Regional Variations in Local Governance

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Regional Variations in

Local Governance

Louis A. Picard, Team Leader

Jerry Silverman

Susan Vogelsang, Editor

Bonnie Walter

Morey Kogul

Final Report

October 15, 2006

Prepared by


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1. A. The Implications of Regional Variation for Local Government

This paper addresses regional variations in local governance traditions. The paper describes perceived regional variations in local governance tradition which USAID policy documents, but does not describe Influences noted at the regional level which affect local governance include: (1) historical external influences (colonial experience/historic imperialism), (2) internal influences including culture and political institutions including decentralization policy; (3) contemporary external influences, the influence of foreign assistance on decentralization; and (4) the role of mass-based political organizations and NGOs. 12 As authors of a recent regional study conclude, “The success of decentralization, like many other important initiatives…., cannot be viewed outside the historical and political context in which it is implemented.”3 Another author tells us that local governance or decentralized “units or activities cannot be studied in isolation from their environmental context….”4 In examining regional variations, this paper has identified examples of broadly differentiating characteristics among significant political cultures as they relate to local governance.5 Political cultures are discussed as primarily secular of either a rationalist or ideological kind or, alternatively, rooted in global or regionally significant religions or other philosophical value systems. Since culture and context matter, are regions a helpful unit of analysis for local governance programs?

Case studies of decentralization within a single region document widely-varying results. [Tulchin and Selee, 2004] Regions are culturally heterogeneous. Cultural diversity within a state may stimulate decentralization policies and later challenge decentralization implementation. Culture matters at the local (subnational) level in assessing local government accountability and transparency and the degree and pace of decentralization success. Culture and external influences both matter when formulating and implementing decentralization policies directed toward the institutionalization of democratic local governance. 6
Decentralization has been called the missing element between poverty reduction and anti-poverty efforts and democratic governance in LDCs.7 Proponents assert that subnational governments are more accountable to citizens since they are more accessible to them. They also see decentralization leading to improved citizen participation in local issues. Finally, some proponents of decentralization justify the structural changes required on efficiency grounds, asserting that local control of resources improves service delivery. [Tulchin and Selee, 2004]. Detractors cite the problem of decentralization offering power and resources that enshrine powerful local elites. Supporters appear to have prevailed, as according to estimates, 63 out of the 75 countries with a population over 5 million have undergone a major process of decentralization since 1980. [Rebecca Abers: 2000, Inventing Local Democracy in Tulchin and Selee, 2004]

Methodologically, while conclusions about regional differences are best based on empirical analysis, this paper is intended as a desk study using secondary sources. The Scope of Work examines regional variations within the four meta-regions into which USAID organizationally divides itself: (i) Asia and the Middle East; (ii) Latin America and the Caribbean; (iii) Sub-Saharan Africa; and (iv) Europe and Eurasia. The paper includes distinctions regarding USAID decentralization/local governance strengthening efforts in fragile states which have significant mass-based political movements, parallel governance or “shadow” governments. Mass-based political movements outside of formal government structures are the governance structures citizens seek when they “exit” formal government. The concept is explained in subsection C. below.

The larger goal of this paper is to contribute to the academic literature on regional differences in the realization of decentralization and local governance worldwide and to determine to what extent regional characteristics describe generalized social and political patterns of subnational governance.8 According to Oluwu and Wunsch, over time, “collective learning will tend to converge on personally rational strategies, given local conditions.”9 The paper concludes that contemporary subnational forms of governance are the product of all 4 influences discussed. These influences have shaped local governance forms in each region but regional variations alone are not predictive of local governance forms. Regional variations based on geography overlook important cultural and historical influences that are global, like the centralizing influence of military regimes, regardless of region. Regional variations based on geography do not do justice to similarities of context, such as state-to-state similarities among states that retain British administration systems, such as Ghana and Malaysia, or issues of centralization and the role of Islam that may link Pakistan and Egypt.
1. B. The Organization of this Paper
The paper has three sections: an Overview, Regional Variations and Conclusions. Section One, the Overview, explains the purpose of the paper and its organization, defines the regions of study and presents the terms used. The second section of the paper discusses differences in local governance and decentralization structures and practices in the four regions of the world, as classified by USAID. Subnational forms of governance are discussed for each region with examples from dominant countries or those with compelling decentralization experience. (All countries could not be discussed.)

