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The Effect of Decentralisation Framework on Service Delivery in the Buea Council; South West Region

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This study aims at analysing the effect of decentralization frameworks on service delivery in the Buea council of the South West Region in Cameroon. Cameroon’s constitutional law of 18th January 1996 enshrined decentralisation as a fundamental principle of the organisation of state governance, and subsequent implementing legislation affirms the central government’s commitment to transferring several powers to local authorities with the view to local management. Since then, both levels of government have been working hard in glove to implement all the new structures required for the operationalization of the new system.

The statement of the problem shows that the process of implementation has faced many bottlenecks at the economic, administrative and fiscal levels hence curtailing the speed of implementation and service delivery as detailed in the literature review. The research objectives have brought out the variables under the study: To determine the effect of the fiscal decentralization framework on service delivery in the Buea Council; to examine the effect of the administrative decentralization framework on service delivery in the Buea Council; to investigate the effects of economic decentralization framework on service delivery in the Buea Council, to establish the moderating influence of regulatory frameworks on economic, fiscal and administrative decentralization on service delivery in the Buea Council. The study will be carried out at the Buea Council. Several theories have been explored linked to the various variables considered under the study.

These are The Soufflé theory, The social capital theory, The Principal-Agent theory and finally the Accountability theory. Ultimately the soufflé theory is chosen as being more responsive to the study’s variables as it gives the best explanation of linkages between various variables of decentralization and how they are related to the outcomes i.e. service delivery. The conceptual framework outlines the independent variables, as administrative, v economic and fiscal decentralization while the dependent variable is service delivery. Data will be collected by the use of a questionnaire. Data analysis will be analysed by use of the statistical package for social sciences (SPSS)




The chapter seeks to introduce the topic under study by giving the background of the study, statement of the problem, objectives of the study, research questions, hypotheses, significance, scope and delimitation, operational definition of terms and organisation under study. Background of Study Historically, the experiences of the ‘First wave’ generation of decentralization, in particular from Africa, have not been encouraging. From the late 1960s up to the mid‐1970s, administrative reforms as part of the integrated development planning efforts were tried in many newly independent countries. However, the actual impact was very limited: participation was not increased; local administrative performance and capacity were not enhanced; and distribution of wealth, status and power were not altered.

Decentralization failed in many parts of Africa. But it is important to understand why ‘decentralization’ was not successful. It was not decentralization but the variant of decentralization labelled de‐concentration, where functions and powers were transferred to central government field offices. Furthermore, the implementation was poor, including a lack of clear objectives, inadequate resources, shortage of skilled manpower, and general resistance from senior bureaucrats. Decentralization failed mainly because it did not decentralise enough. It was not sufficiently participatory and it lacked accountability toward local civil society (Breton, 1996).

In the early 1980s increasing international trade and investment; growing economic, social, and political interaction across national borders expanded the concept of governance to include not only the government but also other societal institutions, including the private sector and civil associations. The public sector has undergone drastic changes over the last two centuries hence to be able to deliver social goods and services more effectively and efficiently. Leadership through good governance has strengthened the public sector in Africa to support equitable development, participatory governance and ultimately poverty reduction (Ali, 2004) (Ekpo, 2007) (Ribot, 2002).

It is because of decentralization that public service management has also undergone a lot of changes in the last two decades owing to the changing role of the state and growing demands for good governance globally. As a result, the New Public Management (NPM) paradigm is geared toward enhancing efficiency, productivity, improved service delivery and accountability. It emphasizes a result[1]orientation as opposed to the process orientation of traditional public administration (Dzimbiri, 2008). In the second half of the twentieth century, practically every developing country has experimented with some form of decentralization or local government reform with varying aims and outcomes.

The failure of the centralized system for over half a century without tangible results has led to a renewed focus on decentralization. Centralization meant that national government bureaucrats allocated resources for local services, which did not reflect local preferences, and in some cases some regions would get completely neglected (White, 2011) (Junaid, 2005).

Modern development practitioners and researchers have advanced the notion that decentralization leads to improved governance, that is increased opportunity for political competition, improved public accountability and reduced political instability. It helps impose incentive-compatible limits on government power.

