Assessment and Recommendations

The decentralization reform in Jordan can be better understood when assessed against a series of factors shaping its implementation – namely, economic, demographic, social and political.

Despite numerous reforms, Jordan is still facing a stagnant economy, growing income inequality levels and high unemployment rates. Income disparities not only highlight the timeliness and relevance of local development planning cycles to embed participation at its core, but to also ensure the integration of all regions and all citizens in economic and democratic life. With a highly young and dispersed population, the success of the decentralization reform will rely on the Government’s ability to promote the participation of youth across the country in shaping local development policies. In response to deteriorating trust levels and growing perceptions of corruption, the Government would also benefit from continuing efforts to strengthen integrity systems within subnational institutions, as part of existing efforts in the framework of the National Integrity Charter and its Executive Plan. Broadly, the implementation of decentralization and open government reforms at the local level must respond to an evolving political and governance landscape in Jordan, as it transitions from a highly centralized to a progressively deconcentrated system with more powers vested at the Governorate and Municipal level.

The recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has moreover highlighted the need for the central and local levels of government to act decisively, and in a coordinated manner, to respond to the both the public health and economic dimensions of the crisis.

Over the last decade, Jordan has embarked on an ambitious reform path to promote good governance and strengthen democracy. The Decentralization (No. 49) and Municipalities (No. 41) Laws adopted in 2015 are an important reflection of the Government’s commitment to place citizens at the heart of local policies and services. Notably, the laws introduced a new governance framework at the subnational level composed by elected and non-elected councils and a bottom-up approach for the design of local plans and budgets through a yearly collection and assessment of citizens’ needs.

Since its adoption, the Government of Jordan has achieved important milestones in gradually decentralizing power to the local level. The establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Decentralization and the Executive Committee as oversight bodies were a key element to ensure the rollout of this reform. Following local elections in 2017, two rounds of the need collection cycle have ensued, providing valuable insights and lessons learned. Recognising the iterative nature of this reform, and responding to the concerns raised in the National Dialogues, a draft local administration law was presented to Parliament in early 2020. This new momentum for reform presents an opportunity to revamp the decentralization process by strengthening governance mechanisms, establishing a two-way dialogue with citizens and promoting opportunities for stakeholders to have a say in the decisions that affect their daily lives.

The OECD, together with MoPIC, conducted a survey in 2019 to understand the main gaps in the needs assessment and development planning process from the perspective of subnational authorities and civil society.

Findings from the survey conducted in coordination with sub-national authorities note a set of governance and stakeholder participation challenges emerging from the rollout of the decentralization reform (see Figure 1). On the one side, local governments have struggled to adapt to the profound and rapid reorganization of structures resulting from the 2015 laws. In fact, local authorities cited the lack of or insufficient incentives (70%), financial (70%) and human resources (57%) as the top three bottlenecks to the operational effectiveness of the needs assessment process. On the other side, the bottom-up process to design local development plans has drastically transformed the way in which sub-national authorities interact with citizens. Ensuring the meaningful involvement of stakeholders in this process has notably faced key barriers with high levels of distrust (65%) and low levels of awareness and capacity of stakeholders to participate (63%).

Most of these challenges were also highlighted by civil society (see Figure 2). Findings note that a majority of stakeholders consider the needs assessment to be a relevant process, but scepticism regarding its implementation yet remains. To illustrate, a majority of respondents noted the lack of trust (70%) and motivation (60%) as the main drivers of low participation. Beyond the willingness of citizens to engage, over half of respondents (57%) also attribute low degrees of engagement to the insufficient awareness raising of the benefits and available opportunities for participation.

Therefore, addressing existing gaps concerning both governance and stakeholder participation issues will serve as a basis to identify future avenues for support. There is a general acknowledgement of the benefits of decentralization, but there is yet road ahead to equip local governments for the successful deployment of the needs collection process. This report therefore takes stock of the progress achieved since the 2017 local elections, and identifies the challenges and opportunities ahead for sub-national governments.

Based on the extensive data collected, the OECD provides the Government of Jordan the following recommendations to mainstream the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation beyond the national level.

The introduction of the 2015 Decentralization laws drastically transformed the structures, work and responsibilities of public institutions at the Governorate and Municipal level. The rapid speed and scale of this process, however, has exacerbated challenges in operationalizing new structures, consolidating formal procedures and meeting citizens growing expectations to participate in and contribute to local development policies. While the Government of Jordan has achieved great progress in implementing previous recommendations from the OECD (2017) report, findings reveal room for improvement to:

Formal governance structures are key building blocks enabling actors, processes and outcomes to reach desired objectives. Acknowledging these benefits, the Government of Jordan has progressed in consolidating structures with the introduction of elected and non-elected councils at the Municipal and Governorate level. These structures in a majority of subnational entities (80%) have a dedicated person, unit or department in charge of stakeholder participation initiatives for the collection of needs.

