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Strengthening local government in El Salvador, improving community well-being


Improving the ability of local governments to manage and deliver basic services to communities was at the heart of the World Bank-funded, FAO-supported Local Government Strengthening Project (PFGL) in El Salvador, which began in 2010.

By the end of 2016, the project had strengthened the capacities of 262 Salvadoran municipalities to manage water sanitation plans, solid waste, electricity provision and violence prevention programmes, among others. It also supported investment in infrastructure, managed by the municipalities.

“This included 100 kilometres of new roads, access to water and electricity and the renovation of key public spaces, such as the main square in Zacatecoluca,” said Victoria Stanley, a World Bank Senior Rural Development and Land Specialist. “All of this is helping to make people’s lives better, making it easier for them to get to jobs, bring their products to markets, get the kids to school and have access to basic services.”

Greater decentralization

The project, part of a national effort toward greater decentralization, benefitted both the administration and the municipalities. From the administration’s side, it strengthened national institutions to support the municipalities, defining strategies that give the municipalities broader powers to manage and act within their own territories.

For the municipalities, it proposed systems to support investment planning and financial management, developed risk management procedures for natural disasters and promoted formal education for municipal workers.

Capacity development activities were carried out in a participatory manner, involving women, men and young people. The project trained 5,301 members, half of them women, from 705 Citizen Committees.

“It was a challenge but they have built capacity on the ground to continue,” Stanley said.

Empowering communities

Ensuring transparency with a view toward greater efficiency and better delivery of services to the communities was key. For this purpose, the project encouraged a type of contracting and supervision of works in line with international standards for good practices.

It also involved developing innovative tools, such as the Municipal Management Information System, a portal showing relevant administrative data from each municipality – from budget plans to PowerPoint presentations – in accordance with the recent Public Information Law of El Salvador.

The PFGL final evaluation draft report shows the project’s positive impact on community participation in municipal management decision-making processes. For instance, some municipalities have established spaces in which community representatives work hand in hand with municipal officials to plan and track investments and activities of the municipality.

By improving planning and management capacity of the municipalities and ensuring they are better supported by national level institutions for services provision, the project has helped improve the well-being of communities and their local organization systems.

"The empowerment of these communities is the result of intense work with the municipalities, and a key piece for successful decentralization. However, improving citizen participation methods implies gradual changes, some of which only become rooted in society with time, requiring continued support in the long term,” said FAO Economist Luís Dias Pereira, who participated regularly in project supervision missions to evaluate progress and results.