new role and can no longer remain as a mere implementer of programmes. This system has created dual control, mutual distrust and misgivings resulting in poor performance. Unless this complex issue is solved reasonably, we cannot push the decentralisation further forward.
The lower status of non-gazatted Grama Panchayat secretaries, in comparison to many gazatted sectoral officers, makes it difficult for him to play the role of first among equals to co-ordinate the officers in the senior management and that also pose serious problem in providing stable leadership in many local bodies. The secretary should be the chief executive with sufficient capacity, motivation and status to provide the administrative leadership, the failure of which should lead to harmful tendencies.
One major deficiency of Kerala decentralisation is that it failed to forge a senior management system in the local governments by integrating the functionaries drawn from different departments. Many of these officers have strongly retained their department identify and have very weak bonds with local government, without having any organic relation among them.
Need for new Purchase Procedure
The financial transactions in local bodies, due to heavy transfer of funds, have increased manifold. Similarly the volume of transactions related to purchase and storage has made the governments a major purchaser of goods and services. But the purchases are made in accordance with the cumbersome Government purchase procedure outlined in stores purchase rules basically designed for a centralised services which do not allow transparency and social audit. There is urgent need to formulate new purchase procedures and management of stocks in accordance with the changing times.
Need for effective Account Keeping
Account keeping is an identified problem area in local governance, which needs correction. The multiplicity of around 150 registers or documents, poor management of them including asset registers, problem of reconciliation among them, lack of accounting skills among the staff and insufficiency of staff in comparison to workload etc. are the problems in accounting. The account formats containing columns for all the activities connected with the newer role of local bodies are approved recently and the switch over to the new format has been made. The functionaries should be well trained to keep accounts properly. Unless well-stabilized account keeping is established in local governments, the decentralisation will be a story of failures. Continuous qualitative training of all practitioners is the urgent need of the hour to have a smooth switch over to the new accounting system.
Auditing as a control measure
Subsequent to launching of decentralisation, enormous function and funds were devolved to local governments with unlimited autonomy, but with reduced control by government. So new system of checks and balances ate essential, to have ‘fairness in decision, propriety in expenditure, legality in actions and legitimacy in policy’. Audit examination is an important control mechanism to keep the local governance in order.
The local fund audit, performance audit, Accountant Generals audit and audit of the Chartered Accountant are prevalent in local bodies. These audits are conducted at various points of time and the duration of auditing also varies. The multiplicity and duplication of audit at varying periodicity ranging from once in a quarter to once in an year at different points of time dilute the professionalism of auditing itself and waste the time of auditor and local body functionaries, forcing the functionaries to compromise on delivery of local government services.
There has been considerable delay and dilution in quality of audit. The routine form of audit, ongoing as of now, does not attempt towards system improvement or enable deterrent penal action on derailed attempts made by the local government functionaries.
The contradiction of findings in audit reports, unscientific performance auditing and delay in non-compliance of audit reports etc. make the audit process a time wasting exercise, doing more harm rather than good. The auditing should be revamped to ensure financial accountability by the functionaries of local governments. Creation of an autonomous Audit Commission headed by experts independent of government control, to function on the lines of the Controller and Auditor General of India as already suggested need to be established.
As well, social audit formally through monitoring committee and informally through gramasabha or committees of the local bodies or community organisations, should form a main deterrent against possible waywardness of local governments. There is urgent need to redefine the role of various types of audits by developing detailed audit manuals and by training audit teams about the new perspectives on decentralisation, to address the issue.
Problems in local economic development
Peoples planning was set to overcome the stagnation in the productive sectors, reverse the decline in the quality of services and to maximize the use of assets in the social sectors.
