BY ELIF KARACA
Within the scope of the Integrated Municipal Governance Model (IMGM) project, for the first time in Turkey, two municipalities obtained the right to use the European Label of Governance Excellence (ELoGE). Can you talk about the project and the work by the Council of Europe (CE) in this area?
The 12 principles of good governance adopted by the CE aim to improve governance at the local level and improve the quality of governance and basically constitute the European vision. Under each principle, there is a set of criteria explaining what it means and indicators for the municipalities to measure and benchmark their adherence to these principles, and what gets measured, gets improved over time. These principles are (1) Participation, Representation, Fair Conduct of Elections, (2) Responsiveness, (3) Efficiency and Effectiveness, (4) Openness and Transparency, (5) Rule of Law, (6) Ethical Conduct, (7) Competence and Capacity, (8) Innovation and Openness to Change, (9), Sustainability and Long-term Orientation, (10) Sound Financial Management, (11) Human rights, and (12) Cultural Diversity and Social Cohesion.
The municipalities of Sultanbeyli and Sisli acquired the right to use the label for a year. They will be able to extend this period if they maintain good governance practices. Evaluations were made according to these principles based on concrete evidence and evaluated by an independent jury. Citizens expressed their views on the activities and services of the municipalities in the surveys, and they were taken into account in the jury’s decision. It is very important to consult with citizens who express their opinions and convey their demands. By raising awareness of good democratic governance and the relevance of citizens’ expectations, the importance of efficiency, transparency, respect for the rule of law, and human rights in society will be better understood.
The IMGM developed by the Arguden Academy is very valuable as it provides a holistic understanding and a practical model for good governance. Evaluation of applications by an independent jury, when done regularly, triggers continuous improvement, provides the opportunity to correct mistakes, if any, and ultimately means increased votes for mayors. As of today, only 23 of the 47 member countries of the CE, including Turkey have some local governments that have gained the right to use the ELoGE brand.
Good governance is the key to building trust in democracy and a sustainable future. You have to think about how everything you do today that will have an impact on the people living here 100 years from now. One of the top priorities of my department is to raise awareness about good democratic governance. You can neither protect the environment nor achieve sustainable development without democratic governance.
Trust in democracy seems to be declining in recent years. What could be the reasons for this?
While the value of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law is broadly understood, there is room for improvement in implementation. But we see that the democracy index has started to decline in many countries. There is a decline in all indicators, such as freedom of expression, media freedom, and the quality of local democracies. The level of centralization is important. Subsidiarity in terms of giving sufficient authority and resources to all municipalities is critical for the development of democracy at the local level. The authority needs to be as close to the people as possible. Authority and power need to reach the local level, but we see different trends in many countries today.
I think the most difficult targets to achieve in the recent period are the climate targets. What should we do about this?
Every individual is responsible for everything that happens in the world. We could have started looking at alternative energy sources much sooner. This is the result of governments not thinking in terms of good democratic governance and sustainability when making decisions and issuing permits or developing incentive programs. That’s why everything always comes down to the quality of governance and that’s why we’re watching it so closely.
What are the most important requirements for sustainable urban development?
We cannot say that what has been done until now has made a sufficient impact. One of the principles of our program is sound financial management and economic development, but the point of development always seems to be “let’s build more factories, invest more” and this does not always bring prosperity and equality to all. The aim is to ensure that the welfare and peace of societies are inclusive and that is why we are talking about it here. Moreover, the CE’s vision of existence is to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Today, in many countries, we see the independence of the courts and the media are endangered, there are even tendencies to rig the elections. This puts people’s quality of life and our sustainable development goals to build a better future at risk.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to good governance and the effective utilization of resources?
Often, resources are not used in the best possible way. Sometimes this is due to incompetence, sometimes it’s due to not using the right methods, and sometimes it is because of corruption. However, this is a very, very dangerous thing because when trust is lost, it harms democracy and, in the end, quality of life. This is the biggest problem, and it needs to be solved very urgently. If the quality of governance is improved and public resources are utilized properly with a long-term and inclusive perspective and citizens are aware of this, they will trust the institutions, and everything will be much better. Therefore, good governance in local governments is the foundation of our quality of life and our future.