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Centralization and Decentralization: Compatible Governance Concepts and Practices  

Eva M. Witesman

The extent to which governance structures are centralized or decentralized is a key consideration for public administrators. While centralization and decentralization seem to represent opposite approaches to the structure of public organizations, the two frequently co-exist simultaneously in what is alternately deemed a comfortable coexistence or a paradoxical tension. Public institution reform efforts may call for increased centralizing forces (such as hierarchy, unification, and governance) or decentralizing ones (such as marketization, devolution of power, deconcentration, and diversification). Public administrators calling for structural reform are often driven toward either centralization or decentralization by particular sets of public values. Values such as accountability, power, and efficiency favor centralized governance, while values such as responsiveness, engagement, and innovation favor decentralization. Thus, the design of public administration structures and processes frequently exist as an expression of value-based norms. Both centralization and decentralization are associated with distinct advantages for achieving specific public value goals. Conversely, each approach has unique weaknesses that create opportunities for corruption. The pursuit of public value goals and the avoidance of corruption are two primary drivers that motivate structural reform. While structural reforms may be viewed as swings of a pendulum between two extreme ideal states (fully centralized or fully decentralized), a growing consensus in the scholarship suggests that centralized and decentralized structures are internally compatible and complementary. In other words, both centralized and decentralized structures frequently co-exist within the same institutions, often creating a dynamic tension between values. This creates an increasingly complex structural paradigm for the expression of public values. The result is that many governance structures appear to be evolving toward new models in which elements of both centralized and decentralized control are observed simultaneously.

Article

Constitutions and Constitutional Reforms in African Politics  

Muna Ndulo

Several African countries are currently engaged in the constitution-making process. In Africa, constitution-making usually takes three phases. The first phase took place at independence in the 1960s and was typically led by the colonial power. Constitution-making during this phase was part of the decolonization process. In the case of former British colonies, the independence constitution was British legislation which constituted the independent state. The second phase was from independence to 1989. During this phase, constitution amendments were made to the independence constitutions designed to concentrate power in the presidency. This was the era of authoritarian governments in Africa which culminated into one-party state systems of governance. The third phase, which runs from 1989 to the present, is associated with the worldwide wave of democratization. During this period, constitution-making has centered on rebuilding the political community as well as structures that had been distorted by political manipulation and violence during the era of authoritarian rule. This third phase is also marked by promoting the participation of citizens in the affairs of their own countries and the accountability of governments. A well-designed constitution can promote these objectives. In addition, inclusiveness and peaceful settlement of conflicts can be seen as a vehicle for national dialogue, good governance, and the consolidation of peace.

Article

Rational Choice Perspectives on Bureaucracy  

Anthony M. Bertelli and Nicola Palma

Formal models of bureaucracy have attracted significant attention as a systematic body of theory in the past decades. Scholars in this tradition examine institutions and organizations, uncovering incentives that can explain and help to design governance. Scholars in the rational choice tradition study the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats as an incomplete contracting problem between a political principal and a bureaucratic agent. When elected representatives delegate policymaking authority to an administrative agency, they face hidden action problems when the agency takes unobservable actions, and hidden information problems when there are things about agency policy preferences that representatives cannot easily learn. A wide variety of bureaucratic policymaking problems can be modeled as variations on these information problems. Formal theorists have considered resources and discretionary authority as variables that can be optimized to mitigate agency problems, and the models have both positive and normative implications.

Article

African Public Administration  

Goran Hyden

Public administration in Africa has its own specific features for at least two reasons. First, African societies are not organized along the lines of competing interests driven by their grounding in the economic production process. These societies have never been subject to an agrarian revolution, let alone an industrial one, that allows for the evolution of a system of social stratification similar to what is found in economically developed countries. In the latter, society is shaped by the state, much of it in its own image. The second reason, therefore, is that the African state—the locus of public administration—is a foreign creation imposed on society without roots in the economy or society. This tends to make its governance capricious and shaped foremost by political battles over how rents and privileges are shared among groups that come together for reasons of consumption rather than production. This is a general feature of the African scene, but it is qualified by a variable colonial legacy and a postindependence development experience. Former British and French colonies differ because of the legal systems they inherited—the former the common law tradition, the latter the Napoleonic civil law apparatus. This difference is important in shaping not only public administration but also the wider political outlook—a factor that affects inter-African cooperation. Since independence, public administration in these countries has been influenced by international and domestic pressures to accelerate development and promote democratic governance. This postindependence experience has been variable, some having managed to steer clear of violence, others having suffered political breakdowns. The African story of public administration since independence is diverse and representative of both successes and failures. Three countries—Botswana, Kenya, and Rwanda—are of special interest because they indicate different pathways that other countries in the region may follow to improve their governance and public administration.

Article

Courts in the United Kingdom  

Chris Hanretty

Courts in the United Kingdom have evolved gradually over the past 700 years. The modern court system is sophisticated, displaying both specialization by area of law and regional differentiation. The English and Welsh court system, for example, is separated from the Scottish and Northern Irish court systems. Across all different jurisdictions within the UK, courts display moderate to high levels of de facto judicial independence without many guarantees of de jure judicial independence. Appointment to the courts system since the reforms of 2005 is strongly apolitical; this, coupled with a weak form of fundamental rights review, means that debates about judicial politics have been limited. Particularly sensitive issues arise in relation to courts’ handling of multilevel governance, and more particularly the relationship between the Westminster Parliament and the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales, and between the Westminster Parliament and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Because of the gradual introduction of human rights guarantees in domestic law, and progressive devolution of power from center to periphery, UK courts offer lessons for those interested in the introduction of rights catalogs and in theories of constitutional review.