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Buga, Colombia

Contrary to experiences in other Latin American countries, Colombia's decentralization efforts have attempted to combine the modernization of municipal administration with the democratization of relations between local governments and the people.

New policies have increased local governments' administrative, financial and policy-making powers, and laws passed in 1986 gave municipalities new authority over health and the environment. The 1991 constitution accelerated the decentralization process, giving cities responsibility for providing services, planning and promoting participation. To enable the fulfillment of these additional responsibilities, the central government increased transfer payments to the municipalities. In addition, new participatory mechanisms for political and citizen participation were established. To ensure the participation of citizens, Local Administrative Boards (LABs) were created.

As a consequence of the decentralization process, important changes have taken place in Buga, including democratic election of mayors and municipal assumption of responsibility for drainage, education, health, social housing, road and transport management, agricultural technical assistance and programmes for vulnerable groups. For the first time the city has a municipal development plan, a land-use statute, and plans for roads, education, health and environmental management.

Despite these changes and economic growth over the past few years, the basic needs of one-third of the population are unsatisfied, and 10 percent of the population lives in substandard conditions. The city has significant environmental problems, with oil, water, air and noise being of concern.

In addition, Buga does not have a strong civil society except in the business sector. The control traditionally exercised by political groups has erected obstacles to the autonomous development of grass-roots social groups. Community Action Boards (CABs)-local organizational and representative bodies directed especially at the poor-have been managed by political parties, but now some boards are attempting to gain independence from electoral politics. The NGO movement is also weak.

The low-income sector is generally excluded from decision making. The LABs and the Planning Council have not been effective. The Development Committees for Social Affairs and Domestic Public Services have not yet benefited from autonomy. Political decisions made without consultation have resulted in considerable skepticism from the common people of the city.


Buga joined the MCP in the later half of 1994. In the beginning, the office of the incumbent mayor committed itself to promoting the MCP. It was an opportunity for the city to strengthen links between the municipal administration and the citizens, and to address Buga's social and environmental problems. Other sectors involved included universities, local NGOs, civic and political groups and municipal staff working in the areas of planning, agricultural promotion and natural resource management.

However, the mayor's office nominated as its MCP coordinator someone who would be the governmental-party candidate for the mayor's office for the following term. This had two determental effects: residents saw the MCP as being associated with a political campaign, which undermined its credibility, and the nominated MCP coordinator lost the election leaving the programme without a leader and without the support of the mayor who also lost the election.

The government that assumed the mayoralty in January 1995 did not commit itself fully to the programme. The MCP was politically stigmatized, having functioned as an instrument of the preceding political campaign. The drafting of the municipal-development plan and other sectoral plans were carried out without reference to the MCP and without taking into account its methods and instruments. However, the development plan contained a good number of principles which correspond to the philosophy of the MCP, especially regarding sustainable development. The analysis carried out in this report refers to the activities actually developed within the framework of the MCP. These do not exactly correspond with what the latter refers to as a planning process, as no sustainable development planning process was developed in Buga. 

Various meetings were held throughout 1995. Little was accomplished in 1996. Knowledge of current planning methodologies was weak, especially those defined by participatory and sustainable development parameters. There was no retraining or requalification of municipal staff on the programme's methodology. Attempts were made to relaunch the programme, but it without the mayor's support.

On the other hand the mayor's office, in accordance with Law 152 of 1994, started the process for the drafting and approval of the municipal development plan, but never applied the ICLEI methodology. In spite of these problems, the municipal plan includes points that correspond with the MCP's ideas regarding participation and sustainable development. However social groups with poor representation in local issues did not participate as members of the programme.


There was no stakeholder group in Buga in the strict sense of the term. At the beginning there was a project team that consisted of representatives of some of the city's institutions as well as some municipal personnel, but no stable group was sustained. The programme ended up in the hands of a single person who sought the collaboration of others for the few activities that took place.

This was despite the fact that ICLEI representatives were able to establish channels between the municipality and civil sectors. But as the municipality lost interest in the programme, contact became sporadic until it finally disappeared. One of the greatest difficulties was in trying to convince the municipality to make a commitment to the development of the programme, and more concretely, to a process for local planning.

Community-Based Issue Identification 

At the outset, when there was municipal commitment to the programme, public consultation activities were planned. However, due to the change in local government, no consultation strategy was developed or implemented. 

The municipality did however consult with citizens when drafting the municipal developmentThe municipality did however consult with citizens when drafting the municipal development plan. Law 152 obliged the municipality to draft, discuss, approve and carry out a Municipal Development Plan which council approved on July 1, 1995.

The consultation process involved working groups in which 216 people participated. Some people saw these working groups as neither representative nor participatory. The results of the consultation were processed by the mayor's office and incorporated into the draft plan, but were never made public.

The advisor to the mayor's office on local planning indicated that the planning methodology used by the municipality was that of Situational Strategic Planning (SSP), which classifies local actors to solicit opinions, but is not compatible with ICLEI's methodology to identify and work with interest groups for the long term.

Outcomes of the MCP

The MCP was not implemented in Buga. The only successful activities were open-air concerts that provided a forum for the programme's objectives and methodology.

Lessons Learned from the LA 21 Planning Process

  • Continuity of management is critical to success. In Buga, the mayor's office nominated as its MCP coordinator someone who would be the governmental-party candidate for the mayor's office for the following term. When the nominated MCP coordinator lost the election, leaving the programme without a leader, it was difficult to regain momentum and continue with the process. It follows that launching the LA 21 process in a pre-electoral period is inopportune.
  • LA 21 processes should be separate from the political processes in the community. Residents in Buga saw the MCP as being associated with a political campaign, which undermined its credibility.
  • Institutional collaboration is possible only when the people and economic resources are available. Municipalities should participate through financial and logistical support and institutional backing, and take responsibility for promoting the programme.
  • Expected funding from outside agencies should be clear in the beginning of the project. In Buga, when it was realized that the MCP offered only a methodology and technical assistance, local participants became disenchanted.