Section Two, Regional Variations in Local Governance Traditions, discusses the four regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Eurasia, and Asia and the Near East by looking at 4 characteristics that influence subnational governance in each region: Historical External Influences; Internal Influences -- culture and politics; Contemporary External donor influences and, finally, the Role of mass-based political organizations, shadow or parallel governance in fragile states or as such groups affect decentralized governance.

Section Three, Conclusions, discusses the centralizing and decentralizing impact of the factors that affect regional variations on local governance including the significance of both historical and contemporary external influences, the role of culture on local governance forms, the role of external foreign assistance and the role played by society-based parallel governance institutions (including social movements, militarized organizations, and intermediation structures).10 This section answers the question, “Do Regions Matter?” for analyzing local governance forms. It also makes concluding remarks about external and internal influences in each region.
1. C. Terms Used in the Paper

C. 1. Terms: Regions Defined

Each of the four regions defined by the U.S. Agency for International Development are determined by geographic proximity. Yet, each region is heterogeneous culturally and politically. Also, within each region, many states were created within arbitrary borders established by colonial powers. Borders grouped several, often hostile, nations within the same country or established boundaries that split ethnic groups and cultures. The forging of new national identities has been an explicit objective for policymakers inside and outside of many countries ever since.
The four regions surveyed are:

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa: In Sub-Saharan Africa, we begin with a discussion of local control under colonial rule and the way in which geographical control became the basis of local level control. The colonial influences include Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone structures and processes. Traditional indigenous values in Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa impact significantly on patterns of local governance. External influences have continued to influence post-colonial local governance and local level control mechanisms. The failure of local level governance mechanisms often has left both traditional organizations and mass-based political organizations in a commanding position to influence decisions.

  1. Latin America and the Caribbean: In Central and South America it is the role of Iberian historical values and its impact upon patterns of patronage and local control which predominates. Centralized government institutions worked to counter the influence of strong local elites. One tradition is the Iberian tradition of “municipalism” in Latin America. In the Caribbean it is the British, and to a lesser extent the Dutch and French models that predominate. Since the end of the Second World War a number of donors have tried to introduce decentralization reforms and support for civil society. Though the Iberian tradition provides a unity of analysis not available in other regions, we note the special issue in Central and South America of local government traditions in the Caribbean countries.

  1. Europe and Eurasia: Decentralization policies have been successfully implemented in parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Some practitioners believe that decentralization echoes nationalist tendencies and political divisions sought by the population for ethnic and cultural reasons. Focus will be on former socialist/communist states in Eastern Europe and the impact of historical and cultural Influences on the types of decentralization that are evolving there. In Eastern Europe and Eurasia, we stress the importance of both historical patterns of land based imperial control and the Soviet period between 1917 and 1989 (or 1945-1989 in much of central Europe). A number of donor programs continue to target local government strengthening. The legacy of the Soviet period and ethnic and religious conflicts have limited the role played by civil society in Eastern Europe.

  1. Asia and the Near East: This area includes East, Southeast, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Primary concerns are the impact of postwar foreign assistance on the nature of political authority as well as the impact of religion and kingship, ethnic identity and colonial structures on local governance. The British, French and Dutch colonial model in South and Southeast Asia and the impact of the Ottoman Empire in the Near East have been important in the evolution of patterns of local government. Asia and the Near East represents a vast area for analysis and the paper notes both multiple legacies of imperial control and varied patterns of local governance tradition and practice. Multiple legacies include not only the post-world war occupation and reconstruction, but also the end of the cold-war, contemporary foreign aid, and more recently, the influence of the Arab–Israeli conflict, terrorism and mass-based political movements on debates about local democratic governance.

