DECENTRALIZATION AND CITIZENS’ PARTICIPATION (part 1)

Dr. Lawson Victor Tom, KONA Continental Ambassador to Africa and Nigeria Ambassador

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DECENTRALIZATION AND CITIZENS’ PARTICIPATION (part 1) by Dr. Lawson Victor Tom

THE PURPOSE:

The overall purpose of this study is to understand the link between citizen
participation and service delivery in local government. This is in order to contribute
to the discussion on how best to institutionalize participation in the decentralized Government. By investigating citizen participation in LAs in Kenya during
the period 2002-2010, the study seeks to achieve the following objectives:

(a) To establish the nature of citizen participation in decentralized service
delivery;

(b) To investigate the influence of citizen participation in Kenya’s decentralized
service delivery; and,

(c) To propose a framework for institutionalizing meaningful citizen
participation in the new local government system.

INTRODUCTION:

Although the terms decentralization and citizens’ participation sound familiar to scholars and policy makers, their meanings, forms and scope are controversial in the current literature of local governance. The usage of these terms appears to be restricted to abstraction. For instance, the question of measurement has been highly contested in the literature such that any discussion concerning more power to the people and improvement of local governance is “often viewed by critics as no more than a theoretical exercise.” The critical question therefore is how to move these terms from their state of abstraction to a concrete reality. The purpose of this article is therefore to review some theoretical and conceptual issues on decentralization and citizens’ participation in order to question the often-emphasized positive relationship attached to them and their empirical application.

WHAT IS A DECENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT?

Decentralization’ is a generic term for the dispersal of governmental authority and power away from the national centre to other institutions at other levels of government or levels of administration.

WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF A DECENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT?

An example of a Decentralize government is the European Union. The European Commission has the power over the decision-making for the 27 Member States. … Other examples of decentralized governments include the governments of Australia, Canada, Germany, and India.

CITIZENS PARTICIPATION:

Citizen participation in governance and public service delivery is increasingly pursued in a bid to improve the performance of governments. Indeed, improving delivery of public services continues to be a key objective that has occupied the agenda of public administrators and researchers. Faced with constraints and failures of centralized service delivery especially at the local level, governments have turned to decentralized mechanisms of service delivery. Decentralization has involved ‘the transfer of administrative, fiscal and political powers and functions of the central government to lower-level governments’ [italics added]. The number of countries adopting it, and the magnitude of implementation has made decentralization a key global trend in public administration and management in the last three decades. In a World Bank policy research paper on decentralization and service delivery. 1980-2005 ‘over 75 countries had attempted to transfer responsibilities of the state to lower tiers of government’.

WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF DECENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT?

Under decentralization, the central unit of an organization distributes functions, responsibility, accountability and matching authority to regional and local units situated away from it.

THE CITIZENS PROBLEM

Despite the theoretical underpinnings and advocacy for citizen participation in
decentralized service delivery, evidence on the resulting impact is mixed at best.
Available studies look at how decentralization enhances participation of the citizens.

In the case of Kenya, a key aspect of local government reform starting in the late
1990s has been to improve local service delivery by, among other means,
institutionalizing citizen’s voice in decision making. This came against a background
of poor performance in service delivery, huge debt burdens, and gross
mismanagement of resources in Local Authorities (LAs).

DECENTRALIZATION AND DECENTRALIZED SERVICE DELIVERY;

According to researchers, decentralization entails ‘the transfer of authority and
responsibility for public functions from the central government to subordinate or
quasi-independent government organizations or the private sector’. The transfer can
be through decentralization, delegation, devolution or privatization/deregulation and
involves (a combination of) dimensions of fiscal, administrative, political and
economic powers and functions. Services whose delivery and financing is oftenly
decentralized include but are not limited to education, health, water, sanitation, public
transport and infrastructure, roads maintenance, fire, housing and social welfare .

MECHANISM OF CITIZEN PARTICIPATION:

Mechanisms are the instruments or channels that are used to achieve an intended objective. Mechanisms
of citizen participation can largely be categorized into vote
and voice. Vote is the means through which citizens select their
representatives at the local level. Decentralization facilitates this by putting in place structures that allow citizens to exercise their voting power with limited ‘hindrance or interference from the central government. Voting can be limiting as participation is only interpreted as elections, which in many countries happens once
in every three to five years. Participation in terms of voice is where citizens have the
power to influence ‘the making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of
decisions that concern their socio-politico-economic wellbeing and to demand
accountability from their local leadership.

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