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World Bank (2009) Local Government Discretion and Accountability: Application of a Local Governance Framework

Decentralisation reforms have rarely bred empowered democratic local authorities. Discretion and accountability relationships depend on the political economy of each country, and historical/colonial legacies.

 Findings result from case studies in the health and education sectors in ten countries employing the Bank’s Local Governance Framework, developed in 2008. The countries covered by the case studies are Angola, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, India, Philippines, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Pakistan. Significant variations exist depending on the intended outcomes and the interests of the political leadership.

 Findings include:

  1. Political decentralisation: Elections remain the principal method to hold decision-makers accountable. Political discretion in the absence of appropriate checks and balances can result in local elite capture, single party domination, and nepotistic practices.
  2. Administrative decentralisation: Administrative changes have mainly been understood in terms of deconcentration.
  3. Fiscal decentralisation: Defining roles and responsibilities among different levels of governments for fiscal functions has proven to be difficult. There is often an unclear assignment of service delivery responsibilities. Local governments are frequently unable to raise their own revenues either due to insufficient discretion to do so or due to lack of capacity.
  4. Decentralization reforms are usually not well designed to bridge discretion and accountability.
  5. Decentralization reforms are likely to engender animosity since power dynamics are altered and central government officials at different levels may have conflicting interests in the reforms.
  6. There remains a significant disjuncture between laws and practices largely due to a lack of sufficient incentives of both central and local authorities to implement laws, anda lack of sufficient capacity to carry out the newly assigned roles and responsibilities
  7. Assessing local institutional capacities is fundamental for actual implementation of decentralization reforms
  8. Not all public services present a very good case for decentralization. The services that are non-excludable with a larger impact area than the jurisdiction of the local government are not the best candidates; deconcentration and delegation may work better in these cases
  9. A political economy analysis (identifying hurdles in commitment towards decentralisation) of the country should precede the articulation and implementation of decentralization reforms to make the formulation of well-designed decentralization reforms more likely. Social accountability measures seem resource-intensive and require financial/ technical/ facilitation support from donors to act as intermediaries.

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last update
9 January 2012

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