The covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on all levels of government across the world. Many local authorities in developing countries have had to pick up new tasks such as distributing medical supplies, teaching citizens about proper safety and hygiene measures, and organising access to health care. Has this had a positive effect on the perception of local authority and the purpose of decentralisation? Or has it increased the eagerness to strengthen the central authority?
In Libya, the answer to these questions was sought during a webinar entitled “COVID-19 impact and response at the local level in Libya: Challenges and evolving perspectives”. This webinar was organised as part of our Improved Service delivery and Accountability at the Local level project (ISAL). This project is being implemented by VNG International, CILG-VNG International and Democracy Report International (DRI), and is funded by the European Union and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The covid-19 pandemic in Libya put a lot of pressure on municipalities and mayors who received added responsibilities while lacking the proper means to follow up on those responsibilities. On the one hand, this led to an uneven distribution of responsibilities towards municipalities. On the other hand, it stressed the importance of multi-level cooperation. The national government realised they did not have the proper information to distribute the necessary goods equally while municipalities did. This emphasised the necessity of giving responsibilities to local authority. Simultaneously, the local authorities could not take the steps they were asked to due to limited means. Therefore, the pandemic revealed the importance of proper distribution of responsibilities in which the different levels of government communicate among each other. The webinar was an opportunity for ministers from different Libyan ministries to learn about the experiences of municipalities on the crisis management during the pandemic and to evaluate the role these national bodies should be taking in the management of a pandemic. The participating mayors were able to discuss among each other the different methods and means they used to manage the crisis at the local level while also gaining a listening ear from the national government.
In conclusion, the webinar strengthened all participants in the conviction that municipalities remain a relevant and important actor when it comes to proximity competencies. The municipalities all managed the crisis well at the local level with the main struggle being easy access to health care. More coordination with the central government is the key to success at properly exercising the proximity competencies. Moreover, participants agreed proper decentralisation requires good equipment, such as digitisation.