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20 Years of Freedom and Democracy
A commitment met to improve lives in cities across the world

Our meeting here has great significance as it happens just few days ahead of the official opening of the 6th triennial UCLG Congress taking place in this venue, Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC), South Africa.

The 5th UCLG World Congress that elected new leadership, including myself as President, was held 12 - 15 October 2016, in Bogotá, Columbia. That meeting saw the largest global gathering of Local and Regional leaders and our partners. The meeting became opportunity for local and regional leaders to concretize their exchanges and inputs in a policy outcome document, the Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda.

Since then, the current leadership begun a three-year successful journey which will culminate at the elective Congress to be held here at in the Durban ICC. In my capacity as the President of the UCLG, I directed that all sectors of society be mobilized under the UCLG banner in order for the nations to work together in re-instilling in each and every citizen and resident in various cities across the world the ethos and mandate that has guided the UCLG since its establishment.

To this effect, the UCLG leadership elected in Bogota, some three years ago coordinated the development of a 3years over-arching programme that we championed successfully. The work that ensued since then, ensured the creation of partnership-oriented programmes, involving broad-based participation of all sectors, the private sector and Government at national, provincial and local levels.

As envisaged, the leadership elected in 2016 prepared a consolidated report based on the Programme of Action adopted in 2016 and I will present it to congress for adoption and endorsement.

Just as background, the UCLG is an organization that aims to represent the broadest possible range of local and regional governments, it is more entrenched in the needs of the people in cities across the world.

To this effect, 2016 saw the adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the Habitat III Conference, reinvigorating the global commitment to sustainable urban, local and territorial development. The commitment, approved by the World Council in Bogotá, paved the way for better conditions and enabling environments for local and regional governments. The current context is seen as a moment of unprecedented opportunity that necessitates bold undertakings, including the renewal of governance models, of the social contract and shifting priorities of governments at all levels to bridge inequalities.

The UCLG represents and defends the interests of local and regional governments on the world stage, regardless of their size and political affiliation. With a membership that includes more than 240,000 local governments, metropolises and regions and with more than 175 national associations of local governments in over 140 UN Member States, the organization counts on a decentralized democratic structure composed by interconnected levels: local, regional, national, continental and global.

Implementing the global goals through the Bogotá Commitment means the “localization” of the global development agenda. Since the Bogota Congress, the UCLG became the much needed catalyst which contributed to shaping the international agenda by facilitating the Global Taskforce and contributing to the representation of the constituency of local and regional governments as a whole.

The Bogota declaration builds on the research and consultations with local and regional governments within the framework of the Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralization (GOLD IV). Through the adoption of the main political output of the event, the Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda, and the Statement of the Second World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments to Habitat III, this key gathering highlighted the bold joint commitment of local and regional governments to contribute to the achievement of the global agendas.

Throughout the duration of this leadership, our organization has strived to ensure not just cities are been listened to, but to break the ceiling in regards to global governance, to provide spaces for all stakeholders, pursued spaces at the global table that showcase that we are here, as the World Organization of Local and Regional Governments, as essential as ever for the implementation of the global agendas.

In 2017, our focus was to enhance the union and the synergies within the network to be able to respond to a changing world, and doing so throughout a strengthened World Secretariat that can facilitate the Network. The year 2018 was on partnerships, during which we expanded an enhanced our collaborations with sister organizations and brought new partners on board in order to ensure that our members do not have to face the global challenges by themselves. During the last year of my Presidency, 2019, UCLG has consolidated its visibility in the international arena, in particular through enhanced negotiations with all stakeholders. We have worked to strengthen our policymaking in particular through the establishment of the UBUNTU advisory board, and by focusing on co-creating policy at the World Congress.

During these three years, the work of the World Organization has been balanced between strengthening participation and the involvement of all parts of the network, sections and member-led initiatives, on the one hand; and international work, continuing to consolidate relations with other networks and being the face and voice of local government in numerous global forums, on the other hand.
The results of this effort can be seen in consolidation of our consultation mechanisms, and in the birth of our UCLG Policy Councils, which have been essential to further debates among our members and other constituencies, which have enabled us to develop dialogues with national governments and mainstream thematic issues such as peacebuilding, the ecological transition, and the right to the city throughout the entire network.

Our focus on developing joint action has given birth to our UCLG Waves of Action, whose first iteration culminated in a positive tide on Housing, Migration and Local Finance. About 35 cities and metropolitan entities joined the Cities for Adequate Housing Declaration, asking to make a shift from commodity to human right.

