Transparency is the principle of allowing those affected by administrative decisions to know about the resulting facts and figures (e.g., the city budget) and about the process that resulted in those decisions. Transparent governance means that government officials act openly, with citizens’ knowledge of the decisions the officials are making. Availability of information on government policies and actions, a clear sense of organizational responsibility, and an assurance that governments are efficiently administered and free of systemic corruption are important components of transparent governance.
Transparency is a fundamental element of abolishing corruption. Transparent governance is important to local governments and the communities they serve because corruption threatens good governance, leads to the misallocation of resources, harms public and private sector development, and distorts public policy. Controlling corruption is possible only when government, citizens, and the private sector cooperate to ensure transparency.
ICMA has developed an approach and methodology based on five elements that are critical to success:
- Political will at the highest levels of leadership
- Integrity in local government systems
- A culture of information sharing
- Continuous monitoring and evaluation
- The promotion of an ethic of public service.
This methodology, which is detailed in the publication Building Transparent Communities: ICMA's Approach, draws on a toolkit that ICMA’s experienced international practitioners have tailored to the unique challenges of municipalities worldwide:
- Codes of ethics that guide the actions of public officials
- A Municipal Development Scale that assesses the level of local government performance and institutional capacity
- A Municipal Transparency Index that enables NGOs to score a municipality’s level of transparency
- An Association Viability Index that provides a diagnostic tool for improving institutional capacity and services to members
- Social pacts for elected officials
- Performance measurement and benchmarking to track progress.
ICMA has worked with local governments and counterpart associations around the world to promote improved local government transparency and accountability. ICMA believes that to ensure transparency at the local level, a number of stakeholders must exercise oversight and control. These stakeholders include state and national-level agencies that allocate resources and audit municipal governments. Municipal governments themselves must implement internal controls and monitoring mechanisms, such as performance measures and a code of ethics. In addition, the creation of mechanisms to enable citizens to provide input to, and receive feedback from, their local government is a critical component of transparency.
ICMA works to promote transparent governance in the following areas:
- Public administration reform
- Local government transparency
- Ethics codes and enforcement
- Open budget and procurement processes
- Transparent service delivery.
Public Administration Reform
ICMA’s work in public administration reform has included:
- Developing a typology for classifying the financial performance and institutional capacity of municipalities in El Salvador
- Providing assistance in mitigating corruption and developing a code of ethics for two Albanian municipalities
- Providing anti-corruption training of trainers in Kazakhstan
- Assisting local governments in Poland with transparent and accountable financial management
- Advising the government of Montenegro on legislation to promote decentralization and transparency in public administration.
Local Government Transparency
The tools for addressing local government transparency include adequate information flow, strong civil society, effective and transparent financial management systems, and procurement regulations that keep the bidding process fair and open. ICMA’s work in local government transparency has included:
- Helping local councils in Iraq shore up citizen outreach and keep community members informed of council activities
- Supporting implementation of legislation that promotes transparent procurement processes in Montenegro
- Designing and implementing the Citizens for Transparent Municipalities (CIMTRA) in Mexico
- Assisting the World Bank Institute with a course presentation on municipal integrity systems.
Ethics Codes and Enforcement
ICMA plays a special role in ethics education and enforcement for local government. ICMA adopted its first code of ethics in 1924. Since then, a principle-based management philosophy has become an integral part of ICMA membership identity. New members sign a statement confirming that they have read, and agree to abide by, the ICMA Code of Ethics. ICMA consistently and vigorously enforces this code through peer review.
The ICMA model of member code of ethics implementation and enforcement has been adapted by other associations and is gaining increasing worldwide attention from local governments and the organizations that represent them. ICMA’s work in ethics has included the following:
- Helping the Mexican Association of Municipalities host a “Transparency and Code of Ethics” workshop
- Publishing a Spanish-language version of the ICMA Code of Ethics.
- Designing an Ethics Reference Guide for local government associations in developing and transitional countries
- Helping the Slovak City Managers Association adopt a code of ethics
- Providing a municipal association in El Salvador with model ethics manuals and other documents translated into Spanish.
Open Budget and Procurement Processes
ICMA has undertaken numerous projects to help local governments develop open, transparent budget processes that incorporate citizen participation as well as transparent procurement processes that ensure fairness in selection of vendors. For example:
- Under the USAID-funded Building Institutions through Good Governance and Local Governance Support programs in Indonesia, ICMA worked collaboratively with local governments to implement performance-based budgeting and increase citizen participation in the budget process.
- In Bolivia, with a local partner, ICMA promoted “reverse procurement fairs” in which municipalities publicly showcased their needs for goods and services and potential suppliers proposed bids.
- ICMA managed a city-to-city partnership between a U.S. city and the city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, that incorporated the design of transparent systems for fee collection and tracking revenues that conform to international accounting standards.
Transparent Service Delivery
Used effectively, citizen participation and pressure from community-based organizations are critical in battling corruption in service delivery and ensuring local government accountability. Here are examples of ICMA’s work to promote transparent service delivery:
- In Albania, a U.S. partner provided technical assistance to the city of Tirana to eliminate illegal construction by codifying building regulations and developing a transparent permitting system.
- In Montenegro, ICMA conducted public hearings and citizen surveys to solicit citizen input into local government service delivery.
- In Kazakhstan, ICMA launched three pilot councils for economic development that identify priority projects for the local government.
- In Bulgaria, a U.S. partner helped the city of Veliko Turnovo undertake a transparent and participatory decision-making process to determine priority projects for the city.