Zambia has embarked on an ambitious decentralisation agenda aiming to enhance the provision of local public goods while limiting leakages. A key pillar in this agenda is the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), which comprise grants from the central government to district-level governments to support local infrastructure projects. The CDF has expanded by a factor of 40 in recent years, and such an expansion confronts trade-offs. We propose a field experiment varying both the extent of decentralisation and the threat of performance audits to evaluate these trade-offs.
Even under the CDF, central government retains approval control over projects and contracts, which creates substantial delays: as of September, 78% of projects selected by Local Authorities (LAs) are awaiting central government approval. The first intervention would further decentralise control over project selection and procurement to a subset of LAs. As this removes a layer of quality control and oversight, a second intervention would deploy advance announcements of performance audits, which would be conducted with 100% likelihood. This combination has been dubbed “ambitious decentralisation with guardrails.”
To evaluate the efficacy of and the complementarities between the interventions, we propose to cross-randomise at the LA-level across 72 rural LAs. We ask: i) does deepening decentralisation of approval control improve project execution speed; and if so, does it affect project quality and leakage; ii) do performance audits improve project execution and reduce leakage in the status quo; and iii) do performance audits mitigate downside risks associated with greater decentralisation?