There is a growing trend around the world for national governments to decentralise decision-making relating to human service delivery and development, from central to sub-national levels. The impetus for this is provided by a range of interests and needs.
For Arab Spring countries the motivation is essentially twofold: the urgent need to promote human development is accompanied by the necessity to meet popular aspirations for greater empowerment and control over their own lives.
Nations also face the dilemma, brought about by historical, cultural and modern political conditions, of sub-regions wanting greater autonomy. This exists not only in Iraq, but also in Lebanon, Bahrain, Egypt and, arguably, in the Moroccan Sahara.
All of this has encouraged governments to develop strategies for decentralisation intertwined with those enabling human development; a practical example has been provided by Morocco offering ideas as to how this could actually be achieved.
The underlying assumption in all of this is that the prime motivation is the promotion of human development, managed by the beneficiaries themselves, the sole necessity for which is the possibility of freedom of association. Other than this there are three main factors present.
For a start there must be a precondition to decentralisation, namely that the process occurs in a democratic fashion, in stages, so that pre-existing, undesirable local and provincial power relationships do not become stratified further. It follows, then, that the promotion of human development by way of participation is both a precursor to and a conduit for decentralisation. In particular, the initial application of the participatory approach creates a context for local community members to become familiar with group planning of development and building partnerships with public and private groups. Decentralising power in this new context thus enables newly-gained local authority to be utilised in a way that ensures that the priority goals for social change identified by the people can be realised.
In 2005 the Kingdom of Morocco launched its National Initiative for Human Development (NIHD), the aim of which is to promote sustainable development through the people's participation; it was a full three-and-a-half years later that the country announced its intention to pursue a decentralised public administrative arrangement. Although much can be learned and improved upon from the NIHD experience, what is clear is that this programme, preceding decentralisation, helped give the latter its best opportunity for success.
Secondly (and this may not be unique to the process of decentralisation), the optimal type of decentralisation, that which is most conducive to advancing sustainable human development, is likely to be a hybrid synthesis of multiple models. In other words, it entails more than merely dispersing power to communities to manage their own affairs; requiring public and private groups at sub-national levels to cooperate toward human service delivery; or, finally, simply transferring power from the top down within government structures.
Morocco's guiding model combines all three approaches to create a new template that aims to ensure that these three directions are traversed simultaneously. It is intended that communities are empowered to achieve the development future they seek with ongoing government support, including from the national level, along with public and private partnership helping to contribute to the implementation of local priority projects.
Arguably, this rallies resources from the national level down in order to achieve empowering development. With this model in place, the development of new policies and procedures for the delivery of human services across the sectors (education, health, agriculture, etc.) becomes both clearer and more cost-effective.
Thirdly, the process of communities analysing their social conditions, identifying the most important projects for their development and actually implementing them, itself creates the decentralised system. The partnerships forged in the process, the building of capacities in order to manage funds and projects, for example, are essential parts of the ongoing structure of decentralisation.
It follows that if this new organisational arrangement is to be accomplished, it is essential that there are training programmes in place at the local level. These enable citizens, including local teachers, government technicians, association members and students, to gain the skills in facilitating community dialogue towards the creation of action plans; in Morocco's case, these are communal development plans which are required by statute. It is this process, culminating in the implementation of projects in an environment that wants and requires it, that actually forms the decentralised arrangement itself.
For a range of reasons then, nations are being compelled to disperse power from the national level. For some, this is even a matter of political survival. National leaders and policy makers are engaged in a genuine search as to how this can be achieved in the best manner. The solution, in essence, appears to be the adoption of the Moroccan approach; the promotion of participatory development prior to the onset of new laws to decentralise and as the means, in itself, to decentralisation. For this, experiential training in participatory democratic approaches and project implementation is a vital component.
Dr Yossef Ben-Meir is president of the High Atlas Foundation.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.