Section 3 of the paper recommends that a better unit of analysis and programming may be, in future, to use at least 2 regions to define Asia and the Near East, namely Near East and Asia. The State Department divides this same region into 3: Near East; Asia and the Pacific; and, South and Central Asia.

C.2. Terms: Internal and External Influences Defined
C. 2. 1. External influences: Historical colonial/imperial traditions and contemporary foreign aid
Two types of external influences are discussed in the paper. The first are historical influences of empires and colonial regimes. Examples include the Ottoman Empire and its prefectoral type of control over the Near East region and the Spanish colonial empire and its impact on centralized governance in Latin America.

Secondly, foreign aid and technical assistance are among the factors that positively and negatively influenced regional variation in local governance traditions. Foreign assistance has exerted centralizing influence during the period of the 1960’s and 1970’s when development theorists supported a strong central state directing and organizing investment and economic growth. More recently, states have been targeted by donors and their development partners as they try to apply principles of participatory local governance.

Currently, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank refer to “public sector management” and decentralized “service delivery”11 both instrumental approaches to decentralization. It is within such instrumental contexts that decentralization – especially administrative and fiscal decentralization – is most often considered.12 Political decentralization and the enfranchisement of new groups in developing countries is a more sensitive and less likely area of direct, overt donor involvement.

C. 2. 2. Internal Influences: Local Government, Local Governance, Decentralization and Culture
Local governance is the way power is exercised at the local level by state or subnational actors for the allocation and management of a country’s public resources. That definition, in turn, encompasses two related processes: one, the manner in which conflicts or disagreements about the allocation of public resources are resolved (conflict resolution and policy-making); and second the process through which public resources are actually allocated and managed at the local level for achieving priority societal objectives (planning and implementation). Local governments are organizational constructs authorized by the central government including devolved constitutional arrangements and deconcentrated and delegated elements of the state at the subnational level.13
Under internal influences, the regional discussions below also identify broad local government purposes; 2) distinguish between federal and unitary systems as legally defined; and 3) classify countries according to whether they are constitutionally federal or unitary. Elections are discussed as elements of political decentralization. These are elements of a generalized framework for understanding local governance political processes.

Classifications of decentralization are well known. Decentralization is a structural element of almost every government world-wide.14 The term decentralization covers a wide range of alternative structural arrangements. Distinctions can be between three broad types of decentralization: 1) political decentralization (legal authority including devolution and bottom-up principal agency functions), including self-determination through elections and legal authority; 2) fiscal decentralization (including the extent of local level own source revenue, the authority to incur debt, and shares of total public sector revenue and expenditure); and 3) administrative decentralization (including deconcentration, delegation, and top-down principal agency). Some include privatization as a decentralization technique.15

Top down deconcentrated administration refers to the transfer of responsibility for providing goods and services to lower levels of the administration, functional or territorial in nature. Administrative decentralization (deconcentration or subsidiarity) allows local service delivery. There are three types of deconcentration. These are 1) integrated prefectoralism where a centrally appointed geographical administrator supervises the police, the security apparatus at the local level, local government and sectoral ministries. This was the case in British India and in Soviet Russia. 2) unintegrated prefectoralism where there is dual responsibility in that the prefect supervises police, security and local government (or some of the above) while central government ministries directly supervise their field offices. This was the case in much of post-colonial Africa 3) functional deconcentration where there is no geographical administrator, where ministries supervise both sectoral responsibility and where a Ministry of Local Government is responsible for the function of regional and local government.

The term ‘fiscal decentralization’, the transfer of responsibility for the collection and allocation of resources to lower level institutions, is similar to the term fiscal federalism; a term also used in the literature on public sector finance. The former term is employed here because it is conceptually important to distinguish between two different, although related, concepts: (1) the legal definition of federal as normally employed by political scientists -- especially in the United States and other countries with constitutionally “federal” government structures and (2) structural mechanisms for financing local governments i.e., fiscal decentralization. Issues of fiscal decentralization efficiencies have required particular attention because much of the statistical data available for the comparative analysis of decentralization focuses on local revenue and expenditure patterns and because it provides much of the theoretical foundation for market approaches to democracy and the public sector. Reference is also made to fiscal deconcentration (some also refer to delegation- or commercialization and privatization as forms of fiscal decentralization).