Nevertheless, findings reveal a series of challenges to ensure the operational effectiveness of these structures. First, the exact roles and responsibilities between local, municipal and governorate actors are blurred, lack detailing and are not codified. Second, there is a need to clarify the relationship between members of Executive Councils and Governorate Councils for the development of local plans and budgets. Third, existing guidelines for the preparation of needs lists could be complemented with trainings and resources for stakeholders to carry out technical tasks in the context of the needs assessment process (i.e. consultations, cost benefit analysis and evaluation).

As in most OECD countries, Jordan has developed formal and informal co-ordination mechanisms at the national level in the framework of the decentralization reform. Nonetheless, horizontal and vertical mechanisms have yet to be developed at the subnational level. The transversal nature of the needs assessment process offers new opportunities to solidify working relationships between local actors, establish formal procedures and align capabilities to share information. This will be particularly relevant to promote intra-governorate alignment on the work of elected and non-elected councils. To this end, the Government could consider the creation of informal thematic networks to align development projects, share lessons learned and promote the exchange of good practices.

Jordan has gradually established a robust multi-level strategic planning framework. At the national level, the Jordan 2025 Vision and the Renaissance Plan guide policy reform. A bottom-up approach to subnational planning was adopted with the Decentralization reform, where Governorate and Municipal needs manuals inform the design of each governorate strategy and executive plan. In 2020, the “Tanmiah Tool” was introduced to support the strategic management of the needs assessment process at the level of each governorate.

For the strategic planning process at the local level to reap its full benefits, the Government could transition from consulting on needs to co-creating plans with local stakeholders. This is all the more important, as OECD survey data revealed that close to a third of subnational governments consider that stakeholder contributions are not fully reflected in Governorate plans. Beyond the development of strategies, efforts could also focus on improving the link between local development projects, their financing, implementation and evaluation to inform subsequent planning cycles and better reflect local needs in national policies.

As the decentralization reform transforms the work of local authorities, it will be critical to ensure adequate levels of staffing and capabilities to engage stakeholders in local decision-making processes. In Jordan, a lack of human resources was selected as one of the top challenges in the needs-assessment process (57%), followed by bottle necks in terms of establishing necessary mechanisms (57%) and capacities (46%) within institutions. These findings align with those in regards to training, where despite their existence, public officials highlighted difficulties to carrying out technical tasks for the needs cycle. The Government of Jordan could thus focus on developing a more systemic approach to ensuring the coordination, relevance and sustainability of trainings reflecting on different skill levels across Governorates.

Adequate levels of financing within sub-national authorities are a sine qua non condition for the real decentralization of power to the local level, to support the increasing role of subnational entities in the delivery of many crucial services. As in many OECD countries, challenges in Jordan underline low levels of available funding for local development projects within governorates. OECD data revealed that in 2019 only 13% of respondents had a dedicated budget for the needs assessment process and only 2% for participation activities in general. Allocating dedicated funds would not only strengthen the capacity of GDUs and LDUs to engage with local communities, but would also incentivize the regularisation of stakeholder participation activities.

Public communication can bridge the divide between subnational governments and citizens by transforming the way in which these actors interact in the design of local development plans and budgets. Beyond simply serving to disseminate information, this function can help establish a two-way dialogue with the public, raise awareness around key reforms, change behaviours and impact the policy making process.

The Government of Jordan could consider the following analysis to leverage the contribution of public communication to promote the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation across the needs assessment process:

In Jordan, subnational administrations interact regularly with citizens as part of the process to collect needs, but evidence revealed that public communication is carried out on an ad hoc and informal basis. For instance, public communication plans in 69% of Municipal and Governorate entities are not in written form, formalized or widely distributed. A focus on strengthening communication structures, modernizing communication capacities and addressing uneven levels of skills will be critical to support a more strategic communication approach between government and citizens. Indeed, coordinating communication initiatives across and within Governorates could also help local authorities speak with one voice to avoid contradictory messaging and promote internal information sharing.

