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Notes from the Field: Jordanian Mayors and Municipal Councilors Study Tour of Colombia, Day 4 & 5

The final leg of our journey took our delegation of mayors, municipal councilors and civil society members to Cartagena, where IRI worked from 2009-2012 to improve municipal government service delivery and to strengthen civil society’s ability to hold local government accountable.  

It was extremely gratifying to see the results of IRI’s work that are still evident today – a testament to the sustainability practices that were built into the program and the relationships built by IRI staff there.   

IRI first met with the local mayor of Locality 2 – a sub-district of Cartagena whose mayor is appointed by the elected mayor of Cartagena but approved by the municpal council, and who is chosen from a pool of candidates based on an agenda put forward to the mayor.   Heydi Villareal is a passionate, driven mayor who shared some of the unique challenges Locality 2 faces as an area with a high proportion of internally displaced persons from years of conflict in Colombia and an ongoing peace process.  

The women municipal councilors on our trip were inspired by Mayor Villareal to encourage more women to run for political positions and to push for women to become mayors in their communities.  The mayor highlighted some of the gender initiatives she is promoting in Locality 2 and talked about some of the obstacles faced in rising to political leadership in a male-dominated culture.   

The group next toured two iniatives begun in Locality 2 with the help of IRI - the Salon de Transparencia, or Office of Transparency, and the De Una, or one-stop shop. The Office of Transparency allows citizens to initiate and track inquiries about government services, and was one of IRI’s first projects in Locality 2.  After better understanding through surveys how much time citizens were spending to travel to and from downtown Cartagena to access basic services, sometimes losing a full day’s pay because of long travel and wait times in city offices, IRI was instrumental in also setting up a one-stop shop where city officials from a variety of agencies would be detailed to the locality so that citizens can access services where they live and save valuable time in doing so.   

The director of the de Una showed the Jordanian delegation the wide variety of services that are available every day, including national civil registration and obtaining national ID cards, tax administration, family services and government pension programs, among others.  In addition, a judge is on site to handle basic family matters.  The de Una was bustling with local citizens and families who were able to quickly and efficiently resolve their business and return to their jobs and homes.  This was a place where IRI was clearly still making a difference, in spite of the fact that its program here closed in 2012.   

We then heard from two local civil society groups who are working hard to improve the lives of the citizens of Cartagena.  IRI worked for several years to build the capacity of FUNCICAR, a foundation created in 1993 to tackle corruption in public administration and local governance.  The group has projects that observe the local council and that track government procurements to ensure their transparency.  The director of FUNCICAR, Carolina Calderon, spoke with the Jordanians about the importance of this work and their role in keeping citzens connected with local officials. 

Maria Claudia Peñas then talked with the group about her work with Cartagena Como Vamos, a group that tracks the changes in quality of life of Cartagena’s citizens.  Following her presentation, she talked extensively with IRI’s civil society representative about the Como Vamos framework, which is currently being implemented in a network of 11 cities.  Ms. Peñas has agreed to help adapt this framework to the Jordanian context and provide insights and expertise so that it can be implemented there as well. 

At night, Cartagena comes alive with music and dancing in open spaces within its walled historic district in performances sponsored by the city to promote tourism and provide visitors with a sense of Colombian tradition.   

Lighted carriages carry passengers through the historic district that is closed off to vehicle traffic at night, creating a magical scene of street cafes and artisans selling paintings and handicraft, with the gas lamps of the carriages passing by.

On our final day in Colombia, the delegationvisited Cartagena’s city council for a first-hand view of how their council operates.  A representative from FUNCICAR provided a detailed view of who can attend coucil meetings, including press and the public, and FUNCICAR’s observation efforts.   

The President of Cartagena’s City Council, David Dager Lequerica, then spoke with the group about his job as council president and the separation of power between the council and the mayor. 

Finally, the group met with representatives of Cartagena’s city planning office to talk about the Transcaribe Integrated Transport System and to learn about other city planning efforts.   
General Manager Carlos Coronado shared a publication with the delegation that detailed many of these efforts so that they can take the information back home with them, digest it, and reach out with any questions they might have. 

This amazing experience provided many ideas to IRI’s partners in Jordan and to members of the program team working to support the Jordan program.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Marcela Vega, a Colombian consultant who was instrumental in making the trip come together, and Gabriela Serrano, IRI’s Regional Program Director in Colombia.  Ms. Serrano has worked to maintain relationships with former IRI beneficiaries and partners in Cartagena and throughout Colombia, and our Jordan program benefitted greatly from these relationships and her wealth of experience and knowledge. 

I hope you enjoyed following along on our study tour of Colombia – we’ll provide updates of how some of the ideas and insights captured on the trip make their way into our partner municipalities across Jordan. 

If you missed some of the tour, be sure to go back and catch up on Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.  Hasta luego from Colombia! 

Posted by

Carrie Schenkel Reasonover

Senior Program Manager, Europe