(Above: Local councillors work together on a group task at a WFD organised induction for new councillors in Naryn City Council, Kyrgyzstan)
Local self-government systems are intended to bring power and decision-making closer to citizens and communities. As in many other post-Soviet countries, the Kyrgyz systems of local self-government have existed since independence in various forms.
Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s new Kyrgyzstan Local Accountability Programme (KLAP) aims to support local councils to overcome governance issues. KLAP supports three local city councils in the Kyrgyz Republic: Batken, Naryn and Balychy.
The programme provides a comprehensive approach working with officers, councillors and communities in these localities to increase capacities to deliver good governance and local services. In addition to the provision of direct support to the pilot cities, our programme engages the Union of Local Self-Government as the national body representing local councils across the country in the capital, Bishkek, to enhance the voice of local government with national level institutions. The approach was designed by WFD in close cooperation with UK local government experts, working together with the Local Government Association of England and Wales (LGA).
Traditionally, WFD programmes in Europe and Central Asia have focused on providing support to governance institutions at national level, and not without good reason. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, national parliaments took a central role in the governance of their respective countries for the first time. Over the course of the last quarter century, national parliaments and other central government institutions have become the focus of political life yet there are other features of government which should not be ignored, like decentralisation and devolution. Following the tight central control of communist regimes, the challenges of taking decision making and political power closer to communities is not a small one.
Fully launched in January 2017, KLAP has initially provide support to the staff of councils in pilot cities to deliver induction trainings and orientation to their newly elected councillors, following elections which took place in December. This seeks to overcome one of the central issues identified during our assessments, that councillors have limited knowledge of their roles and responsibilities when coming to office. The format of support followed a formula pioneered by WFD in Georgia, following their parliamentary election in October 2016. Rather than the traditional formula of an induction designed and implemented directly by a donor agency, we work with councils so they have the resources and capacities to deliver an effective induction themselves.
For the first time, in February 2017, each of the three councils implemented inductions for their new councillors – constituting 65-70% of council membership with people coming from a variety of backgrounds. Having never been involved in local government before, the inductions providing sessions around the role of the councillor, how the council operates, and engaging with local societies, among others, were implemented by council staff, in each of the three cities. One of the key areas of training has been to increase the new councillor’s familiarity with the local budget process, how it operates and their role in that process. Passing the councils new budget, alongside electing executive mayors, is one of the first items on the agenda.
Throughout the induction process, WFD has engaged representatives of the Union of Local Self-Government as well as State Agency on Self-government Affairs, as two bodies charged with the provision of support to local councils and regional development.
Going forward, KLAP will continue to deliver tailormade capacity building support to the three city councils. It will provide opportunities for councillors to engage with their peers, discuss issues of mutual interest and exchange ideas and good practices. It will support councillors to enhance their direct engagement with local communities and align service delivery with real needs and desires. Working with the LGA, the programme will see the role of the Union of Local Self-Government enhance to represent local government to state-level institutions. KLAP will be implemented initially until 2019 and has potential to expand its beneficiaries.