Governance and accountability – building partnerships with the urban poor

By Michael Slingsby

In the international context, public private partnerships are gaining more and more relevance. To avoid leaving the urban poor behind in these processes, many Asian cities have established community driven partnerships to promote inclusiveness.

Funding constraints in many cities in the world have brought about changes in urban governance with a move away from city administration to city management. There has been a realisation that the equitable development of cities can only take place if partnerships are developed between those who manage the city and those who live and work there. One of the most common manifestations of this change has been the formation of public private partnerships. A common example has been the management of solid waste. This has been in the form of the local government having contracts with the private sector to collect and dispose of the city’s solid waste, including recycling, under the overall supervision of the local government. With the private sector seeking to maximise profits this has not always been to the benefit of the urban poor, who live in areas which are difficult to access and who have low value solid waste.

What is emerging in many cities in Asia is the formation of public and community partnerships which are community driven and promote inclusiveness, transparency and accountability as well as cost sharing. They provide opportunities for the engagement of urban poor communities with elected representatives and local government officials. Many of the community groups are led by women who are empowered in the process. The election of community leaders has led to a high percentage of women being selected for leadership roles sometimes as a condition of the election process but more often because women are trusted more than men in managing money.

One common aspect of successful public community partnerships is the formation of savings groups which in some cases lend money to their members. The process of group saving builds up trust and creates opportunities for experience sharing between community members; it also fosters their ability to engage as equal partners with the local government. Three examples illustrate how the governance and accountability of these groups are strengthened in the process.

The Community Development Fund and small-scale infrastructure projects in Vietnam

In Vietnam and eighteen other countries in Asia, the Bangkok based Asian Coalition for Housing Rights used funds from the Gates Foundation to support urban poor communities to partner with their local governments and together improve their local environment, community infrastructure and housing under the umbrella of the Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) programme.

Vietnam’s urban poor have been collectively solving urban infrastructure and housing shortages with the support from city governments and in partnership with the Association of Cities of Vietnam (ACVN) and ACCA. A Community Development Fund (CDF) promoted community driven approaches to address urban poverty and supported pro-poor urban development planning. The CDF is managed in partnership with government agencies and other stakeholders.

The main characteristics of the CDF are the voluntary participation of urban poor communities in community managed saving groups and the linkage and coordination between other organizations and sources of funding for urban poverty reduction at city level. One example is the housing and community infrastructure programme in Vinh City.

In 2009, the ACVN, the Community Organisation Development Institute (CODI) of Thailand and the Peoples’ Committee of Vinh City (the local government) agreed to make funds available for the community led re-development of collective houses at Huu Nghi in Cua Nam Ward. The 29 families in this community started a savings fund for house and infrastructure construction as well as legal procedures.

With support from community architects the people developed housing designs and managed the construction work, which was completed within eighteen months while the families stayed in temporary housing.

This housing project was part of a larger programme of small scale infrastructure and housing in Vinh City. From the Community Development Fund, the total amount borrowed for the 66 small infrastructure projects, 5 housing projects and one disaster rehabilitation project benefitting 3,121 households was US$ 290,092. Out of the total cost for all the projects of $4,135,608, the CDF loan was 7%, community savings were 19%, the city government provided 73% and grants from other sources were 1%. This approach to urban governance partnerships was adopted in sixteen other cities in Vietnam.

Community development in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the Urban Partnerships for Poverty Alleviation Project (UPPR) was funded by DFID with £60 million as a grant and covered 23 towns and cities. The project was managed by UNDP, UN-Habitat and the Local Government Engineering Department. The basis of the project was community savings and loan groups which were part of Community Development Committees (CDCs). The CDCs prepared Community Action Plans which were converted into a series of community contracts. The communities managed community level infrastructure works with technical support from the project. This included the procurement of materials and labour for the construction of toilets, tube well, drains and footpaths.

Each project was approved by the elected representative at the Ward level and by the Mayor of the city through a partnership arrangement with the local government and the communities. Accounting and procuring documents were made public and shared with both community members and the local government. This transparent process reduced the possibility of the misuse of funds.

Starting as a smaller project in 2000, UPPR became a national government programme, the National Urban Poverty Reduction programme, in 2016.

Saving groups in Yangon

In Yangon, Myanmar, in a number of Townships, savings groups have been formed at the street level with support from the lowest level of local government, the Heads of 100 Households and the Ward Representatives. Poorer households were subsidised by those who were better off, and the collective funds were then used to improve roads and drains, to provide street lights and for community managed solid waste collection.

In the context of the Habitat III New Urban Agenda these three initiatives provide good practical examples of operational enablers that bring about sustainable, people-centred and integrated approaches to urbanization. They show a way forward towards inclusive urban development and should be taken as an example for communities worldwide.

Michael Slingsby

Michael Slingsby has been working in Asia for forty years with DFID, UN-Habitat and UNDP on projects that build partnerships between local government and urban poor communities to improve city and community level infrastructure and support social and economic development programmes. He has long term working experience in Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. He retired from UN-Habitat as their Country Representative in Afghanistan. He subsequently worked as a consultant at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India and for the past four years he has been working as an adviser to the Urban Planning Division at the Yangon City Development Committee on capacity building, participatory urban development and urban poverty reduction.
Michael Slingsby
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