Deepening Decentralization in Zambia: Political Economy Constraints and Opportunities for Reform

IFPRI Discussion Paper 1893

48 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2020

See all articles by Danielle Resnick

Danielle Resnick

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Gilbert Siame

Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Zambia

Peter Mulambia

University of Zambia

Dorothy Ndhlovu

University of Zambia

Beverly Shicilenge

University of Zambia

Bhavna Sivasubramanian

J-PAL

Date Written: December 20, 2019

Abstract

Since the early 2000s, decentralization has been espoused as a major policy goal of successive Zambian governments. With the passing of the 2019 Local Government Act, a greater understanding is needed of how decentralization has progressed thus far in Zambia and how political economy dynamics have constrained the process. As such, a survey was conducted with 153 bureaucrats across 16 councils in four Zambian provinces, complemented by interviews with elected ward councilors. Three key findings emerge. First, the organizational setting in which councils operate undermines the continuity of service provision. In particular, transfers of staff by the Local Government Service Commission (LGSC), partially driven by the growth in the number of councils in recent years, increases pressure on the wage bill of local authorities, creates uncertainty for civil servants, and undermines institutional memory. Second, the unwillingness to cede genuine autonomy to local councils by the Ministry of Local Government (MLG) repeatedly emerged. A perception of low levels of consultation with council bureaucrats and elected councilors, especially when statutory instruments are issued, reinforce that accountability remains upwards to the MLG rather than downwards to citizens. Third, within the councils, there is a mismatch in incentives between the bureaucrats and politicians that can undermine policy implementation; while the former respect authority and attention to procedures, the latter are focused on constituents’ priorities and may bypass formal procedures to deliver to their voters. Based on interviews with market committees and solid waste companies, these dynamics have negative externalities on citizen perceptions and service provision in urban areas. As one of the few analyses conducted with local bureaucrats to assess their experiences with decentralization, the study aims to advance both policy and scholarship about the political economy dynamics surrounding efforts to strengthen subnational capabilities in developing countries.

Keywords: decentralization, governance, public sector, urbanization, urban areas, services

Suggested Citation

Resnick, Danielle and Siame, Gilbert and Mulambia, Peter and Ndhlovu, Dorothy and Shicilenge, Beverly and Sivasubramanian, Bhavna, Deepening Decentralization in Zambia: Political Economy Constraints and Opportunities for Reform (December 20, 2019). IFPRI Discussion Paper 1893, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3507736

Danielle Resnick (Contact Author)

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

Gilbert Siame

Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Zambia ( email )

Zambia

Peter Mulambia

University of Zambia ( email )

Zambia

Dorothy Ndhlovu

University of Zambia ( email )

Zambia

Beverly Shicilenge

University of Zambia ( email )

Zambia

Bhavna Sivasubramanian

J-PAL ( email )

30 Wadsworth Street, E53-320
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

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