Local administration reform in Turkey

01 Mar 2006


The system of governance in Turkey has traditionally been highly centralised, run out of Ankara by a strong national bureaucracy that dominates over weak, dependent, provincial and local governments.

New Horizons - For decades, moreover, the state institutions have been resistant to serious change and governments have been reluctant to draw on external advice and assistance for the reform of the administrative systems of government.

Decentralisation and local government has been a particularly sensitive area as a result of the strong traditions of unitary and centralised governance. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and NGOs were also not encouraged for many years. Changes have, however, taken place in recent years as a result of structural reform imperatives arising from the economic crisis and more recently as a result of priorities relating to the EU accession. The government has recognised the need for reforms and the benefits of partnering with external agencies in order to modernise Turkey’s state structures and to comply with the requirements for the EU accession, since virtually all of the EU assistance programmes now require the channelling of financial flows to and through regional and local administrations. And this recognition materialised in the Local Administration Reform Programme of Turkey, funded by the European Commission and being implemented by the UNDP.

UNDP’s Technical Support to the Local Administration Reform Programme

In the context of a broader programme to modernize and democratize the Turkish administrative system, so as to align it with EU standards and to strengthen the administrative capacities for future EU membership, the Government of Turkey has undertaken a programme aimed at the reform and modernisation of the local administrations in the country (Municipalities and Special Provincial Administrations).

The programme, already launched through the adoption of new legislation on Local Authorities, encompasses a wide number of reforms, in all aspects of local administration and management, with the final purpose of enabling Local Authorities to provide better public services, carry out a more efficient management of their financial resources and enhance their capacity for a more active engagement in policy making with national authorities as well as in creating partnerships with other Local Authorities in EU member countries. The primary responsibility for the implementation of the programme has been conferred to the Ministry of Interior (General Directorate for Local Authorities). The Programme is supported by the European Union through the MEDA programme.


UNDP Turkey has been selected by the Turkish Government and the European Commission to provide technical assistance requested by the Ministry of Interior and financed by the European Union. To this end, a Project titled "Support to Local Administration Reform Programme" has been launched. New Horizons interviewed the team leader/chief technical advisor of the project Adolfo Sanchez:

Adolfo Sanchez

New Horizons: Can you tell us about the LAR Programme?

Adolfo Sanchez: The Local Administration Reform Programme is a project agreed between the European Commission and the Turkish Government in 2003, with the overall objective of supporting the advancement of local administration reform in Turkey by 1) strengthening the capacity of both central and local administrations to formulate and implement reform policies and initiatives, 2) improving budgetary procedures and service performance in selected pilot administrations and 3) improving the efficiency and effectiveness of human resources (through training).

The project started in August 2005 and will have duration of 29 months (November 2007).

The project is being implemented by the Ministry of Interior (General Directorate for Local Authorities), with technical assistance provided by UNDP-Turkey and funded by the EC MEDA Programme.

Main stakeholders of the project are, alongside the General Directorate for Local Authorities, the Unions of Local Authorities (national and regional), Municipalities and Special Provincial Administrations (especially those selected as pilots for the sub-projects on budgetary process and service performance), other Units within the Ministry of Interior (Education Department, Board of Inspectors, Provincial Governorships and District Sub-governorships) and TODAIE.

Beneficiaries of the project are managers and staff of the MoI (Headquarters and territorial units), representatives and staff of the Unions of local authorities, elected representatives, managers and staff of local authorities, and Turkish consultants on local administration finances.

NH. What are the envisaged activities during the programme?

The programme’s work-plan is geared towards the achievement of a number of specific “results” (in total, 23 results); and the activities have been designed and time-scheduled as a means to get those results. The expected results are grouped under four main Components: 1) Strengthening reform capacity (at MoI, Unions of Local Authorities and local authorities themselves; 2) Improve budgetary process and service performance (in selected pilot local administrations); 3) Increase effectiveness and efficiency of human resources in local administrations; and 4) General steering and management of the programme.

In all four Components, UNDP’s role is to provide advisory services, technical assistance and training, through both Turkish and international experts, for the implementation of the planned activities and the achievement of the expected results.

