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 only possible when government, citizens, and the private sector cooperate to ensure transparency.
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, several different stakeholders must exercise oversight and control. These stakeholders include state and national-level agencies that allocate resources and audit the 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, local governments is a critical component of transparent local government. ICMA works in the following areas to promote transparent governance.
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 Polish local governments with transparent and accountable financial management, and 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 supporting implementation of legislation that promotes transparent procurement processes in Montenegro, designing and implementing the Municipal Transparency Evaluation System (SETRAMUN) in Mexico, and assisting the World Bank Institute with a course presentation on municipal integrity systems.
Government and Ethics Enforcement
ICMA plays a special role in ethics enforcement for local governance. ICMA adopted its first code of ethics in 1924. Since then, 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 of ethics, investigating 20–30 complaints each year. 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 regimes has included assisting the Mexican Association of Municipalities (AMMAC) to host a “Transparency and Code of Ethics” workshop, designing an Ethics Reference Guide for local government associations in developing and transitional countries, assisting the Slovak City Managers Association to adopt a code of ethics, and providing a municipal association in El Salvador with model ethics manuals and other documents translated into Spanish.
Open Budget Process
ICMA has undertaken numerous projects to help local governments develop open, transparent budget processes that incorporate citizen participation. For example, under the USAID-funded Building Institutions through Good Governance (BIGG) program in Indonesia, ICMA is working collaboratively with local governments to implement performance-based budgeting and increase citizen participation in the budget process. ICMA has also managed a Resource Cities partnership with 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. ICMA has worked to promote transparent service delivery in Albania, where the Resource Cities partner has provided technical assistance to the city of Tirana to eliminate illegal construction by codifying building regulations and developing a transparent permitting system; in Montenegro, where ICMA has conducted public hearings and citizen surveys to solicit citizen input into local government service delivery; in Kazakhstan, where ICMA has launched three pilot councils for economic development that identify priority projects for the local government; and in Bulgaria, where the Resource Cities partner has assisted the city of Veliko Turnovo to undertake a transparent and participatory decision-making process to determine priority projects for the city.
ICMA operates a Corporate Partnership Program, which establishes effective and enduring public-private partnerships between local governments and the private sector. All private sector Corporate Partners must sign and adhere to the ICMA Corporate Partner Code of Ethics. This code of ethics sets forth principles that govern the conduct and actions of ICMA Corporate Partners. In another public-private partnership, ICMA has worked with Microsoft and the government of Bolivia to establish an electronic services platform, EnlaredMunicipal, that generates useful, strategic information and services, such as online auctions, to help Bolivian municipalities better respond to the needs of their citizens. Microsoft has donated special software for the auction to Enlared, and the government of Bolivia has created the legal framework necessary for this type of activity.