More than one way to practice sound intergovernmental relations: Panel

Dignitaries address experts at Forum international roundtable in Delhi.

Experts from 10 countries recently met in New Delhi to discuss the core elements of intergovernmental relations (IGR), a process that is imperative for the effective functioning of federal countries.

The meeting was the culmination of Theme Eight of the Forum of Federations Global Dialogue program. The experts, known as country coordinators, had previously held national roundtables in their respective countries.

Dr. Vijay Kelkar of India the chair of India’s powerful Finance Commission, opened the event. His term as Forum chair begins January 1, 2010.

The coordinators met in Delhi to deliberate over three major cross-cutting issues of IGR:

• The impact of IGR on the democratic experience of citizen, community and society;
• The effectiveness of IGR in policy making and implementation; and
• The role of informal and formal interactions in the federalization of the government.

The coordinators hailed from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Nigeria, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. They are from diverse professional backgrounds – academics, lawyers, civil servants, political leaders and civil society organizations.

The participants agreed that there is no "one best way” of practicing intergovernmental relations but instead a rainbow of patterns varies among countries, issues and regions.

They also generally agreed that:

  1. Most co-operation and interaction between orders of government occurs in areas of shared competences and in negotiations over the rights of constituent units.
  2. Institutionalized intergovernmental relations such as those based on constitutional amendments or new laws Рoffer better protection for more vulnerable members of federations, from smaller minority groups to the province of Qu̩bec and aboriginal peoples in Canada.
  3. Intergovernmental relations have been used to transform federations with a clear division of powers into "integrated” federations in which constituent units wind up implementing federal laws and programs. This is often done by federal offers of money to poorer states through federally-run programs in countries such as the United States.
  4. There has been an increase of intergovernmental relations among constituent units, sometimes conducted on a regional basis.
  5. New actors like municipalities, NGOs, regulatory bodies, and public-private partnerships, are complicating the traditional networks of intergovernmental relations. This is notably the case of municipalities, which now more often bypass the constituent units in their relations with the federal government.

One session was exclusively dedicated to Indian practitioners, who analyzed the effectiveness of existing structures and process of intergovernmental relations with reference to some unique Indian experiences, such as constitutionally mandated local self-governments and fiscally weak bigger provinces. IGR in India has been characterized by informality and flexibility.

Participants discussed the European Union (EU), which is a form of federation that is highly reliant on sound IGR. The EU case brings out the fact that IGR can be adapted to the changing needs of a federal system.

The coordinators also noted that constituent units are emerging as a means of accommodating diversities. Also, the complexities of modern life have led to the overlapping of intergovernmental jurisdictions.

The Global Dialogue conference was held October 30 November 1, 2009.

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