The Community Development Associations and the National Directorate for Community Development: Key actors in open government at the local level

The National Directorate for Community Development (Direction National de Desarrollo de la Comunidad, DINADECO) is a decentralised institution of the executive branch of Costa Rica. DINADECO was created in 1967 to co-ordinate, promote, guide, and evaluate the process of creating community associations and to ensure their active and informed participation in local development (DINADECO, n.d.). These Associations encourage the co-operation and the active and voluntary participation of the population in economic, social and cultural development at the local level and have become important fora that promote citizen participation in local decision making and service delivery.

The legal basis of DINADECO is the Law on Community Development (Law 3859 from 1967, Ley sobre el desarrollo de la Comunidad). Communal Development Associations (Asociaciones de Desarrollo) are created by neighbours who share the common goal of social and economic improvement for their communities. Community Development Associations (CDAs) act to encourage co-operation and active and voluntary participation of the population in economic, social and cultural development of the communities. Although the creation of Communal Development Associations is facilitated by DINADECO, which also provides them with training, the associations themselves are constituted as private entities of public law which receive their funding from DINADECO. The Ministry of Finance transfers two percent of income tax revenue to DINADECO, which then distributes the money to the associations, both for concrete projects and to cover their regular administrative costs1.

Different types of Community Development Associations exist. Integral associations (asociaciones de primera base) are organisations that are established with the intention of achieving functional well-being for the people living in the community, while specific associations (asociaciones especificas) are created for the purpose of taking concrete actions (such as the creation of a community centre). Integral associations can band together with other groups from same municipality or with those from neighbouring municipalities. These merged groups can come together in federations which, in turn, form the national confederation of development associations.

DINADECO’s role is particularly important when it comes to building capacities among Associations. During the period 2010-14, DINADECO trained a total of 31 583 people in different areas.2 Development Associations’ project proposals are presented to the National Council of Community Development (Concejo Nacional de Desarrollo de la Comunidad) which is in charge of deciding which of the proposals will be funded. During the period from May 2010 to May 2014, in response to the prioritisation of projects carried out within development associations, the National Council approved funding for 741 community initiatives, equivalent to a total investment exceeding CRC 15 billion. The areas in which the funding was focused were road infrastructures, community security and health, the categories that received most of the total funds.

Co-ordinating the work of Development Associations with the work done by the Municipal and District Council can be challenging. Representatives from CDAs do not have formal representation in the two Councils. However, in some cases, members of the boards of the CDAs hold a public office. In other cases, District Councils have taken the initiative to co-ordinate with local CDAs, e.g. to develop joint projects.

The municipalities also receive funding from the Partidas espectficas (public resources allocated in national budgets, both ordinary and extraordinary) to meet local, community, regional or national needs (Law 7755 from 1998, Ley de partidas espectficas). Parts of this funding are transferred to the District Councils, which in some cases co-operate with the CDAs to execute certain projects. However, there is no legislation regulating this.

The existence of community associations is a unique feature of Costa Rica’s multi-level governance system. CDAs implement projects that meet specific demands of the citizenry, promote social dialogue and help spread a culture of civic engagement. However, the co-operation between the CDAs and municipalities in planning and policy making and in the implementation of the projects seems to be limited at best. If not improved, the system supporting the CDAs risks becoming a parallel actor at subnational level, with stronger links to the central government and limited integration with the institutional life of the municipalities. DINADECO and the national government are aware of the need to reinforce co-ordination between national planning and local realities and have for instance started working on the National Community Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo de la Comunidad).

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