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Democracy and Decentralisation in South Asia and West Africa: Participation, Accountability and Performance

R C Crook and J Manor  (1998)
33 pages

Participation and decentralisation are two key issues for governance. It is widely assumed that both will lead to better forms of government. During the late 1980s many countries set up decentralised local governments, intended to increase local participation and more importantly lead to improved government performance.

Recent empirical research from Manor and Crook examines whether governmental performance actually improves with decentralisation and participation by systematically comparing four countries, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Bangladesh and Karnataka (India). In all four countries participation was enhanced. In this study, performance of the decentralised system was assessed by whether it represented an improvement on the previous system and scored positively on performance, particularly responsiveness. This study found that participation alone is inadequate to improve the performance of government services. Resource constraints, socio-political contexts and political and administrative features of decentralised structure are factors that help to explain performance.

It was found that both Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire had poor performance responsiveness. Karnataka had the most positive ratings with improved output and high responsiveness, with an emphasis on microprojects. The outcome was mixed in Bangladesh, output increased but responsiveness was marred by elite bias and corruption. Côte d'Ivoire had a positive first phase (1985- 89) but this deteriorated after 1989, due to poor capacity, lack of resources and the concentration of decision-making in the hands of the local elite. The communes, that is, the local government administrative units, were run by the mayor and his elite supporters. In Ghana, despite a positive record of participation, overall performance was poor and outputs mainly reflected central government pressures.

The main findings are that:

  • Lack of power and administrative capacity were key inhibiting factors in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. The military regime was unwilling to relinquish control.
  • Provision of adequate resources is an essential prerequisite for improved performance. Karnataka and Bangladesh experienced increased or adequate resource allocation from central government to meet their requirements.
  • Establishing a decentralised system requires time to develop supportive political and social contexts. In Ghana, the process of setting up elected assemblies with a radical deconcentration programme was pursued too rapidly. The situation was similar in Bangladesh
  • Lack of accountability reduces performance. Karnataka developed positive popular forms of accountability and institutional mechanisms.
  • Only Karnataka had adequate resources, favourable social and political contexts, well-established administration, adequate levels of participation and publicly accountable representations who were able to utilise their position for the people.

Participation in absence of accountability and resources can deliver little. To be more effective and responsive to the whole population, decentralisation systems need:

  • Adequate resources
  • Good levels of participation
  • The legal, administrative and political capacity to deliver responsive projects
  • To promote accountability, of representatives to electorate, and of bureaucrats to elected representatives and to legal/administrative mechanisms.
  • Supportive social and political contexts

Source: Crook, R. and Manor, J. 1998, 'Conclusion Chapter' (pp. 271-304) in Democracy and Decentralisation in South Asia and West Africa: Participation, Accountability and Performance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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