A decentralised public service is widely perceived to more effectively respond to local community needs. As in other post-colonial states, there has been a push toward decentralisation in Zambia since independence; implementation, however, has lagged due largely to uncertainty on optimal rollout strategies given capacity limitations at the local level. With the change in Government in 2011, decentralisation re-entered the national dialogue and a revised decentralisation policy was launched in 2013. The Decentralisation Secretariat was established in 2003 under the Cabinet Office and is tasked with harmonising and coordinating all decentralisation reforms and efforts. These initiatives currently focus on decentralizing civil service management to local governments (including human resources and recruitment) which will be followed by fiscal decentralisation beginning in 2016.
To inform the ongoing decentralisation planning in Zambia, and at the Government of Zambia’s request, we are conducting a comparative analysis by synthesizing existing research on decentralisation policies and implementation strategies from countries with socio-economic profiles similar to that of Zambia. We are additionally working to secure administrative productivity data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Health which will serve as baseline data for a potential future randomized evaluation that will measure the causal impact of decentralization on the productivity and performance of civil servants.
The purpose of these activities is to enable us to launch a deeper conversation with the Government of Zambia on the possibility of staggering the decentralisation of recruitment and/or fiscal functions in a way that accommodates a rigorous impact evaluation. Such an evaluation holds considerable promise for informing policy debates on sustainable economic growth in Zambia and beyond, given the potential for decentralisation to both better meet local needs and potentially lead to nepotism, inefficiency, and/or leakage.