Objectives of the Seminar
In November 1995 the Government of Venezuela, through its Central Office of Coordination and Planning (CORDIPLAN), submitted a request to the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (GS/OAS) for assistance in holding a seminar on the Role of Local Governments and Public Participation in Environmental Management, which the Secretariat granted in view of the importance of the subject.
Latin America is currently undergoing vast reforms of government, including changes in its objectives, functions, and structures, in response to the changing society resulting from new structures of production and of relations between civil society and government bodies.
Similarly, the long-term sustainability of development strategies makes environmental management more important; hence the need for it to be considered a priority by modem states in the current stage of the processes of change and development.
Moreover, there is a general awareness that the solution of most environmental problems must start with measures at the local level with the participation of civil society.
However, in most Latin American countries, the design and implementation of environmental management policies has been characterized by a high degree of centralization in which the various levels of government and the community are voluntarily or involuntarily excluded.
It is also necessary to understand that environmental management is particularly complex because of the multisectoral nature of the decisions and their direct impact on specific places.
This lack of explicit recognition of the importance of the participatory process in proper environmental management has caused a number of situations that are inimical to balanced development, such as:
· Poor coordination between national policies and local administrations in environmental management.
· A passive attitude on the part of local governments toward problems that they view as being out of their hands or the exclusive responsibility of the central government.
· Actions by local governments that generally do not reflect any coherent strategy but are aimed at correcting the effects rather than attacking the causes of environmental conflicts.
· A growing trend toward the consolidation of organizations in civil society to address environmental conflicts, sometimes by assuming radical conservationist positions to obstruct development plans that at some point affect their environment.
The proposed theme of the Seminar, at a time of major structural reform in a number of countries in the region, was an interesting challenge because it presented an opportunity to examine the possibilities and limits of participation by local governments and civil society in environmental management within current institutional structures.
The objective of the Seminar was to create a space for reflection, discussion, and analysis of the experiences of some countries in the hemisphere with environmental management by local governments, given the leading role of municipalities in the links between community, environment, and state and their responsibility for ensuring the welfare and quality of life of their citizens and the participation of civil society in that management. Its specific purposes were the following:
· To learn about, analyze, and share the experiences of some countries regarding local government involvement in environmental management and citizen participation.
· To identify the reasons for success in the experiences presented, in order to capitalize on them and turn them into valid components of environmental management.
· To develop initiatives that involve local and citizen participation in environmental management. The Agenda appears in Appendix 1.
The Seminar was organized jointly by the Foundation for the Development of the Midwestern Region of Venezuela (FUDECO) and the then Department of Regional Development and Environment (now Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment, DSD) of the GS/OAS, under the sponsorship of CORDIPLAN and the Office of the Mayor of Iribarrén State, and was held at the FUDECO headquarters in Barquisimeto.
The President of FUDECO, Mr. Manuel Cols Briceño, and the head of the South America Division of the DSD, Mr. Newton Cordeiro, provided technical supervision for the Seminar and its technical secretariat was staffed by Mrs. Maria Eugenia Prieto (FUDECO) and Mrs. Julia Gabel (DSD).
The list of participants appears in Appendix 2.
The opening ceremony was chaired by the Mayor of the Municipality of Iribarren, Dr. Macario González, who, in his address welcoming the participants, noted that "the present challenge is to provide clear answers to environmental problems and articulate new attitudes, new proposals, new policies, and new measures." With reference to local management, he said "... The preservation, balance, and maintenance of this environment, seen properly as a whole, is a function of this primary, autonomous national organization that is the municipality. Thus, exercising the powers vested in us under the Organic Law on the Environment to meet the needs and aspirations of the community would be the basic contribution local governments make to environmental management."
The President of FUDECO expressed his pleasure in once again serving as host to the countries of the hemisphere, in sharing the coordination of the event with the SG/OAS, and in having won the trust of CORDIPLAN, the Municipal Mayor's Office, and Lagoven S.A., a company that also contributed to the conduct of the Seminar. With reference to the subject of the event, he said that the current debate was not merely about the deterioration of natural resources per se, but went to the core of the problem, which is simply people's quality of life. As an example of local action, he referred to the fact that "the excellent functioning of public enterprises in Medellín and the efficient management of the city of Curitiba, recently praised at the Habitat II world summit in Istanbul, are only two examples of how problems can be solved with perseverance and consistency in our personal behavior and administrative continuity in our institutions, as a formula for action."
Finally, Mrs. Gabel said that the purpose of the Seminar was to share with prominent specialists in the field the experiences of a number of countries in the hemisphere in solving a variety of environmental problems through joint and coordinated action by local governments and civil society, within each country's institutional framework and environmental policies.
The text of the remarks at the opening session appears in Appendix 3.
· Working sessions
The presentations were made by specialists and officials from national and/or local agencies responsible for environmental management in the countries and from nongovernmental organizations. For each country there were a statement of its overall institutional framework for environmental management and a specific experience of local environmental management by a municipality or nongovernmental organization, followed by extensive discussion.
Two working groups were then formed to prepare the conclusions and recommendations: one examining the role of local governments in environmental management and the other dealing specifically with citizen participation.
In preparing the conclusions and recommendations, the working groups reviewed and analyzed the material in the papers and reports and considered the interventions and discussions after each presentation.