Preparation of plans for the development of the concerned area with focus on productivity-increase on the one hand and reduction in beneficiary oriented schemes on the other hand is the major responsibility of the local governments. The plans produced by the local bodies now do not qualify to be called plans, but a bundle of unintegrated projects. Many of the projects were modified version of standardized department projects, without any meaningful backward and forward linkages and overall thrust on material production. There has been a tendency to mechanically allocate funds on ward basis and prepare projects in response to the preferences of ‘vote banks’ in each constituency rather than on the basis of common needs of the whole set of people in the local body. The local bodies, in such situation, cannot visualize the long-term needs of development of the area and translate the long-term vision and goals into practice in the form of practical projects. The development strategy now followed is limited to allocate plan funds to different sectors and then distribute ward-wise rather than on the basis of any priority considerations in the planning process. As well, there has been inability to consider local body as a unit of planning by many elected functionaries and there is absolute lack of expertise at the disposal of local body to formulate long-term development strategy and development plan, based on a holistic agreed vision.
Formulation of a long-term vision has recently been made a compulsory step in local planning and the functionaries are to be trained in the creative task of developing a vision in accordance with the local situation.
The resultant production-increase visible in the primary and secondary sectors due to peoples planning is minimal with stray islands of partial successes, against our expectations earlier. Formulation of plans for local economic development is a mandatory responsibility of local governments and hence local bodies should have engaged in promoting material production in Agriculture and small-scale industries for increasing production and generating employment3. Agriculture sector should have gained more attention in the decentralisation process. Traditional sectors like coir, fishery, handloom, cashew etc. were left out of planning process. The projects aimed at local economic development did not have shown strong forward and backward linkages to make an integrated environment for production. Analysis and strengthening of micro enterprises, conducting entrepreneurship development programmes to upgrade skills and making the funding agencies accessible to local governments, are essential activities to be undertaken for shifting our focus from ‘local development’ to ‘local economic development’.
The overall approach to local development in the decentralised planning was rapid, scientific and growth oriented one and hence sustainable and ecological local economic development based on indigenous knowledge and local resources has been more or less ignored in the process.
As part of local planning, the local bodies have not shown any initiative to sustain and manage natural resources and conserve environment. The local bodies should have engaged in identifying natural resources and common property resources while planning and implementing local projects. This has become a dire need in the context of ever-increasing environmental degradation.
Non- integration of spatial considerations in local economic planning is another problem. Construction of roads and buildings, provision of electricity and water supply etc. have critical spatial dimension. They should be planned not on socio-political consideration, but on spatial perspectives. In order to include spatial planning concept in the decentralised planning process, a clear binding provision in the legislation and proper training on spatial planning for the stakeholders are required. It is hoped that the watershed based agricultural planning will improve local spatial planning, raise environmental concerns, and introduce sustainability in the decentralised planning in the course of time.
Problems in gender empowerment
Decentralisation provides gender dimension in local government by earmarking ten percent of the total plan funds, aiming at better quality of life for women and to enhance participation of women in overall development decisions. But, there have been serious lapses in women participation in identifying and prioritising projects and many gender specific issues like health care, domestic violence, alcoholism etc. has been totally neglected in our decentralised planning process.
There is urgent need to include gender responsive budgeting in local governments in order to promote equality and social justice. Gender auditing should also be incorporated in the local governance. Development of skills in conceptualizing, preparing and implementing gender-based projects, should also be provided in the training for gender development to have a balanced growth.
Failure of community contracting
In the early years of peoples planning, community contracting - doing public works by beneficiary committees - was encouraged to facilitate people’s participation, social audit and to do away with the ‘contractor raj’ in local development. But the genuine beneficiary committees could not do much work as contractors masquerading as convenors of beneficiary committees took up work in many of places making community contracting a big failure in the peoples planning era. "Many beneficiary committees have fallen prey to vested interests". This has resulted in bringing the tender system for all works above an estimate of Rs. 25000/- as an interim measure. There is urgent need to explore ways to do away with tender system and to bring back genuine community contracting system. Provide leadership training to public-spirited local leaders and groom them for community work would be the probable solution.
Disinterest in resource mobilisation
The devolution of large amount of plan resources took away the interest of local governments in collecting their own resources, as they are comfortable with the sufficiency of plan grants earmarked to them. Local government can collect very higher amount of taxes, tolls and fees than earlier at the current revised rates. Local governments need to improve their revenue by maximising the collection.
