The objective of the essay is to (1) examine the concept of decentralization, (2) the varying degrees of decentralization from de-concentration, devolution, deregulation and (3) the benefits and disadvantages of the process for a developing country like Bangladesh, (4) the discussion focuses on evidence from several case studies with particular reference to the Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB) and how and why decentralization was implemented and how successful the process has been for the organization in its objective to reduce poverty.
What is decentralization?
The nature and definition of decentralization is a complex concept and its meanings and connotations can vary from country to country and from author to author depending on the scope and objective of the decentralization process. Decentralization in its most general term could be described as ‘the transfer of decision-making power and responsibility over policies from the national to the regional, sub-regional or local level’ (OECD,2005)
Rondinelli (1989) et al defined decentralization as ’ the transfer of responsibility for planning, management, and resource-raising and allocation from the central government to (a) field units of central government ministries or agencies; (b) subordinate units or levels of government; (c) semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations; (d) area-wide regional or functional authorities; or (e) NGOs’. While there are varying definitions of decentralization the central theme shared by most authors on the subject is decentralization should be concerned with delegating decision making to the very lowest level possible by transferring power from the central body to the lowest levels of management and closer to the public which is to be both served and governed by empowering all involved in the process.
The varying degrees of decentralization
Campo & McFerson (2008) suggested that the degree of decentralization could be measured by the extent of independence and self-government the organizations have from central government which the authors suggested progressively increased from ‘de-concentration’ through to ‘delegation’ to full ‘devolution’. De-concentration is considered as a first stage of decentralization and often considered the weakest form of decentralization as it transfers the management responsibility from central government to subordinate staff in districts, provinces and regions and is used mostly by governments based on a system of government in which authority is centralized.
The limitations of de-concentration largely stem from the piecemeal nature of the initiative; the unfamiliar management practices can often limit managerial capacity and cause confusion. In order for de-concentration to be effective, clear guidelines would need to be drawn up by central government to offer a useful policy alternative for a country such as Bangladesh which is engaged in de-centralising its government departments to alleviate rural poverty.
Broader in scope then de-concentration is delegation. Through this form of decentralization central government shifts the responsibility for decision-making of public functions to semi-autonomous organizations, although these organizations are not totally controlled by the central government, they are ultimately accountable to central government.
A prime example of delegation is housing authorities such as Arms Length Management Organization which are set up to manage housing stock on behalf of the Council and government. A key advantage to this is that major government funded projects can be completed more efficiently with minimal bureaucratic and political interference.
Devolution involves an administrative type of decentralization that could be suggested as involving the highest degree on independent decision making. The process involves creating autonomous sub national governments. Devolution involves the transfer of responsibilities for services to local governments that can generate their own revenues, and have independent authority to make investment decisions and elect their own elected councils
Limitations of Decentralization
Decentralization can sometimes lead to problems with coordination and decision making where authority is not centralized. Morgan (1986, p121) suggested that decentralizing an organization into sub departments can sometimes have a negative effect, he clarified that during the process of decentralization ‘one organization may see itself as a tight-knit team or family that believes in working together…another may be highly fragmented, divided into groups that think about the world different ways or have a different aspirations as to what their organization should be. Such patterns of belief…can exert a decisive influence on the overall ability of the organization’.
Burns, Hamleton and Hoggett (1994, p175) suggested ‘the development of a more pluralist pattern of public service provision does not necessarily enhance citizen control’. The transfer of power to generate a greater degree of participation can lead to inconsistencies in service delivery; this in turn leads to an increase in administration costs and a failure to utilize resources efficiently. A lack of resources both labor and technology to drive the change process can also hinder the decentralization process, resource constraints such as a lack of skills to support decentralized decisions and duplication of tasks through multi departmentalism can also limit the effective implementation of a decentralization program.
Advantages of Decentralization
The benefits of decentralization offers organizations the most effective means of reducing the excessive control of central government which has been a distinctive feature of past administration in countries such as Bangladesh. Hoggett & Hamleton (1987, p170) suggested that ‘decentralization provides an organizational structure that allows for the development of a service that can respond to the demands of the local community’ Managers are free to make decisions quickly and freely without the need to refer up the hierarchy, this in turn leads to quicker result focused decisions by public sector managers.
Minogue, Charles & Hulme (1998, p192) suggest ‘Organizational restructuring and the delayering of hierarchies are key components of management decentralization’ Politt, Birchall & Putman (1998.p1) succinctly stated that decentralization ‘ frees managers to manage, it makes possible speedier and more responsive public services, attuned to local or individual needs’. The process can facilitate a better and more efficient division of labor in the management of public services.
Walsh (1995, p203) suggests that fiscal decentralization is also crucial to successful decentralization and argues that If local governments and private organizations are to carry out decentralized functions effectively, they must have an adequate level of revenues and suggests that ’ the devolution of financial control closer to the point of delivery gives greater autonomy to service managers’ .
Decentralization in Bangladesh
A major problem throughout Bangladesh’s public sector has been the lack of accountability; the public sector is characterized by a bureaucratic culture with centralized authority where corruption is widespread. The Country has 35 ministries, 50 divisions, 221 departments, 131 directorates and autonomous bodies and 153 state owned enterprises. The process of decentralization has often been identified as the missing connection between poverty-reduction and anti-poverty efforts in developing countries. Rural poverty in Bangladesh has been increasing. The poverty alleviation programs implemented by each subsequent administration have largely been centralized.
According to a paper on decentralization published by Khan (1989) the need for decentralization is now well accepted in Bangladesh and there are many reasons as to why this is so. Khan (1989) suggests that decentralization has been viewed as specifically appropriate to meet the needs of the poor as the process would aid the government in bringing it closer to a local level and would make services more responsive to the needs of the poor by developing policies and outputs that were more efficient.
A decentralized participatory approach of local government which fosters accountability openness and transparency has been considered the ideal approach in alleviating poverty by many authors on the subject. Blundel & Murdock (1998) suggest that decentralized services ‘closer to the customer’ require flexibility in service delivery, decentralization could help the poor by improving access to the administrative agencies and by encouraging greater local participation. By reducing the level of bureaucratic congestion at the center the decentralizing process can aid in reducing disparities and increase flexibility for those in charge in decision making.
Decision making is a form of empowerment. Empowerment is central to decentralization, as empowerment of managers can increase motivation and increase staff output. Public sector managers lower down the chain have a greater understanding of the environment they work in and the people they serve and interact with, the empowering of managers and employees enable departments to respond faster to changes.
- Quote paper
- Abdul Aziz (Author), 2016, Decentralization in Bangladesh.The varying degrees of decentralization from de-concentration, devolution, deregulation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/508170