Dynamic cities: What role do urban local governments play in improving urban service delivery performance in Africa and Asia?

In most countries, urban areas are the engines of economic growth and provide spaces for social transformation and political inclusion. This is the case because dynamic and prosperous cities are able to attract and retain both the talent and the capital investments necessary to attract businesses and sustain high productivity levels by offering high quality urban services and infrastructure. The delivery of widely accessible and efficiently functioning basic services is thus essential for urban areas to realize their full economic growth potential. As a result, the degree of success with which a country harnesses the power of urbanisation serves as an important bellwether for inclusive and sustainable development.

This comparative study of urban local governments and public service delivery systems attempts to better understand how the institutional arrangements within which cities operate either constrain or enable urban service outcomes. Concretely, we explore the roles, discretion and accountability mechanisms faced by urban local governments in 42 cities across 14 countries in Africa and Asia as they seek to provide (or support the provision of) three key urban services—solid waste management, water supply and sanitation services. In each country, we select three cities across the urban spectrum (typically including one small, one medium and one large urban jurisdiction), giving us a diverse selection of urban jurisdictions.

This study focuses on five institutional dimensions of local governance systems including:

  • The effectiveness with which functional assignments are made for urban services;
  • The availability of local political ‘space’ and the dynamism of the local political leadership;
  • The degree of local control over administrative mechanisms (such as local human resource management and procurement);
  • The degree of local fiscal autonomy and the quality of local financial management; and
  • The strength of local participation and accountability mechanisms.

The first specific objective of the study is to analyze the extent to which urban local governments in Africa and Asia are effectively able to contribute to urban services: does the vertical or intergovernmental governance structure provide cities with the authority and autonomy to

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