Mayors & Local Authorities meeting

What is in it for Algeria’s local authorities as part of a decentralized development …

The establishment of a framework for decentralized cooperation between local authorities of Algeria and France started in 1999 in Algiers. On May 25 and 26th, 2016, Mayors & Local Authorities of Algeria & France met in Algiers following on the previous one meeting held in Paris in 2004.

The purpose of this initiative is to review and possibly consolidate decentralized partnerships within the framework of twinning operations between towns of both countries, and most importantly to foster a true dynamic of collaboration at local level.  The two days according to the organizers are arranged around four thematic workshops: Participative Democracy, Change Leverage, Large Cities Management and Sustainable Development, and will address the thorny issues of the management of local affairs, taxation and territorial development.

The objective of this contribution follows on an important chapter of a collectively undertaken work book under my direction in 2004 (1).  It was on the future of the country, where the new missions of the Algerian local authorities were assessed.  Today the importance of these local authorities and their contribution to the development of the whole country at a time when the central government is faced with the realization of the transition from a rentier economy to an economy away from oil in the context of globalization cannot be more emphasised.

  1. Efficient land use management

1.1.        At first, draw up an inventory

In the Algerian system, local authorities have essentially constituted entities assisted by a State which, besides its own prerogatives, was intent on being the sole manager of the country’s economy.   Local officials were therefore implementers only of centrally decided policies or by implementing measures and programmes adopted through arbitration hearings by the central planning body for annual budgets and plans.   Thus in addition to the highly directional guidance that allocated programmes, the different municipalities and governorates were under close supervision by the central government through the Ministry of Interior.   The State took over virtually all social policies and intervened heavily also in land use management and urban planning.   Guidelines were thus given to the governorates, for the sale of social housing land and the entire housing policy was almost completely entrusted to these governorates.   This situation has led to a dis-empowerment of the central authority distracting issues which are the governors with their sub-governorates and city councils who were directly confronting the citizens discontent, driven by housing needs, quality of life, employment and other.   The anarchy that ensued, is now reflected in the growth and disordered extensions of our cities, including the biggest of them, will only increase if we continue to accept that local authorities are still left to themselves for answer, under duress, to the social demand for space to build.

1.2.         Responsible local authorities

In the new economic and political conditions, there is an urgent need to return to the roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government in the country’s territories.   In parallel to the new role of animation and regulation of social and economic life of the country that are the state’s goals, it is in accordance with the principles of democracy and decentralisation, to give back to the local administration all the prerogatives and the means of action of a fully responsible local authority.

1.3.         The obligations of the State in view of responsible decentralization

In the decentralization process, the modern State must ensure the granting to local authorities, of all the prerogatives and all the means that will enable them to fully achieve their respective territories management responsibilities while safeguarding the unity and political national strategies.  These must, in the general interest, transcend local circumstances.  Besides overhauling the status of local government, it goes without saying that the new powers that will result for the local authority can be exercised only if accompanied by a reform of local finance. Each local authority must therefore have its own budget and full autonomy of its use, so that citizens can judge the capacity of the municipal administration to manage their territory and improve their living conditions.   At the same time, the state must protect its core mission of guarantor of all that constitutes the interests of the national community (cohesion and social justice, safeguarding of public assets, equal opportunities for the development of all citizens, etc…).   The autonomy of local management can be exercised in compliance with the policies and strategies being implemented by the state, both to regulate and guide economic and social development, as well as to help organize an equitable development and exercise good management of all components of the national space.

2          Local government service delivery business and wealth creation

2.1.         How to improve public reception

The seat of the municipality is the first landmark for the citizen in his judgment of the republic.   It is obvious that the state of disrepair of the building, the lack of maintenance of open space, holding officials, bad reception, as is often the case, can only project a negative image as perception of the State.   In everyday practice, whether for a birth certificate or any other document, the citizen could be tossed from service to service.   When this type of attitude becomes repetitive, it generates a form of divorce between citizens and the State accompanied very often with a loss of confidence.   In this case, the rehabilitation of the authority and credibility of the State would mean a profound change in public reception centres.   To achieve this objective, action should focus on three essential elements are: the man, the means of work and home environment.   Regarding the first element, attendants at the reception desk should be selected based on rigorous criteria that refer to loyalty, the listening availability, quality and speed in execution of a service.   These officials, whose material situation must necessarily be improved, should feel involved in the battle that the State will have to carry out against injustice and the lack of consideration given to public service.   There is therefore need for specific training of such personnel who must learn to listen, to communicate, to convince, to treat others with courtesy, etc.   The second aspect relates to the working conditions of the officials of the municipality, so as to allow them put up with the drudgery of manual labour, its routine nature, the weariness that takes shape over the exercise of the chore often under public pressure.   In this case, the computerization of services and improved comfort takes the form of a priority action, the purpose of which will be the birth of a friendly host conducive to serenity in human relations.   The third point of concern is the success of projecting a positive image, that of a rigorous State in the management of public affairs, respectful of its population and anxious to serve it better.   This image needs to find its translation in the inventory, treatment of outdoor spaces, cleanliness services, the reception and orientation of the public, holding the staff and all the elements that allow citizens to measure the degree of consideration that it be granted.   This policy takes the nature of an investment for the creation of a friendly environment that facilitates the reconciliation of the State and the citizen and predisposes them to commit to any partnerships of multifaceted nature, the purpose of which would be greater social cohesion.

2.2          How to meet social demand

It should first be considered that the negative effects of driving at sight that characterized the management of our cities were largely offset by the massive use of the state final intervention in the form of definitive municipal plans.  Once this support has diminished, only problems would surface, and even if the state is no longer able to fully meet the expressed needs, the claim would be for a better justice in the distribution of resources and in the fairness of social welfare.   But how can we be fair and just when our knowledge of the environment in which we act is necessarily subjective and intuitive to understand:

  • What drives the anxiety and distress of youth;
  • What do people endure in public transportation or when they go to fetch water, collect wood for heating in rural areas;
  • What are the concerns of parents when sending their children to school, often far from their homes in rural areas and especially in mountainous, steppe or Saharan regions;
  • What do the elderly, the disabled and those under distress endure.

The non-exhaustive inventory of citizens’ everyday gloom, gives all its strategic significance to the scientific knowledge of the social environment on which we must act, to move towards the ideal of both economic efficiency through better management and social cohesion.   To do this, we must first have the humility to recognize our limitations in this area and consider that “social X-ray” is the first element of a sustainable action that tends towards this goal.   This requires giving primacy to case studies and surveys to establish a true “social mapping” which will bring out the specificity in the nature of the problems of each district, urban, rural and every city or centre of life. Thus we will know how to geographically distribute application for employment, poverty, poor living conditions, populations at risk etc., and that we can have knowledge and data for the implementation of all appropriate strategies.   All actions above mentioned would nevertheless, imply rule of law, democratization of society for participatory and civic society therefore restructuring of the party system and civil society as powerful mobilization network to fit into the framework one as government reorganization around major territorial departments based on economic regionalization (regional socio-economic areas) not to be confused with the avatar of regionalism.

Dr. Abderrahmane Mebtoul, University Professor, Expert International, ademmebtoul@gmail.com

(1) collective – work book under the direction of Professor Dr Abderrahmane Mebtoul  titled “issues and challenges of Algeria 2004/2009 fronting challenges of globalization” published by Algiers Casbah Editions in May 2004 in 2 volumes and 500 pages with Chouam BOUCHAMA, economics professor, Pr Mohamed TAIBI, Dr Mohamed SABRI, Boutlélis ARAF, Dr Youcef IKHLEF.

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