Local governments in Kerala enjoyed a continuous flow of plan resources due to the sustaining political will in the recent years, inspite of severe financial constraints. But weak credit linkages has been identified as a major weakness of local-level plans. "Both commercial and cooperative banks have by and large been unwilling to link official credit planning to the local planning projects. Resources from voluntary labour, donations and beneficiary contributions have fallen short of anticipated levels. However a number of panchayats did successfully mobilize sustainable resources from these sources indicating them as yet untapped potential". (Fung, Archon and Erik Olin Wright 2003). Local bodies should be motivated to bring their focus on resource mobilization from banks and outside sources.
Revitalization of Institutions difficult
The gramasabha, endowed legally with enormous powers like prioritising development schemes, identification of beneficiaries, engage in social audit, right to know the statement of accounts, administration report and audit report and all development decisions / rationale in arriving at that decision, is functioning in total deviation from its expectations, inspite of having detailed statutes, rules and orders.
Gramasabha purported to enhance the quality of peoples participation are now functioning as beneficiary determing mechanisms rather than a platform for meaningful dialogue on developmental priorities. The middle, upper and professional classes of people are not participating in our gramasabha meetings and majority of participants are the targeted beneficiaries of development projects. They attend the gramasabha for airing their needs and sharing the benefits. This is a significant threat to the deliberative character of the gramasabha.
Disinterest by the local functionaries to vitalize gramasabha, ignorance of the democratic rights relating to gramasabha by majority of the people, arbitrary decision making by local functionaries in total neglect of the gramasabha proceedings etc lead to weakening of gramasabha. All pervading awareness building process and stable enforcement of legal provisions, are needed to revitalize the gramasabha as a mechanism for direct democracy, deciding development priorities and for channelising public contribution for local development.
Ombudsman & Tribunal
A major threat to decentralisation is ever increasing and persistent malfeasance and corruption in execution of work, selection of beneficiaries and personally benefited projects. Devolution of sustained funds to local communities without proper safeguards will fuel rent seeking behavior, community conflicts and corruption. There would have been irregularities from inexperience and haste rather than corruption in the initial years. But that may lead to absolute corruption unless checked properly.
The local government system is expected to deliver a faster and cheaper grievance redressal system in order to install the traditional virtues of public service like impartiality, neutrality, anonymity etc and to deliver effective, efficient and equitable public services, devoid of corruption.
Ombudsman for state level redressal of grievance relating to corruption and maladministration and Local Government Tribunal at the district level for speedy and easily accessible redressal of grievances on wrong exercise of regulatory functions, are two institutional mechanisms envisaged for the purpose. The ombudsman, established initially with seven members, has been reduced to a one-member body recently and the Tribunal at the district level has not been established in spite of framing the rules governing it, two years ago.
Inability of the single member Ombudsman to handle ever increasing complaints and the functioning of the Ombudsman like a court rather than an informal grievances redressal mechanism are problems which needs correction. Strengthening of internal grievances handling mechanism and ensuring exhaustion of all in-house remedial measures before approaching Ombudsman to minimise the number of complaints, are essential prerequisites to ensure effective functioning of Ombudsman. Revitalization and fine-tuning of Ombudsman and speedy creation of Tribunal are essential to combat decentralisation of corruption and possible mal-administration in local governance.
Need for a decentralised training
Capacity development of local government functionaries plays a very critical role for the success of decentralisation as the decentralisation process is engaged in creating new systems and procedures in local governance, transferring numerous key functionaries from development departments of the State to local governments with newer role and drawing newer elected functionaries in every election who are never exposed to the new systems of local governance. Our experience in the campaign type of training that dominated during the yester years, shows that the initial focus on exposure, orientation and motivation has to move towards sound skill development of actors in local governments. Only an institutionalised system can take care of recurring training needs that emerge with introduction or change of procedures, functions or strategies and only decentralised systems can take care of the ever-increasing volume in the number of trainees.