A number of 16 cities have joined our programme on Migration in the Mediterranean, cities that have originated the wave that culminated into inputs towards the Global Compact on Migration. Facilitating access to finance for local and regional governments is essential to ensure that they are able to provide services for their communities. This has been one of our main concerns during these three years, and the raison d'être of our first UCLG Strategy on the Localization of Municipal Finance, which has led to the creation of an international coalition calling for renewed financial mechanisms, as well as an International Municipal Investment Fund, and mobilised over 20 cities that have joined the Community of Practice on this topic.

The success of our Waves of Action has proven that the synchronisation of our work produces results, which is why it is only natural to focus on new Waves of Action that expand and evolve our ongoing work. The next generation of Waves of Action on Public Space, Localizing the Sendai Framework, and Local Democracy will allow us to work together in issues that are relevant to our membership, and to the world.

The other important part of our work has been to ensure that cities are not only listened to, but cities are listening, especially to communities within their jurisdiction. This allowed us to secure spaces within the global arena, whilst establishing dialogues with national governments. In 2018, our constituency mobilised for the HLPF, the platform of the United Nations for the review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda. Our presence over the last years has grown, from presenting our report on the localisation of the SDGs on behalf of the Global Taskforce-starting in 2017 to co-creating, with Local 2030, a space for interaction with stakeholders (the Local 2030 Special Event) and the Local and Regional Governments’ Forum, which took place for the first time in 2018 at the HLPF, and again in 2019 at the SDG Summit.
This first Local and Regional Governments’ Forum (LRGF) was a momentous occasion with important political impact, which is expected to transform into policy influence in the coming years. Housing, financing, equality, accountable institutions and enhanced partnerships, which have been at the forefront of our priorities, were also key during these days. We have followed-up on the LRGF in 2019, with a second edition in the framework of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit, and we have proven to be essential partners for transformation at the renewed UN-Habitat Assembly, a long-standing goal of our constituency that also held a Local and Regional Governments’ Forum, as well as at the latest edition of UNEA.

With the localization of the global agendas at the core of our work, the three editions of our report on Local and Regional Governments on the way Towards the Localization of the SDGs presented to the HPLF have showcased our involvement in the global agendas, have gathered inputs from our membership’s views and experience, and have grown to incorporate perspectives from organizations active in the Global Taskforce. This, in turn, has allowed the GTF to consolidate and grow as the instrument that amplifies the voices of Local and Regional Governments around the world.

As the leadership, we recognised that to achieve the global agendas, partnerships were key, especially international organizations and civil society. We have also during this term, went beyond just maintaining our existing collaborations with sister organizations like ICLEI and the other members of the Global Taskforce but, we identified new partners and established strategic partnerships with organisations such as: International IDEA, the International Union for Public Transport, the Cities Programme of the Global Compact and others, whose main aim was to ensure that we implement the mandate of the 5th Congress.

Throughout these three years, the UCLG has allowed us to shape our joint priorities, expand synergies among the network, and bring partners to the table. Our statutory meetings, our Executive Bureau and our World Council, have also evolved into policymaking meetings, enhanced by the gathering of our Policy Councils and by our political debates that have guided and focused our path.

Our role as Learning Network has been enhanced with the train the trainers dimension, the development, together with various stakeholders, of our Learning Modules and Toolkit to localize the SDGs, and with our focus on decentralized cooperation. The Learning Forum that is taking place/has taken place during the 765Congress will prove to be essential to innovate, to work in partnership, and to develop learning methodologies that can help local and regional leaders and practitioners to own the 2030 Agenda.

Ladies and Gentleman, We have worked to ensure that not just cities have been listened to, but to provide spaces in which all stakeholders are included. We are transforming our very own Congress, the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders, into a space in which joint policy is created, among our entire constituency but also among all stakeholders that are gathered at our table. For years, we have called for cities to be listened to, and it is equally important to provide a space for dialogue that allows us to reflect on our policies and solutions. This will be the only way we can foster transformation we need. This is also how we will achieve the transformation of global governance, through developing different decision-making mechanisms with different stakeholders. Ladies and Gentleman, Looking into the future, the next frontier of our movement will include the municipal movement thinking about the role of local democracy, which is why we have gone back to our roots, why we brought back local democracy on the debates at the core of our world organization. The state of local democracy throughout the world is precarious, and it is the work of our constituency of local and regional governments to become the guardians of the dreams, creativity and rights of our communities.

