Responding to the needs of the citizens
CLGF Secretary-General Dr Carl Wright
Three months ago, in January, I outlined CLGF’s agenda for 2016.
Since then we have already made important progress on key organisational objectives, such as establishing our new programme office for the Caribbean in Port of Spain, and appointment of a new CLGF Secretary-General. We have also scheduled the next meeting of the Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Network for July and participated in a number of important city and Habitat III related meetings, including through the Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments and Cities Alliance, of which CLGF is a member. Likewise, we have continued to engage with the Commonwealth Secretariat and other partner organisations and met with Prime Minister Muscat, the Commonwealth Chairperson in Office. The assumption of office of Patricia Scotland as Commonwealth Secretary-General and the announcement of the candidature of UNDP’s Helen Clark- a good friend of CLGF and local government- for the post of UN Secretary-General should offer further opportunities for CLGF engagement with its Commonwealth and global partners.
Operationally, our DFID, EU and other assistance programmes are supporting our members on the ground with expertise, technical know-how and building up their capacity in such key areas as promotion of local economic development and improved governance structures. Our knowledge sharing work was underlined by the distribution, to all members, of our new Commonwealth Local Government Handbook and we are in the process of putting into place arrangements for our 2017 Biennial Conference in Malta, which will be formally launched in Valetta in May. We have also made progress in developing our cooperation with important corporate partners such as Microsoft.
With much of this often quite specialised and technical work, it is sometimes easy to forget the bigger picture of why CLGF was established in 1995: in essence, as our mission statement reminds us, to promote democratic local government by sharing good practice and strengthening capacity. It is therefore encouraging to see important recent advances such as the holding of democratic local government elections in Guyana and Pakistan and the devolution of significant fiscal powers to local government in the UK. Unfortunately there are also sometimes steps back, such as the retreat from democratic decentralisation and actions against local elected leaders in The Maldives, which CLGF has raised with the Government of the country and also brought to the attention of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.
In all of our endeavours, it is important to remember the human side of CLGF’s work. Ultimately this must benefit ordinary citizens and their families, who are increasingly angry about the accumulation of wealth and income by small elites and the failure of government- whether local or national- to respond to their needs. Indeed, it is this anger which is being manipulated by xenophobic political populists and their media mouthpieces who often blame innocent refugees or what they see as remote international bureaucrats, a case in point being the current UK debate on Brexit from the EU, which, if realised, could do untold damage not only to Britain, but to international cooperation overall. I was reminded of the human side of our work when a few days ago I was in Brussels and passed the site of the appalling terrorist attacks on the Brussels Metro and saw a man weeping next to the bunches of flowers which had been laid out for the victims: if nothing else we, as local and central government policy makers, owe it to those innocent victims to do everything we can to make our cities safe and resilient and to promote social cohesion and combat extremism. This, too, has to be part of the CLGF’s agenda.