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Transparency, vulnerability and decentralization: Keys to the reconstruction and transformation of Central America

STOCKHOLM - An international donors' meeting on Central America received new recommendations on ensuring transparency, mitigating ecological and social vulnerability and promoting decentralization as three key elements in helping countries of the region recover from the ravages of Hurricane Mitch. The recommendations were the fruits of three workshops held as part of the four-day meeting of the Consultative Group Meeting for the Reconstruction and Transformation of Central America, which ends here tomorrow.

Representatives of Central American and donor governments took part in the workshops, as well as those from international organizations, academics, NGO leaders and participants from the private sector. Their discussions focussed on programs aimed at meeting the challenges facing countries like Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in the environmental, social and institutional sectors as they struggle to recover from the effects of Mitch.


One of the main challenges for the Central American countries and a central preoccupation of the donor community is the need to ensure the efficient and transparent administration of resources which will support the reconstruction of the region. In order to achieve this aim, the following measures were proposed:

  • the modernization of administrations and the control of government procurement, and the improvement of internal auditing systems of state institutions;
  • the establishment, through contracting specialist firms, of independent support mechanisms to supervise government procurement and the execution of contracts;
  • the formulation of budgets with single accounts and public information systems aimed at public accountability through simple and rapid procedures;
  • the strengthening of government oversight bodies, such as ombudsmen offices, giving them administrative and financial independence;
  • guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and strengthening career safeguards in order to ensure the appointment of competent officials;
  • introducing oral trials in order to speed up cases and make court proceedings more transparent;
  • promoting citizens= participation in public decision making and granting access to information related to public administration at all levels of government;
  • adopting and applying effectively international legal instruments such as the Inter-American Convention against Corruption.


The damage caused by Hurricane Mitch showed that earlier development models did not pay sufficient attention to the reduction of environmental and social vulnerability. Investments designed to prevent and mitigate natural disasters are, therefore, economically efficient decisions. To this end, countries should:

  • cooperate at a regional level in the management of shared watersheds, putting out joint information and working together on projects such as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor;
  • at a local level, they should promote the organization of early warning systems and disaster response plans, environmental education on aspects of vulnerability and risk management, the preparation of maps showing risks and vulnerability which will facilitate tasks such as local land-use planning or reforestation;
  • strengthen municipal agencies and community organizations which have to carry out measures to reduce vulnerability, offering them support at the national level in environmental management, poverty reduction and civil defense;
  • prepare programs to protect the groups most vulnerable to catastrophes, such as single mothers, children and adolescents at risk, the handicapped, the elderly and poor ethnic groups;
  • improve farming practices used by small rural producers, especially those planting in hills and near rivers, and encouraging long-term improvements through land titling;
  • making provision for integrated watershed management in order to protect infrastructure investment.


This workshop analyzed the abilities and limitations of municipalities and other local bodies in Central America in the wake of Mitch. The hurricane demonstrated their capacity to mobilize in remarkable fashion B but they were also forced to extemporize due to the inadequacy of disaster preparation and lack of resources at this level of government.

Decentralization can be effective in buttressing democracy, evening out social imbalances and improving the provision of services. Despite the lack of a clear consensus in the region on how to achieve the desired objectives, the workshop made the following recommendations:

  • each country should formulate a stronger political commitment to decentralization;
  • this should be accompanied by an action plan and timetable;
  • the plan should be the result of a collaborative process between central government, local authorities and civil society;
  • the transfer of responsibilities to the municipalities should be matched by financial resources, in order to guarantee that they are financially sustainable and autonomous

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