Political decentralization and democratic governance require devolution of authority to popularly elected political leaders, deconcentration of fiscal and personnel structures to local institutions, delegation of responsibility for services to local authorities and a viable local level political process.16

Decentralization arrangements within specific countries may combine different elements of generalized, social, regional, cultural and historical Influences in unique and messy ways. The broad conceptual categories summarized here must be disaggregated further by sector, sub-sector, and specific functions to be operationally useful. Most system-wide institutional arrangements combine various forms of decentralization with other highly centralized government functions.

(Decentralization sometimes creates contradictory instruments of authority that both promote local autonomy and centralized control over revenue collection and service delivery.)
Within “hybrid” systems, some functions are decentralized and related functions retained at the central government. One common form of hybrid system results when governments assign responsibility for financing and supervising investment projects to local governments, while retaining responsibility for planning investments, technical staff employment and career advancement in central sector ministries. That, in turn, requires the recognition that different societies – and different groups and individuals within societies -- will value different objectives and procedural norms differently.

Decentralization and local governance are affected by culture. Policies strengthening decentralized governance are examined by the historical and cultural characteristics of the regions. The definition of culture comes from Clifford Geertz, “"a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life." The function of culture is to impose meaning on the world and make it understandable.17

C. 2. 3. Mass-based political movements, shadow governments and parallel government
Local governance includes parallel mass-based political organizations that provide public services in fragile states. These are sometimes referred to as “shadow governments” which may support or hinder the development of formal local governance structures18.
Some governments have employed their authority in pursuit of narrowly focused partisan interests rather than using it to establish and enforce peaceful processes to mediate legitimate social conflict at the community level. An underlying theme of this paper is the contention by political philosophers and contemporarily, Mann and others, that the job of local governance is to mediate or “intermediate” among dissonant local interest groups, ethnic groups and other societal elements. Intermediation requires transparency, accountability and devolved decision-making to and among those diverse communities. When citizens find their needs unmet by local government structures, do they turn to parallel government structures? Are there parallel governance structures in all regions that allow citizens to “exit in place” or are these mass-based political movements isolated phenomena?
The concept of ‘exiting’ formal governance systems, derives from public choice theory19. Each region under discussion has states that have recently broken apart because of the presence of multiple national groups (Bosnia/Yugoslavia), fragile or failing states (Somalia), including states with substantial areas outside of formal government control; including Colombia and East Timor. Including these states in the regional discussions is helped by a framework of analysis that describes how citizens enter and leave formal governance systems.

Contemporary discussions of decentralized governance and government over the past twenty years have been impacted by the “Tiebout Hypothesis.” (The political economy literature has long reflected a debate over the extent to which the operation of a market-oriented economic system requires a politically democratic environment. The school that argues the contingent nature of the relationship between political and economic systems is represented by Milton Friedman.20)

The Tiebout Hypothesis21 argues that where local governments offer different combinations of public goods and services, citizen consumers and local businesses can and will choose among them by “vot[ing] with their feet”22 in favor of those governments that best provide public preferences. Originally limited to considerations of efficiency gains from competition among local jurisdictions in the United States, the Tiebout Hypothesis has since been extended to decentralization efforts worldwide.23 Migration from and within developing countries is driven primarily by the search for employment rather than the desire for enhanced services that do not exist within the slums of destination mega-cities worldwide.24 Although the Tiebout Hypothesis might be theoretically correct in systems with central government and only one other level of local government, the reality is that almost all democratic regimes have at least three (or more) jurisdictional levels. That reality presents a vast array of choices that, in turn, require the calculation of net benefits from the variable performance of multiple functions across different sectors by different governments at different levels.25 That scenario is too complex for most people to base decisions about whether or not to move from one jurisdiction to another. However, a middle way has been offered by Arturo Israel:

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