Decentralisation

Decentralisation refers to the delegation of responsibilities, jurisdiction and resources to lower sub-national entities charged with the management of essential public services. Decentralisation of service delivery has been touted in the past as an anti-corruption mechanism as it supposedly provides greater accountability to end beneficiaries, but evidence on whether this approach actually reduces corruption is mixed.[1]

Proponents of decentralisation suggest that it decreases corruption by bringing service delivery “closer to the people”. As the distance between service recipients and the governments responsible for delivering these services decreases, the level of accountability to the end users increases. It is also expected that decentralisation increases the ability of governments and regulating agencies to control and assess the quality of the services delivered.  

Others argue that the quality of service delivery may decrease with decentralisation, as central governments benefit from economies of scale and can coordinate service delivery and exercise control and oversight more efficiently than at the sub-national level. Costly inputs or services are also expected to be purchased at lower prices from a central government agency. In terms of corruption, the proximity of public officials and citizens may concentrate resources in the hands of local elites, creating opportunities for the development of corrupt networks, creating more avenues and positions for rent-seeking, nepotism, clientelism, and so forth. 

In any case, it is clear that decentralisation (or centralisation) is not a one-size fit all cure for corruption. Levels of decentralisation vary across countries, with different degrees of delegation of political, administrative or fiscal power to sub-national governments, all with different effects on the quality of service delivery, which may have an impact on the anti-corruption potential of this approach. Just as in the nationalisation/privatisation debate, if decentralisation processes are not accompanied by governance reforms, it is unlikely that this approach alone will have a lasting impact on corruption.[2]

Footnotes

Author

Iñaki Albisu Ardigó; Marie Chêne

Reviewer:

Matthew Jenkins

Contributing experts:

Umrbek Allakulov (Water Integrity Network)

Shaazka Beyerle (US Institute of Peace)

Simone Bloem (Center for Applied Policy)

Claire Grandadam (Water Integrity Network)

Jacques Hallak (Jules Verne University – Amiens)

Mihaylo Milovanovitch (Centre For Applied Policy)

Muriel Poisson (International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO)

Juanita Riano (Inter-American Development Bank)

Marc Y. Tassé (Canadian Centre of Excellence for Anti-Corruption)

Vítězslav Titl (University of Siegen)

Davide Torsello (Central European University Business School)

Patty Zakaria (Royal Roads University)

Date

01/09/2017

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