For enhancing the quality of decentralisation we should have mechanism to train the elected representatives, especially women & Scheduled Caste-Scheduled Tribe functionaries, with in a reasonable time frame on assumption of their elected offices. The elected representatives do not otherwise have the knowledge and skill to manage a panchayat, school or hospital. The existing institutional training available to them from training institutions like Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), Institute of Management for Government (IMG), State Institute Rural Development (SIRD) etc, are of general nature and lacks the rigorousness of intensive training. A mutually agreed overall strategy to be evolved to provide uniform content or messages and to add quality to the training process for decentralisation in Kerala.
The capacity building should, not only focus on developing essential knowledge and basic skills but also change the attitude and values in favour of decentralisation in order to build the capacity to realize the development functions. The capacity development programmes for decentralisation should be able to motivate the relevant local functionaries to manage their responsibilities in tune with the procedures and practices of good local governance. Inclusion of spatial perspectives in every aspect of local economic planning should also be made a focus area in training for decentralisation.
In order to conceptualize, develop and implement capacity development programmes to support decentralisation, a systematic training system comprising of multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled trainers, and a network of training institutions including Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) designed with a two tier cascading training scheme should be evolved for imparting need based effective training. All stakeholders in the decentralisation need to be exposed to training. Exposure training, intensive training, customized training, tailor made training etc. should be combined together to attack the problem in capacity development. We should evolve a training policy, with a binding framework for all capacity building activities by involving all major stakeholders, with clarity on the role of all actors and organizations.
Attempts should be made to identify the institutes, which can involve in the capacity building of local government institutions. The problem of non-availability of quality training material on various subject areas need to be addressed by engaging on the call experts. The problem of in-adequate field exposure of the faculty available in the training institute like KILA, IMG, and SIRD etc. should be solved by engaging them in field studies regularly. Training of trainers should be a critical focus area in our capacity building exercise.
In short, development of a training policy, conducting a scientific Training Need Assessment (TNA) of all stakeholders of decentralisation, identification of training institution at the District and below levels, evolving a training network, coordinated development of practical oriented curriculum and coordination of training implementation can address the problems in the area of capacity development to a very great extend.
Forging civil society organisations with local governance.
Civil society organisations are expected to have an increasingly greater role in the development planning, mobilisation of people for participatory action, implementation of citizen’s charter, social audit, entrepreneurship development and ensuring transparency in local government system. But the role played by civil society organisation in the decentralisation process in Kerala at the local government level is very limited. No systematic effort was made to encourage collaborative activities between both.
Absence of a formal mechanism to involve Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the decentralisation process and the total absence of trust between the NGOs & local governments are the reasons for the weak relation between the mutually essential organisations. Local government laws should provide a space to involve genuine civil society organisations in the decentralisation process in the State.
State Development Council and DPC
State Development Council(SDC), which is expected to act as the highest policy making body on decentralisation in the State, has not been made an effective functional body inspite of our eight year old decentralisation efforts in Kerala. The SDC, consisting of all ministers, local body representatives, opposition leader, Vice chairman of State Planning Board etc, has not gained due value as a newly created platform, that could have pushed the pace of decentralisation much faster in a consensus oriented way. This institution is expected to take the lead in policy making and in sorting out operational issues in decentralisation.
The District Planning Committee (DPC), the coordinating body that integrates the rural and urban local body plans at the District, is not functioning as desired and need to be vitalized. The District Planning Committee is composed of comparatively low profile leaders in the District Panchayat/Municipalities and is playing a very insignificant role in planning. The existence of District Development Committee (DDC) consisting of all members of the legislative body and sectoral officers in the District with collector as chairman plays more crucial role and it undermines the DPC to a great extend. The District Planning Committee & the District Development Committee need to be harmonized together, as the latter as an extended general body of the former, by legislation.
Kerala has made an excellent beginning and moved much ahead in the direction of decentralisation and development of third stratum of local governance with the goal of deepening and widening democracy and local development. But in order to make it efficient, effective and purpose oriented, it has to go a long way.
Since decentralisation is a curious phenomenon, which is preached by all, but practiced by a few, the sincere promoters of decentralisation should take all possible measures to push the decentralisation forward, inch by inch by help solving the major issues by words and deeds.