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Does democracy matter for good governance and public administration at the local level?

Posted: 2012-07-10

Amina Rasul, The Philippines
Amina Rasul, The Philippines
Photo ©:IDEA

In June 2012, International IDEA convened a panel on the relevance of democracy for good governance and public administration at the local level. This was part of an international conference hosted by the University of Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance. The panel included representatives from Botswana, Ghana, Indonesia and the Philippines, who had all participated in carrying out a local level democracy assessment in their respective countries, using International IDEA’s State of Local Democracy Assessment Framework (SoLD).

The main features of the SoLD assessments are that they are citizen-led and aimed at finding ways to improve the quality of democracy at the local level. It also involves the participation of those who are being assessed as partners. As the assessment provides a critical perspective, the process also presumes the existence of a certain level of culture of accepting critical views.

The four representatives of the panel identified one common challenge in their assessments, which was the need for citizen participation not only in elections, but also in the planning and implementation of relevant policies. While the challenge was the same, the specifics of each context were very different.

Participatory democracy

In line with this, panellist Abdul Gaffar Karim argued that due to the diversity in Indonesian local politics, he could not identify one single approach that could be prescribed to achieve improved participatory democracy.

In the case of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the Philippines, Amina Rasul presented the results of the recently concluded assessment indicating that a culture of protective politics appears to manifest itself in local government because key players encourage participation only for their supporters, but not for the general population.

Representative democracy

Representative democracy, and especially the issue of ‘who represents who’ was also discussed. In Ghana, Margaret Sackey noted that customary governance dominates at the local level as some people still go directly to the chief, instead of an elected official. In Botswana, on the other hand, chiefly functions have been transferred to new institutions as of the creation of district administrations. Professor Zibani Maundeni argued that the challenge now is what role the representatives have if they also have traditional chief functions.

As local civic engagement builds the foundation for a strong and more enduring national level democracy, it was recommended by Dr Sackey that the roles and procedures in legislation and policy making should be spelled out clearly in order to ensure the positive involvement of the chief.


The recently completed assessment in ARMM demonstrated that problems of autonomy in general but particularly of fiscal autonomy, affecting public administration, as ARMM remains dependent on the national government. The framework for autonomy is thus important as it affects the functioning of public administration and service delivery. The examples presented from Botswana, however, indicated that the creation of too many institutions at the local level resulted in the fragmentation of service delivery and weakening of accountability.


In conclusion, the exchange of ideas and experiences is instrumental, but each context is unique and requires a unique solution. However, all of the presenters stressed the importance of participatory democracy, clearly defined roles for representatives, and accountable and transparent institutions in order to achieve good governance and effective public administration at the local level.


The panel on democracy at the local level was held during the international conference on “Public Administration and Governance: Tradition and Transformation” in celebration of the 60th anniversary of University of Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG). Panel presenters were Dr Margaret Sackey of the Institute of Local Government Studies in Ghana, Professor Zibani Maundeni of the University of Botswana, Ms. Amina Rasul-Bernardo of the Philippine Centre for Islam and Democracy, and Mr. Abdul Gaffar Karim of the University of Gadjah Mada, Indonesia.

President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III of the Republic of the Philippines was the keynote speaker at the conference. International IDEA Director of the Asia-Pacific, Mr. Andrew Ellis, presented the speech “Meeting the Global Challenge: Promoting & Sustaining Democracy”.