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Country analysis > Malawi Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Power tools

Local government accountability

Robert Kafakoma, Margaret Roka, Patrick Chimutu

March 2005

Posted with permission of Robert Kafakoma. Comments on the report can be sent to the authors at:
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This power tool describes ways to partner the rural poor to bring local government authorities to account. It is written for change in rural locations. It raises community expectations about the quality of local governance and describes a set of steps to install improvements. It flags the important role that communities can have in improving their own situation. The aim of this power tool is to stimulate the poor to participate in policy formulation and implementation processes. The tool is designed to stimulate supply-side push for improved service delivery together with demand-side pull driven by mobilized communities of the forest dependent poor. The tool is basically a means of raising expectations about the quality of governance that is being provided.


What is the ”Local government accountability” tool?

The “Local government accountability” tool is a strategic process of heating up local communities - a way of increasing their awareness of and expectations for local government authorities. We have designed this tool from work with forest dependent communities and forest authorities – but its basic steps are more widely applicable. The tool is used in situations of decentralization where new powers have been delegated without adequate thought to the roles, responsibilities and capacities of the authorities at local level. Traditions of centralized power often leave marginalized rural communities without any expectation of influence over the policies and institutions that affect their day-to-day lives. Low expectations can leave communities of the poor disengaged from the policy process. During the decentralization process new opportunities exist for re-engagement. Mobilization of the poor is essential if newly empowered local authorities are to be challenged and held accountable for delivery improved governance. This tool describes two vital ingredients for this mobilization process:
  1. A set of five expectations about what local governance should involve and
  2. A series of demand-driven steps to bring it about.
In our Malawian forestry governance example, the five main sets of expectation include:

Expectation 1 - Greater involvement in local forest governance. Communities need not be passive recipients of centralized thinking. They can play a role as active customers of improved services.
  • Use community meetings, participatory resource assessment and the establishment of credible village level structures to build awareness.
Expectation 2 - Strong leadership for forest governance. Key individuals should not be able to avoid their responsibilities to improve community life. Demand clear leaders with agreed roles and responsibilities.
  • Call for performance standards, access to reporting and frequent opportunities to express community concerns.
Expectation 3 - Clear strategies for resource use. Don’t accept inaccessible or muddled plans.
  • Demand transparency and clear links between community concerns and field activities. Ensure that communities have access and can make inputs to local strategies, implementations plans and monitoring processes.
Expectation 4 - Sufficient technical and financial resources. Political promises should count for something – so use them to your advantage.
  • Lobby for published local financial information based on stated policies. Fight to reorientation government bodies away from enforcement towards service.
Expectation 5 - High quality service provision. Words should mean something in practice.
  • Set up a regular process to check delivery against stated roles and resources.
Forest dependent people require a lot of support and capacity building in order to participate in the policy formulation and decision-making processes. There is a lot of work that the various institutions at local level have to do in order to empower the communities. Empowered people demand quality services from the government and other service providers like NGOs. This power tool provides a clear framework that can be used to raise community expectations and channel their attention towards practical steps that might improve the situation. It constitutes a community heating process that local representatives, NGOs and government authorities can use to raise performance levels.

It is recognized that this tools is only one (albeit important) approach to making local forest governance work. It finds its place in the interaction between the forest dependent poor and the immediate forest decision makers and practitioners responsible for local forest governance (see Figure 1)

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