• Sunday, 03 July 2022

Linkages between corruption and decentralisation

Linkages between corruption and decentralisation
Alina Rocha Menocal, Senior Research Fellow at Overseas Development Institute:


Bullet points prepared for Weekly Gulan Magazine


Two momentous trends across the developing world from the 1980s onwards:

Democratisation and decentralisation

These generated enormous enthusiasm both domestically and within the international community about prospects for improved governance.

In theory, this kind of “democratic decentralisation” holds tremendous promise (Heller and others):

• In principle, decentralisation is intended to bring government and service providers “closer to the people”.

• This should in turn help foster democracy at the local level, increase citizen voice and participation, strengthen accountability and reduce corruption.

It is on this basis that the international community has embraced decentralisation reforms since the 1990s.

However, decentralisation is by no means a linear process.

As research I and others have undertaken on corruption and decentralisation highlights:

Democracy does not in and of itself solve corruption; and

More local forms of government are NOT automatically less corrupt (or more democratic)

There is no consistent, robust evidence that decentralisation lowers corruption.

In fact decentralisation may be associated with more, or at least more decentralised forms of, corruption, in large part because institutional hybridity and weak accountability mechanisms are also prevalent at the local level.

Decentralisation processes, from their genesis and issues of why/how decentralisation is undertaken to the implementation of decentralisation policies and reforms, are deeply political in nature.

The quality of decentralisation and how effective it proves to be will hinge on a constellation of factors and drivers that shape the rules of the game and the nature of underlying political settlements. These include, for example:

• The nature and quality of political leadership across different levels of governance

• the functioning of intergovernmental relationships across tiers of government,

• the autonomy enjoyed by local governments and whether they have resources and/or capacity to match

• the coherence of reforms across political, administrative and fiscal dimensions

• the nature of political parties and how committed they are to decentralisation and participation at the local level

• pressures for increased accountability at different levels of governance, etc.

All these factors and dynamics, which are complex and play out at different levels of governance, will influence patterns of rent-seeking within a given context.

In the absence of favourable factors or conditions, political bosses may well turn decentralized policy areas into personalized (and corrupt) fiefdoms rather than laboratories of democratic governance.

Corruption itself also needs to be disaggregated, because different types of corruption (eg petty, administrative or bureaucratic, grand corruption, etc) will generate different dynamics and interact differently with governance structures and processes at different levels.

Moreover, corruption is also shaped by factors and dynamics at different levels, from the local to the global –

Including for instance organised crime and economic interdependencies.

So how effective anti-corruption initiatives prove to be at the local level will depend on the interaction and power dynamics between a variety of contextual factors at multiple levels of governance.