The decentralisation and municipalities Laws: A centralised system also at the subnational level

Engaging in a decentralisation reform is a complex process that needs a strong political commitment as well as a sound administrative machinery ready to implement it. When a decentralisation reform is envisaged, not only its objectives need to be clearly spelled out but also the legal framework to achieve them. The creation of a strong legal framework is a priority to ensure the proper utilisation of public resources. This legal framework should clearly explain the rationale of the reform, the objectives to be achieved together with a clear description of the competences at different levels with the

necessary resources. This should be accompanied with financial mechanisms to follow-up and evaluate the performance. This part is particularly relevant at the first stage of the process when the implementation of the new legal framework needs to be monitored and, if necessary, adjusted to the reality on the ground.

The Decentralisation Law (DL) and Municipality Law (ML) are the most significant step towards realising King Abdullah’s vision of a political development process towards a better functioning democratic Jordan, which should starts at the grassroots level and moves up to higher decision-making centres (Inform, 2015). The reform takes places at a time when Jordan prepared its third National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership, which highlights a new momentum for fostering the emergence of a culture of open, transparent, inclusive and accountable governance across the different layers of government.

The government of Jordan bases this reform on four pillars:

  • • Promoting citizen participation in decision making for democratic development.
  • • Promoting sustainable local development and equal distribution of benefits.
  • • Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of local administration and municipalities in providing services.
  • • Improving efficiency in planning and preparing local budgets.

While these pillars, for the first time, introduce important democratic components in the governorate and municipal levels, by creating elected local councils, they do not yet foresee the transfer of competencies and resources as core elements of the reform. Achieving these objectives would require a major and welcomed cultural change in the public administration in Jordan, however if the rationale of such reform remains clear, the means and tools to achieve it still need to be fully established. These ambitious goals need to fit into the core and yet scarce articles dedicated to governorates and municipal structural reform in both laws. The articles dedicated to administrations, structure, functions, funds and multilevel co-ordination barely represent 25% of the provisions of the DL (12 articles out of 47) and 41% of the ML (32 of 77 articles). The rest of the provisions of both laws are dedicated to electoral procedures. This implies that the laws are quite wide and just give the guiding principles, but that the concrete details for their implementation and their implications will have to be further developed by by-laws. At the time this report was written11, only two by-laws from MoI on organisational structures had been approved. This could hamper and slow down implementation, as it will require more legislation to be approved by the national competent authorities.

According to interviews with government senior officials, the DL was originally conceived as a by-law of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) to rearrange the functioning and administrative competences of governorates. However, after intense internal debates, the Cabinet Office agreed to upgrade it to the rank of law.12 Previous governorate regulations are MoI by-laws regulating the administrative functioning of governorates (number 46 and 47 from the year 2000). The rationale is to reinforce the relevance and importance of the reform and bring a more democratic dimension to the governorates, a deconcentrated administration strictly linked to MoI authority.

These two laws constitute the foundation for a legal framework aimed at promoting citizen participation and bringing policies closer to citizens. Other OECD countries have also engaged in recent reforms aimed at transferring more powers to the regional level to solve regional disparities and promote regional development by bringing public services and policies closer to citizens’ needs (Table 2.4).

Table 2.4. Regionalisation trends in OECD countries

Types of regionalisation

Key characteristics

Country experiences

Creation of a new directly elected regional level.

Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, two Swedish regions since the late 1990s.

Clear competencies and accountability mechanisms regarding citizens

In Italy, regional reforms have taken place in several waves, from the early 1970s to the 2000s (“Bassanini” reforms). They are characterised by a broad allocation of competencies to regions, with the possibility to design differentiated autonomy for regions with an ordinary statute. In 2001, a constitutional reform markedly widened the competences of the regions, in particular concerning legislative powers, and abolished most state controls.

In Denmark, a general reform of subnational authorities was carried out in 2007. The number of municipalities was reduced from 271 to 99. At the same time, five new regions replaced 14 former counties. The main objective of the reform was to produce efficiency gains based on economies of scale and to offer better and more specialised public services. Regions do not have many instruments to encourage municipalities to co-operate in implementing a vision for the region. It remains to be seen whether regions have enough sticks and carrots to encourage municipalities in their region to help implement the regional visions.

In France, regions were created in 1982 with a specific focus on regional growth issues. The last reform was in 2014, which merged the regions from 22 to 13, and encouraged the creation of metropolitan areas (see Annex 1 of this report). The map of the new regions took effect on 1 January 2016.

In Poland, regions were created in 1999 with the mandate to manage part of European Union funding and to elaborate regional development programmes.

Creation of a deconcentrated regional level, not elected. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, United Kingdom, Sweden to some extent since 1989.

Responsibilities to enhance co-ordination in specific areas across the national government and local authorities.

The United Kingdom has developed a hybrid structure that is based on a Regional Development Agency (RDA), set up and funded by the national government and overseen by a board of directors from the region and led by the private sector; and a regional Assembly, comprised of about 100 people from local government, academic institutions, business and voluntary organisations.

Creation of functional regions, with spatial planning functions.


Focuses mainly on spatial planning issues; has not led to the creation of a new layer of government.

In Korea, there is a strong regionalisation trend, but it focuses mainly on spatial planning issues and has not led to the creation of a new layer of government. In 2008, the Korean government announced the “five area-wide economic blocs” which divide the whole territory into five sub-economic blocs (except for two regions, the mountainous northeast area and Jeju Island). Each of these regions, with a population of more than five million, covers two or three provinces (or provincial cities) that share a similar historic, economic and social context. In order to guide co-operation among provinces in the same bloc, an autonomous regional headquarters, rather than a permanent supra-province body, will be installed in each region. This autonomous organisation will create a regional development plan for each bloc and promote horizontal co-operation among local governments in general.

Source: Author based on OECD (2010), OECD Territorial Reviews: Sweden 2010, OECD Publishing, Paris,

One of the defining characteristics of this reform is the setting up of a legal framework into two laws: the Decentralisation Law, dedicated to the governorate level, and the Municipalities Law, dedicated to the municipal and district level. These will be assessed in the following sections.

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