While Jordan was the first country in the MENA region to adopt an ATI law in 2007, efforts could be expanded at the local level to equip institutions with the necessary knowledge, tools and skills to proactively share information on the needs cycle and more broadly. On the one side, findings suggest that information on final local development plans, lists of approved needs or calendars of participation initiatives could be made available in an easy, clear and understandable format for the public. On the other, the effective implementation of this right will also require formalising procedures for Municipal and Governorate entities to respond to information requests and prove technical assistance for their effective deployment. There is an opportunity at present to solidify the country’s strong commitment to guaranteeing this right by targeting local actors within commitments in future Open Government Partnership (OGP) national action plans (NAPs).

For the needs assessment process to successfully integrate citizens in the local development planning process, the Government could leverage public communication as a tool to promote transparency and raise awareness around key activities, procedures and results. This is all the more important, as OECD data revealed that two thirds of local authorities attribute low levels of participation in the needs cycle to the lack of awareness of stakeholders around this process. This finding aligns with those from OECD survey results showing that a large share of civil society was not aware of the criteria used to define priorities for local investments (77%), results communicated (83%) or needs funded in the plan (90%). To this end, providing timely, relevant and accessible information in this regard can help combat feelings of scepticism around the decentralization reform and in turn support the ability of stakeholders to meaningfully contribute to local development plans.

Establishing a two-way communication approach requires governments to understand the needs, perceptions, fears and habits of different audiences to deliver more effective messages. At present, subnational authorities and the public generally agree that social media platforms, formal letters, emails and phone calls are the best means to communicate on the needs assessment process. Nonetheless, for these channels to achieve their desired objectives, local authorities should progressively aim at tailoring messages to different age, demographic and interest groups. The selection of channels should also consider the needs and habits of different audiences, such as those from vulnerable segments of the population in Jordan who may not have internet access or may have low levels of digital literacy.

There is an opportunity at present to leverage the interactivity benefits of social media platforms to engage stakeholders across the needs assessment process, given its popular use by local authorities (72%) and citizens (73%). With a large share of the population aged below 30, subnational governments could open dedicated spaces for the online participation of youth to promote their inclusion in the design of local policies. Nonetheless, to reap their full benefits, a set of social media guidelines could be developed to promote a more strategic use of these platforms.

Following the adoption of the Decentralization laws and the establishment of elected and non-elected councils, the Government of Jordan has achieved key milestones in placing citizens at the heart of the local development planning process. Notably, the Government reinstated its commitment to prioritizing stakeholder participation at the subnational level, acknowledging it as an important pillar of its national vision – the Renaissance Plan (2019 – 2020). Moreover, it consolidated efforts to engage local communities as part of this reform with dedicated commitments in the country’s 3rd and 4th OGP NAPs. Engagement around political reform for decentralization has also advanced in the framework of the country’s National Dialogues.

Despite the progress achieved in terms of opening the decision making process for local development plans, there is room to leverage participation to better inform, consult and engage stakeholders. To this end, the Government of Jordan could consider:

The cyclic nature of needs assessment process in Jordan represents an opportunity for subnational authorities to integrate a wide diversity of stakeholders in the design of local policies and services. To ensure that outcomes respond to citizens’ expectations, participation could be further mainstreamed throughout all phases of identifying local needs, drafting governorate plans, implementing development initiatives and their evaluation. At present, OECD evidence revealed varying degrees of participation across this process, where most initiatives focus on the collection of needs but diminish in the validation and approval stages of local development plans. Ensuring the co-creation of plans with stakeholders could help secure buy-in, as OECD data suggests that only 20% of civil society felt contributions were reflected in final plans and 53% considered that this was unclear.

To mainstream participation in the needs assessment process, the Government of Jordan could transition from consulting needs toward establishing a co-creation process for local development plans and budgets. While the consolidation of participation activities by LDUs has advance following the 2017 local elections, these are conducted on an ad hoc basis and their representativeness vary across large and small governorates. In fact, OECD data found that less than half of responding civil society stakeholders have participated in the needs assessment process. To counter disengagement in public life, OECD evidence suggests that efforts could focus on addressing existing challenges hindering the involvement of stakeholders, including the lack of trust, lack of awareness and lack of communication around the decentralization reform.

The creation of new participation opportunities in the needs assessment process alone, however, will not ensure the relevance and legitimacy of local development plans. For their successful implementation, the Government of Jordan could consider the development of mechanisms in the form of standards, guidelines and formal procedures for local, municipal and governorate actors. Moreover, efforts will also be needed to ensure the ability of citizens, civil society and businesses to participate in the development of local development plans. With the advent of the new draft local administration law, there is also an opportunity to consolidate an enabling environment for stakeholder participation activities through their acknowledgments and formalisation therein. This would also be an important step toward establishing a culture of openness and continuous learning, as has been done through existing platforms such as the National Dialogue.

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