Globalization policies and the growing role of the market and civil society decisions regarding the provision of public services have enhanced all this (Faguet, 2014). Decentralization as a new governance system has played a key role in restructuring the state to give more power to local governments and empower the citizens to participate in the governance structures of their local areas. Literature review shows that over the last two decades many countries in the world have embraced decentralization in regions as diverse as the newly independent states of Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and South-East Asia.

The process of implementation has however not been as smooth as envisaged and most of these countries have had many pitfalls along the way (Naidoo, 2002). Current trends show that to empower rural communities to fight poverty effectively, fiscal, political and administrative decentralization should be implemented simultaneously. There is however no conclusive evidence to show that decentralization would lead uniformly to poverty reduction in all countries. But it would be more successful in countries that have the political will to move it forward (Jutting, 2007).

Decentralization transfers authority and responsibility of major government functions from central to local governments. In some cases, this authority is transferred to the civil society and the private sector. At the local level, citizens are empowered to be able to demand better services from public officials. The principle of subsidiarity is commonly used to guide the decentralization process. This means that public sector functions should be undertaken at the lowest level possible and that the transfer of functions should be followed by money. The local governments are better placed to manage the functions at that level. In most cases decentralized services are preferred over centralized services because they are efficient (Helling, 2005) (Mwabu & Kibua, 2013) (Kauzya, 2005).

In more recent years, a consensus among development practitioners and decentralization experts has emerged that decentralization is about more than merely shifting power and resources away from the central level or strengthening the administrative capacity of local governments. Instead, decentralization is increasingly defined as the empowerment of people through the empowerment of their local governments. This in turn leads to more efficient, responsive and accountable public services (Jamie & Serdar, 2010) Different decentralization designs in Sub Sahara Africa have led to varied effects on service delivery.

The dimensions of the designs may vary from the specific functional responsibilities being transferred to the local government, the lowest level of this transfer at the local level, the nature of intergovernmental transfers and borrowing rules and political accountabilities (World Bank, Rethinking Decentralisation in Developing Countries, 1998) (Ekpo, 2007). Through decentralization, citizens are supposed to acquire effective political rights, which help them push for accountability across all levels of political and administrative systems. This is achieved through elected local bodies with sufficient funding, adequate powers, and reliable mechanisms to ensure accountability of elected representatives and bureaucrats.

The official transfer of power can take various forms. It can either be fiscal, administrative, political or market decentralization. These typologies of decentralization depend on the amount of power, functions and resources transferred from the central government to the local governments. These different forms of decentralization have different characteristics, policy implications and conditions for success (White, 2011; Mwabu & Kibua, 2013).

Conceptually, decentralization has been implemented in various countries as it is widely used. However, the same word is used to describe different things. This concept is made up of so many variables causing it to have different programs, implementations and implications. Some of such variables are deconcentrating, devolution, delegation and privatisation. They are different aspects of decentralization which aim at explaining the concept for better understanding. The above variables share a common relationship amongst themselves which is the transfer of responsibilities, authority and resources from central government to local government. (Eryilymaz, 2011;103) Decentralisation can comprise three broad aspects.

The first is deconcentration, a situation whereby the central government undertakes some of its responsibilities through regional or local offices without transferring power or responsibilities to any other organisation (Richard Scott-Herridge, 2002). The aim is to retain full control of service planning, expenditure and delivery whilst achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness; this is the weakest form of decentralisation. Another aspect is known as delegation, where responsibility for decision-making and service delivery is transferred by central governments to semi-autonomous organisations not wholly controlled by it, but remained directly answerable to it for functions delegated to them.

These organisations may include local government and parastatals, the private sector and non-governmental organisations. (NGOs). In fact (Rondelli and Cheema, 1983) see this kind of transfer as a fourth form of decentralisation. A third broad aspect involves devolution which is most common in the Cameroonian context. This is when government transfers authority to a semi[1]autonomous local government body for decision making, resourcing, administration and delivery. “They are not directly accountable to the central government although they have to work within statutes and rules set by it. Although this can severely constrain the actions of local government, in principle 6 it remains primarily and politically responsible to its electorate” (Richard Scott[1]Heridge,2002, p6).

