Local power structures and decentralised service delivery systems

This report is part of an ongoing series of political economy analysis to inform SABI’s programming and engagement with the relevant service delivery agencies and partner civil society organisations. The general objective of SABI’s analytical work is to enhance its knowledge base for improving community-led accountability and the delivery of basic services through supporting diverse CSOs to monitor services at community level and engage with institutions at the central level.

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Local power structures and decentralised service delivery

The SABI programme brings service providers together with citizens to resolve issues as a community and strengthen relationships. The programme’s approach represents a major shift in the focus of state-citizen engagement in Sierra Leone. Too often, civil society engagement in Sierra Leone has focused on articulating perceptions of service users with little consideration for the constraints of providers. SABI’s work is bringing a new emphasis to raise citizens’ voices on both the constraints of service providers and the perceptions of users.

In the Terms of Reference of this research, SABI acknowledged that building relationships between service users and providers is critical for rebuilding services in a fragile state context where institutions are generally weak. Sierra Leone for example has relied upon the executive presidency since 1971, and governmental decision-making remains exceptionally centralised. Comments such as ‘nothing happens without the President’s approval’ and ‘everyone is fighting for the President’s attention’ are regularly heard in the central ministries and local government.

Over the years, some development partners have taken the view that it is best to place projects as close as possible to the centre of power to ensure that ‘things get done’ and that the project receives the attention of highly placed policy makers. The Ebola response and the recovery program was managed in this manner and the President has also lent his authority to, and staked his personal reputation upon, such pro-jects as the centrally managed free health care programme for children and nursing mothers.

Decentralised service delivery becomes a peripheral priority in the context of over-concentration on centralisation. Devolution has been stalled. Even though there has been an increase in budget allocation to education and healthcare services local council grants are becoming increasingly vulnerable to centralised political capture and there has recently been a spike in governmental approval of community-managed schools in Tonkolili District, which happens to be the home district of the current Minister of Education.

Political lobbying for increased sector grant allocations started in 2008 when local councils realised that State House and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) can bypass the national grant distribution formula and use discretion to allocate grants. Many new projects for water and roads are going to governing party strongholds in the north of the country.

This research canvassed the views of over 60 service providers in four districts and reviewed extensive literature to understand the situation service providers face and steps taken to address their constraints. Our basic conclusions and recommendations are: