Decentralization in multi-ethnic states

Nowadays, decentralization received a big attention, owing to increase of democracy, protection of freedom and human rights and higher quality of service. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the World Socialist System and the forming of new states in the beginning of 1990s, the political systems in these post-soviet states faced with different types of embarrassments which were civil wars, territorial disputes, the lack of political accountability. The highly centralized authority can be shown as a main reason of these problems. Because, in that case, the political power is concentrated in the hands of a very narrow group. But decentralization is transferring some amount of this power to local governments which facilitate the organizing of the internal policy of state. From the organisational point of view, it is a process of restructuring of authority, so that there is a system of co-responsibility between institutions of governance at the central, regional and local levels. There are several different ways which can give definition of “decentralization”. According to the aspects, it can be a policy or a process, a concept or a methodology, even a trend (Katalin Tausz). But the common meaning of decentralization is defined as following: transferring the public functions of the central government to local governments. But in some cases, that expression means not to obey to the central government and sometimes equalizing with “separatism”. This tendency can be shown especially in multi-ethnic states.
After the XVII century, the Western Europe used to be formed nation-states. But in the other parts of the world such nation-states were not formed. In consecutive order, nowadays, most of all states in the world are multi-ethnic. But we can separate these multi-ethnic states into two groups:
1. States which have compact areas, where the ethnic communities are dominating. For example, Chine, Iran and such like.
2. States which are multi-ethnic but these ethnic groups spread through the state and are not dominant in any area. For example, the US, Azerbaijan.
There are also two types of state administration such as federal and unitary states. Sometimes, federalism is linked with the historical development of state, such as the US, Germany. On the other hand, multi-ethnical population cause federalism (Russia and Spain).
Decentralization in these states is not actual problem. According to their federative governance, the authority and responsibility for public functions is transferred from the federal government to member states. But it does not mean that the expressions of “decentralization” and “federalism” are the same. “Federalism” is a type of state governance, but “decentralization” must be taken into account as a process. And the latter can also take place not only in federative states, but also in unitary ones. From this point of view, it is clear that there is no completely unitary state. There are some municipality institutions which take some authorities from the central government. The main difference between federative and decentralized unitary country is the autonomy of member states within the border of federation which founded and protected on a constitutional level. They also have legislative, judicial and executive autonomy like as in a unitary state. But decentralized units are formed within the frame of laws. The other difference between them is that the central authorities do not interfere in the work of the member states in the federation. But there is a subtle point that we must consider, decentralized units – local authorities exist, if central government wants them.
Decentralization and local governance are recognized as basic components of democratic governance. These phenomenons are providing the enabling environment in which decision-making and service delivery can be brought closer to local people. There are some reasons which were shown below:
 To govern a multi-ethnic population through a highly centralized method of control has shown not only to be inefficient but to lead to tension and conflict (Mark Mozur).
 The decentralization of an authority can help to become more accountable by the ethnic groups. Because, local governments are the best chance for them to be heard.
 Decentralized units will enhance a good cooperation between central government and ethnic community. That fact pave the way to more effective policy implementation and an enormous level of political participation.
 Decentralization will lead to stability and prosperity in the country. Because governing the little groups of population are much easier than to control the whole population. There is no any debt for the local governments to learn and observe all of the processes, from the little one to the biggest in their local communities. And it eases to cope with all obstacles on the way to stability and prosperity.
A multiethnic society is a society that is formed by two or more ethnic groups that are different in ethnic, linguistic, religious or racial senses. The multi-ethnic structure of population brings with it both advantages and disadvantages. One of the main advantages is cultural enrichment. As a disadvantage, difficulties in the state governing are shown. It is clear that civil war often becomes inevitable in the multi-ethnic countries. The first step to settle any ethnic conflicts is to define its reasons. For example, why an ethnic group revolts against the central government? Because of,
– Ethnic and racial discrimination
– Use of mother language in education and media
– Cultural and religious variety
– Not to participate in the state governance
– No consideration of their interest and such like.
Decentralization intends to overcome these hindrances. The problems of multi-ethnic societies are a serious challenge to the formulation of the reform strategies on protection of minority rights and reduction of the possibility of conflict. There are several types of decentralization, as well, political, administrative and fiscal. Political decentralization is more widely used in federation and bases on the Constitution. Sometimes the unitary states are avoiding decentralization, because they are claiming that this process is against to the unity of the state and it will lead to separatism, especially in the multi-ethnic states. As a counter-argument, it can be indicated that “separatism” appears when there is no political accountability of the central government and there are many problems of ethnic community which directly linked with highly centralized policy of the government. The disparities between the member of the federation and decentralized units which were defined above. Nevertheless, it does not mean that decentralization will harm the unitary system of the state. On the contrary, the federalism can aggravate ethnic differences and promotes separatist movement, it may promote unequal development of regions. Federalism is sometimes ineffective especially in developing countries with under-developed infrastructure. When a political authority centralized, some problems may occur. For instance, investment, industry, economic activities are also centralized in the big cities of the country, which directly affect social welfare of the population. But the decentralization of power delivers not only an authority, but also opportunities, jobs, service and education. Hence, decentralization improves the durability of the laws. In that case, ethnic communities will be considered. Every local governments are more accountable than the central government. The member of ethnic communities can easily participate in state governance, which will facilitate the defining of main interest and needs of these communities. The success of decentralization as a tool for citizen participation, however, critically depends upon the strength of local government institutions (Heymans, 1996). A democratic local government is more responsive to local citizens` needs. One of the very important role of decentralization in transition countries is improving governance by helping to remove bottlenecks (often caused by central government planning and control) and red-tape that delay decision-making; allowing effective political representation of diverse political, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups in decision-making; empowering citizens to hold government decision-makers and service providers to account; relieving top managers in central ministries of “routine”, tasks to concentrate on policy; increasing political stability and national unity by allowing citizens to better control public programmes at the local level. Decentralization strengthens citizen participation by bringing governments closer to the people they are intended to serve.
The vital aspects for successful decentralized governance must be intended following conditions: local governments cooperation, supervision over the service delivery in decentralized governance, taking into account human resources development in local governance performance, financial situation of the decentralized government. Decentralization can address poverty, gender inequality, environmental concerns, the improvement of healthcare, education and access to technology. Decentralization brings decision making closer to the people and therefore yields programmes and services that better address local needs (Robertson Work).
In conclusion, the western world sees decentralization as an alternative to provide public services in a more cost-effective way. Developing countries are pursing decentralization reforms to counter economic inefficiencies, macroeconomic instability, and ineffective governance. Post-communist transition countries are embracing decentralization as a natural step in the shift to market economies and democracy. Latin America is decentralizing as a result of political pressure to democratise. African states view decentralization as a path to national unity.” (Robert Ebel) Democracy is not the ideal political regime in the world, but it is the best among the already existing. Democracy is a regime where authority belongs to majority, but the rights of minority is one of the priorities. Decentralization keeps this balance and provides equal rights and conditions for all members of the population, in spite of racial, cultural, religious, ethnic and gender variety.

by TURAL M.Isgandarov


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