One aspect of democratic governance, which has widely been adopted by various countries, is decentralization and its various forms such as deconcentrating, delegation and devolution. Fiscal, political and administrative aspects of decentralization are now widely used by developing countries to bring services closer to the citizens and for political and economic gains. Over the last two decades, many countries in the world have embraced decentralization in regions as diverse as the newly independent states of Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and South-East Asia.

The process of implementation has however not been as smooth as envisaged and most of these countries have had many pitfalls along the way (Naidoo, 2002). The governance agenda has taken a centre stage among all global development partners in the last decade. At the forefront is the World Bank – which has created the worldwide set of governance indicators (WGI) in six dimensions of good governance aggregated from more than 200 countries.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the latest goals set up by the world community to achieve sustainable development. The UNDP has good governance principles which is a set of indicators that measure governance dimensions such as adaptability, stability, participation, equity, non-discrimination, inclusiveness, gender equality, rule of law, transparency and accountability and responsiveness.

All these are meant to achieve and maintain development goals as set out by UN member states in the millennium declaration in 2000. A report by UNDP observes that although decentralization has been around for several decades, it has seen a mixture of success and setbacks due to the slow pace of implementation of decentralization reform in various parts of the World.

This has affected service delivery in terms of increased efficiency, more effective popular participation and greater private sector contributions (UNDP Report, 2000). In Indonesia, decentralization was introduced after the passage of the autonomy law by the nationalist government in 1999. Suharto’s regime had just fallen, which led to a period of economic crisis, political instability and student unrest.

Under the new law, devolution was to take place at the district level while the provincial level remained a mediator between the central and district governments. Since the passage of the new law, there have been some positive aspects such as multi-party politics, a free press, an independent judiciary, and the ability of the community to express its preferences.

However, decentralization in Indonesia remains much more administrative decentralization than fiscal decentralization because the central government still controls a big share of the resources needed for local governance under decentralization despite more functions being devolved to the local regions such as health and education. Additionally, the formula for allocating resources to the sub-regions is unfair hence; resource-rich regions outperform resource-poor regions. At the local level laws, regulations and tax levies have been introduced without resources or guidance from the central government and this has affected business (Indriyanto, 2013; Aspinal & Berger, 2001, Green, 2005).

Decentralization in Indonesia has had a positive impact of opening up new spaces for citizens and the civil society to participate in political debate but there has also been evidence of increased corruption at the local level and increased inequalities between resource-rich and resource-poor regions, failure of the central government to successfully set and enforce minimum service standards in critical areas of national priority (Hoffman, & Kaiser, 2002).

In India, decentralization commenced immediately after independence in 1948. But real benefits of decentralization were experienced in the 1980s after much pressure from the citizens. Before then, there was an overconcentration of power in the hands of a few national elites (Sharma, 1999) Despite the improvements brought about by decentralization, there is confusion in the interrelationship between multi-purpose elected bodies and single-purpose used committees.

The user committees are often chosen by nomination from above rather than elections and in most cases, these are packed with loyalists or pliable locals. At times, politicians set these bodies against one another to weaken bottom-up development processes. At the district level, the Panchayat are the main decision-making organs but have been weakened by local legislators and ministers who see them as a potential threat.

On the other hand, user committees have excessive funded mandates hence struggling to manage the funds availed to them while the multi-purpose bodies have unfunded mandates hence unable to deliver services at the local level (Sida, 2003). This shows that service delivery is affected in Indian local governments because the way the decentralized governance organs are structured leads to a collision, which incapacitates them politically and technically.

The best example of improved services after decentralization was in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil, where there was a doubling of enrolment rates and improved access to basic sanitation.

Panama on the other hand has a constitution that puts more emphasis on deconcentrating as it’s still a unitary state and the central government retains much power in decision-making. This means that many of the municipals receive funding from the central government, which also has to approve their budgets.

Many municipalities cannot participate in policy-making. For example, they have been permitted to borrow from the local 9 banks with a central government guarantee but not internationally. At the local level, they have few functions assigned to them and they cant influence this or change it. Also, although there are 3 tiers of government, some officials are appointed instead of being elected (Coutinho, 1996).