The main activities envisaged under the project are:
• Elaboration of a strategy for the implementation of the Government’s programme to reform the local administration, as laid down in the recently adopted legislation, in the years to come. As part of this broader strategy, elaboration and implementation of a Communication Plan to raise awareness and support for local administration reform in Turkey (in the country and abroad).
• Evaluation of the recently adopted legislation, from the viewpoint of its compliance with European Conventions, principles and standards for good local governance.
• Review of existing training programmes available for MoI staff (at headquarters or in Governorships and sub-governorships) and development/implementation of training programmes on EU local government systems and legislation.
• English language training for MoI staff dealing with local administration affairs (at headquarters).
• Design and implementation of a training/capacity development programme for Unions of local authorities (members of decision-making bodies and staff).
• Elaboration of a guide o municipal partnerships and the setting up of a facility to disseminate information on partnership opportunities for local authorities in Turkey.
• Design and implementation of at least 6 pilot projects on improving budgetary process and service performance in local administrations. Such projects will entail assistance for the improvement of the local budgets, through a participatory approach; evaluation of status and performance of current public services; elaboration and implementation of Service Improvement Action Plans; ad training for Mayors, managers and staff on topics relevant to the objectives of the pilot projects.
• Elaboration of manuals and software tools which can be used by Municipalities (especially those of small or medium size) to improve their budgetary process (particularly with regards to multi-annual investment planning).
• Development of a training programme (including training manuals and materials) on modern municipal management, training of trainers and delivery of the programme to a minimum of 500 staff of municipalities (through one-week training courses)
• Development of a training programme and certification system for local (Turkish) consultants on local public finances; and training/certification of a first group of “certified consultants” (50)
• Establishment of a resource facility to make the training programmes developed under the project, the trainers trained to deliver such training, and the certified consultants easily available to Municipalities and other local administrations (such as SPAs); including an on-line version of the training programmes.

NH. What do you expect to achieve at the end of the programme?

In the first place, we are expecting to achieve – to a greater or lesser extent – each one of the results set for the

project. Also, the project is expected to set the foundations of a better communication and co-operation between the Ministry of Interior (General Directorate for Local Authorities) and the Unions of local authorities, as representative organizations of all local administrations in Turkey. This should pave the way for further programmes and projects in which identification, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation both the Ministry of Interior and the

Unions of local authorities should be involved as equal partners.

Eventually, the project should render a certain change in the way local administration affairs are being conducted and managed by the Ministry of Interior (Headquarters and Governorships/Sub-governorships), so that the concepts and practice of strategic planning, co-operation, partnership and efficiency are gradually introduced in this important area of the Government’s reform policies, in the context of Turkey’s EU pre-accession process.

NH. What are the main issues in the area of Local Administration in Turkey today? Do you think this programme will be sufficient to address those issues? What else could be done?

In general terms, one could say that the institutional position and role of the local authorities in the Turkish system of Government and Public Administration is not yet comparable with the position held by the same authorities in EU Member States. This is so from different perspectives, from the relative weight of the local public sector in terms of GDP or consolidated public expenditure, to the scope of their responsibilities and competences in the organisation and delivery of public services and the promotion of socio-economic development at local level; as well as from the viewpoint of their relative position of autonomy vis a vis the central government, in terms of public policies and decision-making powers.

Many of these weaknesses or “gaps” have been addressed by the new legislation enacted over the past two years; but now the challenge is to make this new legislation work.

In this respect, a lot of information and awareness-raising is still needed at local level (particularly in the small and medium-sized municipalities). Also, massive training and capacity development actions will be required for the local authorities (elected representatives, managers and staff) to cope with some of their new responsibilities, particularly in fields related to the modernisation of management approaches and tools (strategic planning, multi-annual budgeting, service performance and quality, efficient management of public funds, etc.)

Another important challenge is the need to further democratise the decision-making processes in local administration, broadening access to information and participation (both for elected members of the Councils, as well as for the citizens and their organisations). This should be supplemented by measures and advancements in the field of accountability (of Mayors and executive bodies towards elected Councils; of Mayors, executive and elected Councils towards the citizens). Decisive actions and progress in these fields are critical for ensuring that local authorities perform their tasks and duties at the service of the citizens, and to prevent corruption and misuse of public funds.

