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    A strong local body...

     -  Jean-Charles Demarquis

    July 13, 2011
    As Nepal is deciding on a new system of governance and is going through a critical phase of the constitution writing processes, the way France achieved a strong local governance system with significant devolution of powers, elected local executives with real powers and responsibilities and regional governance, although in a different context, may be of interest to Nepal.

    France has recently announced a local government reform to simplify and reduce the territorial architecture and stop the stacking of structures, and the entanglement of skills and competition between institutions that leads to overlapping between the responsibilities and jurisdiction of its many territorial entities. The institutional overlaps result in delays, increased costs and an administrative maze as a result of which projects get delayed and the competitiveness of the country is handicapped: this calls for a reform.  The reform was also necessary to strengthen local democracy and the territorial organisation and adapt it to the challenges of our time.

    France has a multi-layered territorial organisation consisting of Municipalities, Departments, and Regions. Each has its own powers, resources and areas of responsibility. Nowadays in France, local entities are run by their elected representatives and the State merely provides technical expertise, runs state-wide programs and verifies post facto the legality of local decisions

    Municipalities


    Created in 1789, Municipalities incorporate the boundaries of 44,000 parishes formed since the Middle Ages with a unified statute.  They are the basic administrative unit. The general principles of organisation, supervision and powers of municipalities are defined by the Act of April 5, 1884.  The law of 1884 provides for the election of councilors by universal suffrage for a term of four years, extended to six years in 1929. Since 1837, the town is a legal entity and its elected mayor is both the state representative and executive authority: it prepares and implements the decisions of the council. The city council is elected for six years and renewed in full. The legal regime of urban communities is determined by the law of 31 December 1966 and there are four communities: Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, and Strasbourg.  Paris, a long time exception, became a full-functioning municipality, with an elected mayor in 1975.

    The powers of the community in tax-related matters have been extended from 1970 to 1980, allowing local councils to vote directly the rates of local taxes.

    In 2010, there were 36,677 municipalities, hence the development of cooperation. The law of July 1999 retains three types of public establishments for intercommunal cooperation: urban communities, communities of towns and communities of municipalities.

    Departments


    The law of 22 December 1789 created the administrative department, designed as a division of the territory and not as a new community. The status of local government was assigned to the department in 1871, which organised the elections to the General Council, renewed by half every three years. Councilors are elected for 6 years. Today, France is divided into 83 departments. Since 1982, the President of the General Council has executive power: he prepares and implements the budget.

    Regions

    In March 1964, 21 regional prefectures were created. The Region became a public special purpose institution in 1972. It is administered by the Regional Council and the regional prefect representative of the State within the Region. The decentralization law of March 2, 1982, gives the region the full status of local government, administered by a regional council whose members are elected by popular vote and whose president is vested with executive power. 

    The decentralisation laws


    Decentralisation aims to provide local communities with specific powers, distinct from those of the State, to elect their authorities by the population and thus ensure a better balance of power through the territory. It amounts to a transfer of powers

    from the state to separate institutions. In this context, local governments benefit from a large degree of autonomy and manage their own budget and have independent tax resources (the principle of self-government) under the supervision of the state representative (prefect) which controls post facto the technical legality of local decisions, but not their opportunity.


    In France, some of the main features of the latest reform are:

    •    Creation of the Territorial Council, elected in common by departments and regions. The number of counselors will be halved: 3000 instead of 6000 in today’s regional councils. The first election will take place in 2014.
    •    Clarification and redefinition of jurisdictions and developing a true synergy of action between the region and the department.
    •    Creation of the Metropolis: it will be a new tool for governance of large urban areas with more than 450 000 inhabitants. This new category of grouping of municipalities will have powers not only belonging to the Community, but also of the Department, Region and even some of the State.

    A strong local government is necessary everywhere to consolidate local democracy and local governance, speed up the development projects, and bring a sense of ownership and responsibility to local citizens and their elected representatives.



    Jean-Charles Demarquis is the French Ambassador to Nepal

    Source: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post
    © FRANCE NEPAL info

    Other articles by reporter Jean-Charles Demarquis




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