In Costa Rica, donors and development agencies forced decentralization on the country as the governing political class was not interested in decentralization hence all policy-making and other vital decisions are still made by the central government. But in most cases, many bureaucrats working at the local level are not aware of any new policies or in most cases, they are poorly communicated to them. This shows a lack of a clear definition of decentralization.

Other challenges include a lack of proper communication between the centre and local governments and a lack of skilled personnel and resources to offer all the needed services. The approval and implementation of the policies are ad hoc.

There is no time plan hence the implementation of decentralization takes place at random. In general, there is a lack of technical capacity among staff in most municipalities and a lack of monitoring and evaluation (Ryan, 2004; Esqural, 2003; Oosterhout, 2002).

There are several successful experiences wherein decentralization played an instrumental role in improving basic service delivery, such as the experience of 16 municipalities in Columbia where water, education and road infrastructure improved.

However, despite some success stories of decentralization, some researchers have found out that in most cases if fiscal, administrative and political decentralization is not well designed and implemented it can lead to failure to deliver key essential services to its citizens due to problems such as misallocation of resources, leakages/corruption, and weak incentives. (Ahmed, J, 2005; Ribot, 2002).

The good governance agenda is also at the forefront of all organizations spearheading development initiatives in Africa. The African Union Agenda 2063 is geared towards the socio-economic transformation of the African continent over the next 50 years. It has a major initiative of governance through NEPAD (New Partnership for African Development). The NEPAD goals relate to the adoption of democratic values, practices, universal principles of human rights, justice and the rule of law, as well as the creation of capable institutions and transformational leadership.

These developments at the international level have influenced the development of the governance tools at the global, regional and national levels. Some of these tools are The Worldwide Governance Indicators; (WGI-World Bank), The Sustainable Governance Indicators (EU&OECD) The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UNDP Good Governance Principles among other global instruments.

In Ethiopia, decentralization has been driven by the desire to give some autonomy to various ethnic regions to manage their affairs and hold them to remain in the federation.

In Mozambique decentralization has enabled the former warring factions some local autonomy to participate in the political process and integrate them faster into the whole system (Shah & Thompson, 2004).

In Uganda, the decentralization policy was introduced after the passage of the local government Act of 1997. It had the objective of giving local councils more control in decision[1]making and choice of representatives, especially on aspects of utilizing the available limited resources efficiently and effectively.

The results have been mixed. Some researchers have argued that it has led to improvements in service delivery, especially in education, health and agriculture.

Also, levels of transparency have increased at the local level as monthly transfers of public funds to the districts are published in newspapers and noticeboards. The major challenge is transferring adequate funds to the local authorities on time.

However, it has not 11 been as successful as anticipated as there is an increase in local capture, a lack of information by users and a system of patronage politics and a lack of institutional capacity (Ekpo, 2007; Bashaasha, 2011; Reinikka & Svenssons, 2004; Obwona 2000). From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that implementing decentralization is quite a challenge especially if it’s not well designed.

The three levels of decentralization i.e., fiscal, administrative and political decentralization should be well balanced in terms of design and implementation otherwise there will be a failure to deliver essential services to the citizens. Common challenges are likely to be a misallocation of resources, leakages or corruption, weak incentives or conflict between administrators and county assembly members and capacity constraints. Also, various instruments of decentralization can affect the incentives facing service providers like policymakers, and local and national politicians hence the slow pace of implementation (Ahmed, 2005, Ribot, 2002).

In Sierra, Leone decentralization was introduced in 2004 and has seen improvements in service delivery, especially on matters of health. A survey showed that satisfaction levels rose from 81% to 90% between 2005/6. There was improved rural access to primary education i.e., the percentage of households within walking distance of a school grew from 68% to 74% in 2008. In addition, there is enhanced performance through improved or increased capacity enhancement (Srivastava & Larizza, 2011).

In the case of Cameroon, decentralisation constituted the legal, institutional, and financial means through which regional and local authorities operate to foster local development with the active involvement of the population.