NH. This programme was originally supposed to contribute to the elaboration of new legislation on Local Administration in Turkey. However, much of such legislation was already enacted before the start of the project. What was the impact of the new legislation on Local Administration on the programme? Does the programme still have a focus or specific objectives in this field? Are there any other legislation needed in this area in Turkey to which elaboration the project may be contributing?

At this stage, support to the drafting of legislation is not one of the top priority objectives of the programme, which has turned its focus towards removing obstacles and supporting progress in the implementation of the new legislation.

However, the project will carry out a detailed evaluation of the new legislation, from the viewpoint of its compliance with Turkey’s international obligations in this field (European Charter of Local Self-government and other international instruments ratified by the Turkish Grand National Assembly), as well as in order to detect any possible gaps or shortcomings which set obstacles for the local authorities in Turkey to get ready to play their expected role in an EU-membership context. It is to be noted that, while the most important “administrative capacities” required for effective EU membership are meant to be related to capacities at the level of central government, Local authorities in EU member states do also play an important role in the effective implementation of EU acquis (for instance, in the field of environmental protection or socio-economic development) and are also bound by the same rules as the central government on a number of aspects (public aids, public procurement, etc.)

NH. In which ways would this project contribute to the implementation of the new legislation on Local Administration?

As mentioned before, the main ways in which the project is expected to contribute to this objective are:
• Building understanding and capacity in both central and local administrations (MoI, Governorships, Unions, local authorities), mainly through training.
• Developing tools and instruments which can ease the implementation of some of the reforms (tools for multi-annual investment planning, training programmes and manuals for future use, etc.)
• Helping change the way in which central and local administrations inter-relate with each other, so as to promote a gradual shift from “tutelage” to “co-operation”.
• Developing and implementing successful pilot experiences of practical improvements in key aspects (budget elaboration process, performance measurement and management for local public services), which can then be replicated to a larger group of local authorities.

The UNDP has been among the first external institutions involved in Turkey on sub-national governance issues through its flagship Local Agenda 21 programme.


Local Agenda 21 Programme

The Local Agenda 21 (LA 21) programme was the UNDP’s main instrument for the promotion of good governance and local democracy in Turkey. The programme itself drew on the UNDP’s links with global environmental initiatives, such as the Rio Conference, and was a direct result of the participation of Turkey’s government and mayors in HABITAT II, the major environmental UN Summit, which was held in Turkey in 1996.

In this sensitive area, the UNDP adopted a successful catalytic approach, which relied extensively on national technical inputs and capacity in the early stages of programme design and implementation. At the same time, it also brought to bear its international experience to facilitate the introduction of initiatives that are innovative and new in the Turkish context.

The main element of the LA 21 programme entails the establishment of City Councils, which are city level participatory mechanisms for decision-making. These Councils have brought together community-based organisations, NGOs, labour unions, academics, the private sector, individual citizens and the local Government into a consultative forum that raises and discusses issues of direct concern to the communities themselves.

LA 21, with active inputs from the UNDP, also helped set up the Youth Association for Habitat and Agenda 21 and also helped the formation of local youth platforms that cooperate at the national level. The LA 21 project is “nationally executed” by the International Union of Local Authorities – Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (IULA-EMME), which is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

Results of the LA 21 Programme

The UNDP has succeeded in mobilising a significant volume of resources for the LA 21 programme, which is viewed by most of the donors and partners of the UNDP in Turkey as a success story. Approximately 2 million dollars was mobilised from the so-called “Capacity 21” funds from UNDP Headquarters and a further 4.5 million dollars was mobilised from the Governments of Turkey, Canada, Denmark, France and Switzerland.

LA 21 exemplifies UNDP Turkey’s ability to leverage its own limited resources and effect changes in Turkey that have far wider implications than the management of environmental assets alone. It helped to increase significantly the level of participation of CSOs and private citizens in decision-making and also increased the level of decentralisation of governance in Turkey. At the broadest level, the UNDP LA 21 programme has spread a locally adapted model of City Councils largely spontaneously and through local initiatives from nine pilot initiatives to over 50 cities throughout the country.

