Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Can Participatory Governance Enhance Public Services in a Transitional Democracy? Lessons from Albania

Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Can Participatory Governance Enhance Public Services in a Transitional Democracy? Lessons from Albania

Article excerpt

Participatory governance has been strongly supported by development agencies in postcommunist Albania. Such efforts have grown especially after the enactment of the Law 8652 on Organization and Functioning of Local Governance in 2000. Article 3 of the law sets forth that the mission of local governments is to bring governance closer to the people by delivering high-quality public services and promoting the effective participation of citizens in decision making. Development agencies have supported Albanian's transition to decentralized governance through numerous initiatives, for instance by establishing citizens' commissions and promoting participatory budgeting. One of the theoretical expectations is that these initiatives will improve public services by ensuring participation of community members in the decision-making process. Participatory governance is expected to empower communities and promote social and economic development (Azfar, Kähkönen, Lanyi, Meagher, & Rutherford, 1999; Bardhan&Mookherjee, 2006; Fan, Lin, & Treisman, 2009; Manor, 2004).

Evidence suggests that participatory initiatives that have resulted in such outcomes share two characteristics: First, they are implemented in a context where a thriving civil society, citizen groups, or grassroots movements exist ( see, e.g., Fiszbein, 1997; Ravindra, 2004). This precondition, however, is not likely to be met in Albanian communities. Historically, Albania is characterized by a tenacious legacy of centralized governance. As in the communist past, community members expect local officials to mobilize them into decision-making process (Dauti, 2013; Fuga, 2008). Therefore, the extent to which participatory initiatives are successful depends on the quality of local leadership. Second, participatory initiatives are implemented in a context characterized by committed local leaders who enjoy the support of the central government (Bardhan, 2002 ; Goldfrank, 2002; Speer, 2012). For instance, the central government allocates meaningful responsibilities and provides assistance through capacity-building programs. A close investigation of the relationship between the central and the local governments in Albania reveals that the central government exerts strong control over local authorities (Dauti, 2013; Shkëmbi, 2013). For example, it imposes restrictions on the powers that local authorities can exercise over their territory. For example, local governments' responsibility in education is limited to maintaining school facilities; other responsibilities, such as hiring teachers, granting scholarships, and making investments, belong to the central government. In addition, local authorities depend on state funds to meet their functions, including the provision of public services. This is especially the case in poor rural communities, where local revenues constitute only a small proportion of public expenditures (Hoxha & Dhimitri, 2006). Ironically, the central government has responded to such constraints through recentralization. For instance, recent state initiatives limit local governments on their taxing powers (Law 10117) and require them to transfer the income generated from property legalization to the state budget (Law 10169).

This study inquires into the effectiveness of so-called participatory initiatives in improving the quality of public services, when the initiatives are implemented in a context characterized by a strong legacy of centralized governance and limited powers and fiscal capacities of local authorities. Participatory governance is broadly defined as the participation of citizens in the process of decision making (Schneider, 1999). A central feature of the participatory governance that we study is that municipal leaders promote participation. This study demonstrates that in the presence of committed local leaders, participatory governance has positive but limited effects. More specifically, it has a positive effect on the quality of the greenery service and the street-cleaning service but no effects on the quality of the road maintenance service. …

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