The SI Committee on Local Governments, established by decision of the Council in February this year in Cascais, Portugal, held its first meeting in Santiago, Chile on 19 and 20 July.
The Committee also held a meeting with the candidate of the progressive forces for the Presidency of the Republic, Michelle Bachelet, who shared her views with the representatives of the Socialist International, commenting on some of the main objectives of her government programme. Bachelet was nominated as candidate with a wide margin of preference in a process of primaries that took place in Chile for the first time on 30 June 2013, with the participation of more than three million citizens.
The Committee discussions, which took place in the emblematic Museum of Remembrance and Human Rights in Santiago, brought together local authorities from different cities worldwide. (List of Participants
At the opening of the meeting, the SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala, highlighted the importance that our movement gives to the creation of spaces where representatives and authorities of local governments can come together and reflect on issues concerning the mechanisms and strategies for building local governance and developing public policies in their specific areas of work. The meeting in Santiago had among other objectives, he said, to identify of priorities and common tasks that were necessary today, from the commitment to the principles and values of the global social democratic movement, to starting the preparations for the IV SI World Conference of Local Authorities which will take place in 2014; the discussion of future activities of the Committee, and the election of the Committee’s authorities.
The Mayor of Santiago, Carolina Tohá, in her welcoming address, underlined the value and scope of the work of local governments to improve the quality of democracy. In this respect, she stressed the importance of local governments to help achieve better social equality, which results from being in close contact with the citizens and permanently in touch with their demands. At the same time, she noted the need for compatibility between the productive development of cities and sustainable environmental policies, calling for a rethinking and reshaping of the role of local governments to create spaces of harmonious co-existence, of respect and acceptance, resolving the complexities of citizens living together in a diverse society.
Amongst the priorities and tasks of democratic socialism highlighted during the debate, was the strengthening of citizens’ rights in the creation of universal public policies, which, as was stated, would require the recognition of these rights with firm conviction when pursuing these policies. In this regard, local governments must accept their responsibility to guarantee the rights aimed at democratising access to social services for the various groups in society, with their differences and specific conditions. Likewise, it is necessary to promote models of management based on premises such as the incorporation of a focus on gender; of policies that respond to the needs of historically disadvantaged groups, and which are also sustainable and compatible with the environment; policies that take into account the security of citizens; and the incorporation of the participative component as a cross-cutting element in all the tasks involved in local public work.
The participating local authorities agreed that one of the priorities to advance in matters of management and local governance is decentralisation. Without that element, any attempt to improve the management of local governments and their role in the process of formulation of policies focused on rights will result in responses that are deficient and ineffective. This decentralisation must start in the political arena, allowing local governments more autonomy in their decision-making, and then turn to economic decentralisation, assigning higher budgets to meet the aspirations and demands of the citizens. In this connection, it was considered that financial independence is essential to advance with the autonomy of local governments.
Within the framework of the discussions, attention was also given to the crucial need to listen carefully to the voice of the citizens when defining the agendas and determining the priorities of management at local level. Along with building mechanisms of participation, issues such as inclusion, transparency and quality of management are decisive to legitimise the action and sense of politics, above all in an urban environment, where the proximity between authority and the citizen is the first instance of the democratic process.
The election of the authorities of the Committee, one of the other points on the agenda of the meeting, in accordance with the statutory requirements of the International, also received the attention of participants. Carolina Tohá, Mayor of Santiago, Chile, was elected Chair of the Committee. Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije, Mayor of Accra, and Alexander Burkov, Vice-President of the Commission on Local Government of the Russian Parliament and candidate to Mayor of Ekaterinburg, were elected as Vice-Chairs of the Committee.
The meeting concluded with an exchange of views on the future tasks of the Committee, including the adoption of a common position on upcoming initiatives and other international meetings of Mayors and local authorities; advancing with the preparation of the IV World Conference of Mayors of the Socialist International scheduled for 2014, and the forthcoming Committee meetings to take place in other continents. Finally, the meeting adopted a Declaration
giving a brief review on the themes under discussion. The meeting concluded with expressions of sincere appreciation from all the participants to their Chilean hosts.