Local councils were reintroduced into Sierra Leone in 2004 and were given the responsibility for local development and supervision of local public services. There is considerable debate in Sierra Leone and other countries about the extent to which development funds should be decentralized to councils as well as what role, if any, Members of Parliament should take in development. The current roles and responsibilities of MPs focus many on legislation and oversight of the executive with little emphasis on development. However, MPs have lobbied for a more direct development role including through a “Constituency Development Fund” which MPs could use for development projects in their constituency, similar to those seen in Kenya and India. At the same time, supporters of decentralization suggest that decentralization should go below Local Councils with development grants going directly to wards (the political unity at which an individual councilor is elected).
This ongoing debate in Sierra Leone reflects key points of contention in the general discussion of the pros and cons of decentralization. More decentralized units, and those in charge of them, are likely to have an information advantage over more centralized units. Councilors live in their ward and have much more regular contact with local people (Casey, 2014) than MPs who usually live in Freetown. However, decentralization does not allow for economies of scale in purchasing and management and levels of education and capacity tend to be lower for councilors than MPs. This difference in capacity is to some extent inevitable because there is more competition to be an MP and the population from whom the MP can be drawn is larger. One potential compromise that might maintain local knowledge while enabling the benefit of economies of scale is to allocate funds to groups of councilors. However, this approach comes with the cost of requiring coordination between several actors.
In this pilot we plan to assess the feasibility of an evaluation of the relative effectiveness of MPs and Local Councilors in administering targeted development grants. The objective of the evaluation would also be to understand the mechanisms through which one or other approach is more effective. In particular, how important are differences in capacity and what is the role of economies of scale? MPs, collections of councilors, and individual councilors will be given grants to improve education outcomes in particular wards and/or constituencies. Some councilors will also be given access to “coaches” who will provide advice and support to councilors as they draw up and implement plans to use the education grants. This intervention will help determine the extent to which lower capacity on the part of councilors can be offset by support and training.