To effectively fight poverty, the government of a country has to be structured well and function properly.
In a broad sense, decentralisation aims at spreading decision-making and responsibilities to ensure efficient public service provision. Local governance brings decisions closer to the people and involves them in decision-making. That way, their needs can be taken into account better.
But local authorities cannot meet all challenges. Of course, a central government remains necessary. Decentralisation determines the most appropriate way to share competences between different levels (central government versus local authorities and instances) and looks at the way these levels have to work together.
The context differs in every country. Sometimes local authorities get both the competence and the financial resources to take decisions and execute them inside their territory. This is called devolution and usually goes hand in hand with political decentralisation.
In other cases, the central government will delegate people or organisations to the local level to execute decisions under the supervision of the central government. This is called deconcentration.
Decentralisation and poverty reduction
By organising public service delivery at the local level services get closer to the population. This facilitates access to services. This regards administrative services (for instance the population service) and social and economic services (school management, promotion of local or regional development).
Decentralised public services can take decisions that are better aligned with the local context. They can respond to local needs faster and more efficiently, which sometimes also is less expensive; and people see directly what is done with their taxes.
So, decentralisation is a particular tool to fight poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. When local authorities are democratically elected, the population also has a voice and gets the chance to talk about its own destiny and development. Trough this democratic logic decentralisation becomes an aim in itself and a means of development for a country.
Decentralisation means redistributing competences, which is easier said than done. Often it is accompanied by a difficult search for checks and balances. Sometimes the local authorities have insufficient resources to take up their competence; sometimes they do not have the necessary knowledge or skills. In other cases the plans of the central government do not fit with plans of the local authorities. Sometimes the direct link with fighting poverty is rather weak.
Decentralisation is a slow process and requires commitment for the long term from all authorities and partners involved.
Decentralisation in partner countries
Many of Belgium’s partner countries have started a process of adapted competence sharing for each level. Belgian development cooperation supports them in this process. BTC advises and supports central and local authorities so they can better execute their tasks and do so in harmony with other authorities. Several aspects are dealt with: developing a coherent institutional framework, develop partner capacities, draw up local development plans, organise local tax systems, provide investment budgets…
Apart from support to specific decentralisation processes, BTC also has to take into account this policy in every intervention. Also programmes in health care, education, and agricultural or rural development work with local organisations and authorities to develop their capacities.