The place and role of local government in federal systems
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South Africa has embarked on an important experiment of creating a decentralised system of government comprising three spheres of government – national, provincial and local. In comparison with international practice, local government has been given considerable constitutional recognition. In many respects South Africa is a leader in the emerging role that local government is expected to play in entrenching democracy and promoting development. South Africa is not, however, the only decentralised country in the world that has embarked on this route of strengthening local government as a full sphere of government. In the more recent constitutions of Spain, Brazil, India, Nigeria and Switzerland, local government has been entrenched. But having three spheres of government operating each with a degree of autonomy makes for complex relationships. It may also impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of government. These problems are shared by most decentralised countries. The place and role of local government in federal systems were examined at the annual conference of the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies (IACFS). From 29 September to 3 October 2004, the Local Government Project of the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape, hosted the annual meeting of the IACFS. The conference, sponsored by the Democracy Development Programme (DDP) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), was held at Mont Fleur, Stellenbosch. The conference was attended by 20 international delegates representing 14 IACFS member organisations from 11 different countries. Delegates were also in attendance from South African organisations, including the Municipal Demarcation Board, the DDP and KAS, the Palmer Development Group, and the Drakenstein Municipality.