The term “administrative decentralization” means different things to different people in the decentralization literature. Here, we use the term to mean the transfer of administrative responsibilities and authority from the central government and its agencies to field units of central government ministries or agencies, subordinate units or levels of government, semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations, or non-governmental or voluntary organizations. As such, devolved local government systems as well as deconcentrated systems can be administered in a more or less decentralized manner.
Local governments as well as local administrative jurisdictions need to be endowed with an appropriate degree of administrative autonomy in order to be able to respond to local needs effectively. Three broad powers or responsibilities can be identified as being crucial for local governments and other local bodies to effectively administer their responsibilities in an autonomous manner: (i) the power or authority to manage their own human resources, (ii) the ability to procure goods, services and infrastructure, and (iii) to have substantive administrative control over the delivery of local services that fall within their legal mandate.
Full local control over administrative mechanisms implies that the local government’s political leadership appoints and manages not only its own core administrative team, but also the heads of other local service delivery units, as well as all the front-line staff that deliver local services. In addition to control over local human resource management, local government control over local administration and service delivery implies that local governments control and manage the procurement of infrastructure as well as the financial resources required for the recurrent delivery of local services. In practice, in many countries, the power of local officials to make authoritative administrative decisions in these areas is seriously constrained.
This does not necessarily mean that greater administrative decentralization is always better. Similar to other dimensions of decentralization, the “right” level of administrative decentralization balances the degree of local authority and discretion with the prevailing level of local capacity and accountability.
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