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Public Service Delivery in South Asia

Attaining the MDGs requires accountable and responsive social service delivery systems that reach the poor. The centralized states, local governments, and provincial level agencies in South Asian countries have been, for the most part, top-down in their service delivery. This has led to administrative and fiscal failures, limited accountability to citizens and goals that have fallen far short of delivering universal access to services—resulting in the loss of a great deal of legitimacy. Raising productivity and reaching the more difficult goals requires improving the quality of education and health services.

International experience indicates four key lessons that are relevant for the allocation of service delivery responsibilities under the decentralization option:
  • Sectors differ in the appropriate degree of decentralization according to economies of scale, externalities, and proximity of providers to clients.
  • Different levels of government can have responsibility for different aspects of a single sector, and this can work very well, given clear and logical allocation of mandates.
  • Spending decisions for investment and maintenance need to be at the same level of government; otherwise each tends to avoid responsibility at the expense of the other.
  • Decentralization may work better, either as a transition or as a permanent structure, if some local governments with greater size and capacity take on correspondingly greater responsibilities.

Links to Sectoral Service Delivery:

Decentralization of education varies from country to country. How much to decentralize and whom to decentralize to depend on:

  • Each level of education–primary, secondary, tertiary, and non-formal education; and
  • Functions like curriculum preparation, evaluations, etc.
The general consensus is that:
  • Tertiary education, curriculum design and standards are best left to central governments.
  • Primary and secondary education is better devolved to local governments and/or communities.
  • Water and sanitation
  • Health
  • Rural roads

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