Decentralization and Accountability: The Curse of Local Underdevelopment
Decentralization of provision of public services has been an important item in the agenda of developing countries. While some scholars and practitioners argue that decentralization is associated with improvements in provision due to higher accountability, others note its potential pitfalls. In particular, decentralization to local communities characterized by poverty, low levels of education, and inequality may lead to low accountability and higher susceptibility to political capture. This paper explores these dynamics empirically, taking advantage of the fact that in Brazilian municipalities primary education is provided by schools under municipal as well as under state management. The performance of these two types of school in the same municipalities is compared in terms of their levels of inputs and the efficiency of service delivery using non-parametric data envelopment analysis (DEA). The results suggest that there are indeed drawbacks to decentralization in municipalities where inequality is higher and education and political participation are lower.