Through the devolution of powers to local entities, local development could be enhanced and a contribution made to the fight against poverty. The assessment of the legal framework and its stakeholders shows that the decentralisation laws passed in 2004 in Cameroon have local development and governance as their main thrust.

The new laws certainly create an environment that represents an irreversible step forward for the process of decentralisation but needs completion by the passing of legal instruments of application for them to effectively accelerate the pace of the decentralisation process and good governance. (C. Cheka Vol. 32 No.2 (2007).

It’s been noted from the literature that most citizens lack the necessary information or are not even aware of what devolution entails hence unable to push the officials for accountability and this has been linked to civic education has been highlighted as a major cause of this apathy.

By enhancing the availability of information, strengthening citizen’s voices and promoting dialogue and consultation between the various actors, social accountability mechanisms can go a long way towards improving service delivery and making public decision-making more transparent, participatory and pro-poor.

Decentralization holds a lot of promise, but whether it improves public service delivery depends on the institutional arrangements governing its implementation. Several conditions must be met before the full benefits of decentralization can be reaped (Narayan. 2000; PREM Notes, 2001).

Theoretically, many theories can throw light on this concept but I would be using the Souffle theory of decentralization, the social capital theory, the principal-agent theory and the accountability theory for the research under study.

The souffle theory by Parker Andrew holds that the different forms of decentralization lead to a total improvement in the service delivery to the citizens and that just the right combination of political, fiscal, and institutional improve local government development outcomes (Parker,1995), the social capital theory of Bourdieu in 1985 holds that various levels of government and institutions have to 13 work in cooperation for the effective implementation of devolution; furthermore, the principal-agent theory by Jensen and Meckling in 1976 holds that the principal should have oversight over the agent while the agent is given some level of independence to perform their duties as best as they see fit(Debi,2004).

More so, P.E Tetlock the author of the accountability theory upholds that people who are responsible for delivering public services do their jobs as best as they can and use resources efficiently and equitably. (Jahal, 2008).

A closer look at all these theories of decentralization and local government brings a fresh perspective to the comparative analysis of the vertical division of power, that is processes of decentralization and relations between central and local (self) governments. (Kwame Badu, 2014).

Following the salient characteristics of decentralization; it is an expanded version of delegation of authority. It also increases the significance of the role of subordinates and has a process which applies to the organisation as a whole. (

Contextually, decentralization began in 1974, the Cameroon Government carried out a reform of its decentralization policy through the promulgation of law No. 74/23 of 5th December 1974 which expressly stipulates at article 1(1) that a council shall be ‘ … a decentralized public authority having the status of a corporate body ..• ‘

Black’s Law Dictionary states that a corporate body consists of the inhabitants of a designated area created by the legislature with or without the consent of such inhabitants for governmental purposes, possessing local legislative and administrative power, as well as the power to exercise within such area, so much of the administrative power of the state as may be delegated to it and possessing the limited capacity to own and hold property and to act in the purveyance of public conveniences.

Unfortunately, there is no section of the law which deals with the question of interpretation and it is difficult to tell what is meant by ‘a decentralized public authority’.

We are therefore obliged to turn to the key provisions or instrumentalities of the law in an attempt to ascertain what the policymakers had in mind. Firstly, article 2(2) provides that a council ‘shall have legal personality and financial autonomy. Secondly, the law provides for a decision[1]making body at the local level made up of elected representatives. According to article 12 (1), ‘the municipal council, the decision-making body of the council, shall comprise municipal councillors elected for a term of five years by universal suffrage. The law further provides for an executive body (article 52), responsible for the management of local affairs.

The only reasonable interpretation to be placed· on articles 2(2), 12(1), and 52, is that the 1974 law was intended to establish autonomous territorial units vested with powers for decision-making and management at the local level.

It would therefore not be far-fetched to conclude that the decentralization programme envisaged by the policy makers fits in squarely with our concept of decentralization adopted above, (Mawhood,1983; Gonidec,1985).