Working to develop intergenerational dialogues, trust among communities and learning to manage conflicts and develop peace and manage conflicts are essential to develop the future that we want, and throughout these three years we have developed a process to rethink the role of local governments in this matter, which will be brought to our World Summit, the stage where our constituency seeks guidance to get communities around the world to trust their institutions again.

To renew our leadership, to ensure that our movement enters the next decade in the best possible shape we have updated our institutional rules and our good governance procedures, we have designed an all-UCLG gender strategy that puts gender equality at the centre of our priorities, and we have renewed our renewed policies on migration, housing, the ecological transition and city diplomacy, with the help of our consultation mechanisms, and with the inputs from our regional sections.

Our century-old municipal movement is thriving, and the next decade will see us stronger each day, it will see us as crucial partners for transformation, and it will demonstrate, through the localization of the global agendas, that another world is possible, and that it is in our hands to make it happen.

Ladies and Gentleman, We are today here in Durban ahead of the start of one of the largest World Congresses which will see about 3000 delegates and representatives from local government, cities, civil society and a host of stakeholders from across the length and breadth of the world descending on our shores in the beautiful city of Durban.

Durban 2019 is the time to refresh the mandate and renew the leadership appointed in Bogotá 2016, whose term comes to an end during this World Congress in Durban. Throughout the past three years, our joint work was able to realise the Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda, which is at the core of our mandate since coming to office 2016. During our 6th World Congress, we will present the 5th Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralization, focused on the localization of the SDGs, which has mobilised dozens of experts across the different world regions whose findings have fed our different work areas.

These reports further exemplify UCLG’s and our membership’s determination to mobilize the means required to implement the 2030 Agenda through revitalized partnerships. At the same time, our joint actions are testament to the fact that the achievement of the global goals are impossible without proper enabling environments, and demonstrate our work to promote policy changes in this sense.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Since our Congress held in Bogota 2016 that appointed me (Mr Parks Tau) as the President of the UCLG, we have seen tremendous of progress, to realise our goals and objectives as set out in the Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda. The current UCLG leadership under my stewardship has indeed made a great stride which ensured that the role of local and regional governments was acknowledged. In addition, the visibility of the cause of local and regional governments in the international arena is greater than it has ever been before. These can only be maintained with the commitment of political representatives from the diversity of our worldwide organization.

The new leadership was able to lead and ensure the renewal of the major global agendas over the past three years. The election of the new Presidency has been an exciting exercise of democracy that made us stronger. Through my election at the helm of UCLG, we build on the organisation’s legacy and ensured that we reach the next level of recognition and achievement.

Our perspective inspired and nurtured the definition and implementation of global international agendas on issues concerning the lives of our communities. In 2016, I was not elected alone to take over the reigns of this important institution. I was fortunate to have around me, a committed team that always strived for the best. I would never have chosen any other team.

We all served a three-year term after being elected in Columbia, Bogota, 2016. Today I am proud to have worked with this team. A diverse group of community leaders across the world, was able to provide leadership and steered the UCLG forward, thus preparing it for all the future challenges and opportunities. Therefore, allow me to salute these team which played an important role to ensure the implementation of our mandate as enshrined in the Bogotá Commitment and Action Agenda.

I salute their indomitable work ethic, commitment, hard work and selflessness of my team. During our time at the helm of the UCLG, we looked and engaged with all issues and did not shy away from the so-called controversial or major issues. Our world definitely needs such progressive leadership to continue taking us forward. This team has through their actions taught me that, nobody is great without hard work which is the baseline of great achievements.

It is important to mention that the object of all work is the production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. The UCLG had all the above and more. The World Congress in Bogotá also saw us engage in the processes of internal democracy that made our organization what it is now as we move towards Durban. It is worth highlighting the important step forward of the regional networks through the UCLG Sections which have dramatically increased activities in every continent, providing visibility but also learning and networking opportunities. We are and we will continue to strive to ensure that their priorities and activities are not just acknowledged, but that they are actively listened to and they feed the policy of our World Organization, symbolized through our Assembly Track during the World Summit.

Inclosing, I wish the 3000 delegates (local elected leaders and professionals representing towns, cities, metropolises and regions, civil society, citizens and experts from international business and academia) who will be descending in Durban. We wish all delegates well and that they should a great stay in our country, which has proven many times that it is the preferred world destination for hosting international major events successfully.

Hence today, I have no doubt that this will be the best congress ever and its outcomes will assist to build on good foundation and work laid by the Bogota 2016 elected leadership. Some committees have already started with its meetings I preparation of the main discussions on all areas of the congress. The congress officially take place from - 13 – 15 November 2019.

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