Workshop on "Metropolitan Governance in Federal Countries” at the margins of "Desde Do Local”

On October 20, 2011, the Forum of Federations organized a panel discussion on metropolitan governance at the 8th International Conference on Decentralization in Mexico (Desde Lo Local), held in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Organized by Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior, this annual conference serves as the most important opportunity to bring together over six thousand elected and public officials from Mexico’s three orders of government. This year, the conference was organized around the themes of economic competitiveness, institutional development, and citizen participation. Rupak Chattopadhyay, President and CEO, Forum of Federations, opened the panel by speaking of the Forum of Federations’ thematic program of local and metropolitan governance, which to date has focussed on both capital cities and metropolitan governance in federal countries. Both of these areas have been the subject of comparative study by the Forum, revealing many similarities in the challenges faced by federations to ensure good governance in areas of defined political boundaries with undefined and mobile constituencies. Dr. Enid Slack, Director of the International Institute of Municipal Finance and Governance at tje University of Toronto, presented a comparative analysis of metropolitan areas in nine federal countries, noting that there are four basic models of metropolitan government structure (single tier fragmented, single tier consolidated, two tier, and voluntary cooperation). While all models contain advantages and disadvantages, Dr. Slack submits that fiscal autonomy is an equally important factor to ensure that services are delivered efficiently and costs are shared fairly. As well, a regional government structure can overcome a perceived distance from citizens by engaging constituents through community or neighbourhood councils, and encouraging participatory democracy. Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Director of the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, India, delivered a presentation on metropolitan governance in India, observing that service delivery, particularly water and public transportation, remains uncoordinated, and continues to be one of the greatest challenges for local governments in India. There are several reasons for the lack of coordination, first among which is a neglect of infrastructure by state governments. A fragmentation of responsibility between institutions (state, local, regional authorities) has made it difficult to coordinate and assign responsibility to the provision of services. Also, while local governments are heavily dependent on fiscal transfers from other orders of government, they do not adequately pursue the collection of their own source revenues, such as property taxes. Dr. Roy notes that while India is underperforming in many areas of metropolitan governance, it has made incredible strides in including previously marginalized voices in local decision making, through a quota system that sets asides local government seats for female and indigenous political representatives. The panel presentations were followed by a question and answer session. Participants were interested in how local needs can be met by regional governments, and it was suggested that community councils can be organized to engage with governments, as was the case in Toronto. Questions also focussed on how to address the fiscal imbalance between cash-strapped metropolitan areas, where much of the wealth is created, and other orders of government with greater taxation powers.

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