Furthermore, policymakers at the highest echelons of party and government in Cameroon have on various occasions declared in unequivocal terms, their commitment to a democratic form of local government. For instance, in 1987, the Head of State President Paul Biya, stated ex-cathedra that ‘the municipal councils are some sort of local assemblies where people debate problems of local interest.

The first thing that I expect of these municipal councils is that they should first of all be a school of democracy where people discuss concrete problems: can we construct pipe-borne water here? Can we construct a road there? It is a democratic school. It is a school of management. People learn from there what a budget is. They learn from there that if needs are unlimited, the means unfortunately are not.

It is necessary therefore to establish priorities. I expect the reinforcement of the democratic spirit and the sense of managing public property.  Again in 1989, the Minister of Territorial Administration reiterated government objectives vis-a-vis local government as follows: – local governments are basic units for the apprenticeship of democracy for local communities; – they are basic units for the discussion and management of certain matters at the local level, without the need for systematically seeking recourse to the central government or its representatives; they are basic units for development

The concept of decentralization as used in this paper would therefore be considered also as referring to democratic forms of local government, (Cheema & Rondinelli,1983; Smith,1985). It is important at this juncture to distinguish local government or a local council system from the local administration. Local administration refers to local agencies and staff of central government ministries, accountable in principle, too bureaucratic superiors, whereas local government refers to elected or appointed bodies having authority to deal with development and regulatory tasks and accountable to residents or ‘constituents’, (Uphoff,1986). In 1996, the constitution was modified making Cameroon a unitary decentralised state. This implied the recognition of the existence of local communities and the maintenance of the unity of the state.

Eight years later which was 2004, a series of legal texts have brought clarification on the objectives assigned to decentralization and the territorial communities whose emphasis is on the promotion of development at the local level. Furthermore, the laws of decentralization of 2004 have redefined the relationship between the central government and the local authority in matters of public policy. (GY Yombi 2019). The 2004 bill on the orientation of the decentralization process provides several essential objectives including enabling concerned inhabitants to become resolutely involved in defining and managing affairs of the regional and local 16 authorities, fostering and promoting the harmonious development of regional and local authorities based on national solidarity, regional potential and inter-regional balance, and to place Cameroon in line with constitutional and international requirements in the area of decentralization.

The 2004 bill presented 4 major parts as follows, the principle of devolution of powers (which laid down the powers under which resources are devolved to the local and regional authorities for their socio-economic welfare); the organisation and functioning of regional and local authorities(which defined the functional mechanisms of the recipient authorities); supervision of regional and local authorities(which indicated the central authorities and constituted bodies which supervise the institutions); and monitoring organs of the decentralization process indicating the bodies in charge of supervision. (Cheka,2007). Fifteen years later which is 2019, law no. 2019/024 of the 24th of December 2019 was adopted to institute the general code of regional and local authorities.

The coming of this law did not in any way wipe out articles of the law of 2004, rather it only consolidated the fundamental aspects of decentralization as enumerated above.

Statement of the Problem

Decentralization in a country is expected to bring service delivery closer to the people and the delivery of such services becomes efficient and effective (Dicker, 2010). Law no.2019/024 laying down the general code of decentralization for regional and local authorities states in chapter II, section 11 (1) that local authorities shall have their budgets and resources for the management of regional and local interests. As such they shall freely draw up and vote budgets; have their resources, receive resources from the state and other public or private sector entities; receive all or part of the proceeds from the exploitation of natural resources within their territory, under the conditions laid down by law; generate the resources needed to promote the economic, social, health, educational, cultural, sports development in their areas of jurisdiction.

The aforementioned law clearly states that the local or regional authorities be given financial autonomy to carry out or perform those services that would enhance development in their local area, but this is not the reality at the Buea Council. Unfortunately, this is not the reality with the Buea Council as it remains much more of an administrative decentralized authority with little or no financial autonomy because the central government still controls a big share of the resources needed for local governance under decentralization despite more functions being devolved to the local regions such as health and education. For this reason, there are opened avenues of mismanagement of funds, duplication of duties, power struggle, nepotism as far as hiring of employees is concerned, and misuse of power by the bosses. This has negatively affected local development and service delivery in the municipality and as such gave the researcher a reason for research

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