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Administrative Decentralisation

About Dr Zahid Masood Khan

Administrative Decentralisation seeks to redistribute authority, responsibility and financial resources for providing public services among different levels of government. It is the transfer of responsibility for the planning, financing and management of certain public functions from the central government and its agencies to field units of government agencies,subordinate units or levels of government, semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations, or area-wide, regional or functional authorities. The three major forms of administrative decentralisation—deconcentration, delegation and devolution—each have different characteristics.


Deconcentration—which is often considered to be the weakest form of Decentralisation and is used most frequently in unitary states—redistributes decisions making authority and financial and management responsibilities among different levels of the central government. It can merely shift responsibilities from central government officials in the capital city to those working in regions, provinces or districts, or it can create strong field administration or local administrative capacity under the supervision of central government ministries.


Delegation is more extensive form of decentralisation. Through delegation central governments transfer responsibility for decision-making and administration of public functions to semi-autonomous organisations not wholly controlled by the central government, but ultimately accountable to it. Governments delegate responsibilities when they create public enterprises or corporations, housing authorities, transportation authorities, special service districts, semi-autonomous school districts, regional development corporations, special project implementation units. Usually these organisations have a great deal of discretion in decision-making. They maybe exempt from constraints on regular civil service personnel and maybe able to charge users directly from services.


A third type of Administrative Decentralisation is devolution. When governments devolve functions, they transfer authority for decision making, finance and management to quasi-autonomous units of local government with corporate status. Devolution usually transfers responsibilities for services to municipalities that elect their own mayors and councils, raise their own revenues and have independent authority to make investment decisions. In a devolved system, local governments have clear and legally recognised geographical boundaries over which they exercise authority and within which they perform public functions. It is this type of administrative decentralisation that underlies most political decentralisation.


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