The UNDP has played an important catalytic role in the development of the LA 21 model. The LA 21 programme has been a flagship programme that, along with one or two other notable initiatives, put the UNDP on the development map in Turkey. It has gained the UNDP considerable profile and credibility as a partner at the local level in a programme that is viewed by the central Government, the local authorities, donors and national CSOs alike as a success.

Local Agenda 21 Programme converted into a long-range programme

Sadun Emrealp is the National Coordinator of the Local Agenda 21 Programme in Turkey. We interviewed him about the programme’s achievements and its future targets.

Sadun Emrealp, the National Coordinator of the Local Agenda 21 Programme in Turkey

NEW HORIZONS: Can you tell us about the history of the Turkey Local Agenda 21 (LA21) Programme?

SADUN EMREALP: Habitat II Summit, held in Istanbul in 1996, accelerated the launch of the LA21 Programme in Turkey in 1997. The starting point was supporting the municipalities in Turkey. The LA21 processes in Turkey were launched in late 1997 via the project entitled “Promotion and Development of Local Agenda 21s in Turkey” with the support of the UNDP and under the coordination of IULA-EMME*. The project, commencing by the decision of the Council of Ministers, was completed in December 1999 following a period of nearly two years of implementation.

During The first implementation period, we could hardly reach 9 provinces but in a short time we could attain 20 partners. Upon the achievements of this project, the UNDP supported the continuation project entitled “Implementing Local Agenda 21s in Turkey”, which started in January 2000 with the consent of the Council of Ministers. By virtue of the incorporation of a number of sub-projects, coupled with the inclusion of new local authorities, we attained the envisaged 50 partners and even surpassed it. Currently there are 62 official partners and also around 20 municipalities that have started working with us but cannot become programme partners due to limitations.

While the LA21 Programme initially started off with single projects, today the project framework has been converted into a long-range programme. Since participatory structures like City Councils have found a place in legislation, today we have reached the point where the boundaries of partnerships will expand rather than an increase in the number of partners.

The third phase of the LA21 Programme has been launched via a number of intertwined and mutually-supporting projects. The framework project of the third phase is entitled “Localising the UN Millennium Development Goals and WSSD Plan of Implementation through the Turkey Local Agenda 21 Governance Network”. This project aims at increasing the support of the central government and to augment the visibility of LA21 via making a substantial impact in localising the respective global targets and actions. A Supporting Local Projects Programme has also been launched within the context of the project.

NH: What was the impact of legal procedures with regards to City Councils?

SE: Various participatory structures have to be established within the scope of legal procedures and City Councils come atop all. The most delicate part of the matter here was it was not possible to initially foresee it. As of its final status in 2003, it was legally adopted as to bring the central local administrations with the civil society together. The 76th Article of the legislation bears the heading “City Councils”. The second part of the law describes how the councils will function. The new legal procedures aren’t only limited to that. For instance, there is an article pertaining to participation at the neighbourhood level; in another article citizenship law is redefined based on participation. Participation of non-governmental organisations in special municipal commissions is anticipated. According to municipal laws now, it is obligatory to open women’s shelters in residential areas with a population exceeding 50 thousand.

NH: Is there a one-to-one relation in between the political structure of municipalities and implementing the new legislation?

SE: The personality of mayors does not always overlap with the political views of the parties they are affiliated to. Moreover, it usually is totally different. A mayor of a remote place does form a perfect partnership with you and starts implementing all processes arising from the new laws. It is an advantage when and if they are closer to the central government as a matter of obtaining resources but this is not advantageous when it comes to implementation.

NH: Are all the favourable developments you cited being implemented?

SE: The law was enforced only in 2005. Therefore, it is yet too early to get the results. A substantial evaluation can be made after at least a year has gone by.

NH: What was the role of LA21 and the UNDP in the enforcement of the new legislation?

SE: There was a direct role and that’s how we understand it: Meetings were held in LA21 cities prior to the enforcement of the legislation. Several suggestions were developed during these meetings and many of those suggestions were reflected in the legislation. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has an obligation to prepare directives with respect to municipal laws. The Ministry worked in cooperation with LA21 cities. The mentioned directive is about to be published. There are some articles that cause anxiety relating to their probable effects in practice even before they are enforced. But since the LA21 cities had been perfectly implementing all those envisaged in the articles for a long time and they could convey it to the authorities citing examples, all concerns were dispelled and they finally were enforced.

One of those directives is the one on City Councils. The 77th Article of the directive is about the participation of volunteers in municipal services. The directive regarding this article has also been published.

NH: Is the public aware of the new laws and directives? Will they find their way in the daily lives of the people?

SE: Local practices will enable the new laws and directives to find their way in the daily life. It is essential to work with local administrations that are devoted to these issues. Creating structures such as Neighbourhood Committees means that citizens will participate in the materialisation of laws and directives in the everyday life of local communities. There are many well-functioning Neighbourhood Committees in provinces such as Izmit, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Antalya where economically disadvantaged people inhabit. Besides, there are also around 40 Women’s Councils in Turkey. They bring together diverse institutions and organisations and engage unorganised women in local governments.

NH: What are your future targets?

SE: The fact that we are still involved is tragicomic. There is still a need for IULA-EMME and the UNDP as umbrella organisations, whereas these are things that each municipality, each city should accomplish in their own capacity. Our future role will be to start an action to localise the Millennium Development Goals and to rapidly extend the achievements of the programme all over Turkey.

NH: What will be done in the upcoming period in order to localise the Millennium Development Goals?

SE: We face difficulties to that extent in Turkey and the world. Everybody talks about localising the Millennium Development Goals, but it is not clear what we exactly mean by that. Implementation and assessment indicators are missing. Governance indicators such as transparency, participation and accountability cannot me measured. It is hard to find a common multiple. For instance, we cannot determine how much of the municipal budget is spent in the context of the Millennium Development Goals.

In the upcoming period, we are aiming to start the practices within the framework of the “Our City Supports the Millennium Development Goals” campaign, develop the implementation indicators and extend and deepen the support for local projects.

That was what Sadun Emrealp, Local Agenda 21 (LA21) Programme National Coordinator, told us.

The framework project of the third phase of the LA21 Programme is entitled “Localising the UN Millennium Development Goals and WSSD Plan of Implementation through the Turkey Local Agenda 21 Governance Network”. Within the framework of this project, Supporting Local Projects Programme (SLPP) has also been launched.

Supporting Local Projects Programme is a small grants programme. In the first phase of the implementation period of this programme 8 and in the second phase 16 projects have been found eligible for support. The 8 projects were endorsed in May 2005 and have started to be implemented as of August 2005. The second group of 16 projects has started to be implemented as of the beginning of 2006.

New Millennium Resource Centre Project:

One of the projects that are supported in the second group of projects is the “New Millennium Resource Centre Project” from Yalova, a western city near Istanbul. The main targets of the project that the youth of Yalova is conducting are as follows:

• Raising the local and social awareness on the United Nations Millennium Summit held from 6-8 September 2000

in New York and the Millennium Declaration, which was signed by 191 countries at the end of this summit,
• Informing the youth about the phases of thought production and incorporate their perspectives in this production process,
• Discussing the local, national, regional and global issues and creating social sensitivity about these issues,
• Expanding the Local Agenda 21 actions,
• Constituting trainers that can introduce the Millennium Development Goals in other cities and supporting other cities to this extent.

“New Millennium Resource Centre”, “New Millennium Talks”, “New Millennium Conferences”, “New Millennium Periodical” and “New Millennium Library” are the activities that will be held within the context of the project. The “New Millennium Talks” will be conducted under eight headings: “Education Issues in the New Millennium”, “Environmental Threats in the New Millennium”, “The Concept of Security in the New Millennium”, “Regional and Global Cooperation in the New Millennium”, “Religion and Society Relations in the New Millennium”, “The Problem of Sustainable Development in the New Millennium”, “Energy Policies in the New Millennium” and “Public Health Issues in the New Millennium”.

“Turkey in the New Millennium”, “Europe in the New Millennium” and “The World in the New Millennium” will be discussed at the three conferences that will be held.