Decentralization as a Mechanism for Service Delivery: The Case of Limbe Ii Municipality of the Southwest Region

Friday, February 24, 2023

Decentralization as a Mechanism for Service Delivery: The Case of Limbe Ii Municipality of the Southwest Region

Department: Public Administration

No of Pages: 130

Project Code: PA1

References: Yes

Cost: 5,000XAF Cameroonian

 : $15 for International students

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Since the inception of the policy of decentralization in Cameroon, there have been accusations and counterarguments from political and opinion leaders who claim that the policy will remain a nightmare in a centralized state as Cameroon.


A major dimension of this problem is the fact that ethnic, linguistic and political differences continue to widen the gap between regions. The study seeks to examine the extent to which decentralization provides an efficient service delivery in Limbe II municipality.


The study makes use of the social capital theory and the New Public Administration theory. The target population for the study is the entire population of Limbe II municipality as well as Limbe II council staffs and other local authorities.


Both qualitative and quantitative data were used in this study. For qualitative data, interviews were conducted with local authorities in Limbe II who were purposely selected because of their knowledge on decentralisation as well as their experiences in public service.

Also, quantitative data was collected using questionnaires which were administered randomly to individuals in Limbe II municipality. This was to get their perceptions about decentralisation and service delivery in their locality.


Results from this study show that decentralisation affects the efficient and effective delivery of services in Limbe II. Finally the study recommends that government of Cameroon adopts “true decentralization”.


What is presently in practice according to popular opinions is not “true decentralization”. The government of Cameroon should give the local councils full autonomy to handle their own affairs and finances. With this they will be able to provide better services to the people.



1.1 Background to the Study

In the last quarter century, over 75 countries have attempted to transfer responsibilities of the state to lower tiers of government. Significantly, most of these lower-tier governments have been elected, so that the decentralization is not just administrative or fiscal, but also political.


The motivation for the decentralization has varied. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, it was part of the political and economic transformation; in Latin America, it was to reinforce the transition to democracy; 

in South Africa, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, it was a response to ethnic or regional conflict; and in Chile, Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire, it was to improve the delivery of basic services (Shah and Thompson 2004:2).


Even when it is not explicit, improving service delivery is an implicit motivation behind most of these decentralization efforts.


The reasons are twofold. First, these basic services, such as health, education, water and sanitation, all of which are the responsibility of the state, are systematically failing and especially failing poor people (World Bank 2003:38).


That governments are falling short of their responsibility to ensure adequate health, education, water and sanitation to their people can be seen at various levels. At the macroeconomic level, the main instrument with which governments exercise this responsibility, public spending seems to have only a weak relationship with outcomes.


Public spending on health has no significant association with reductions in child or infant mortality; and public spending on education has an extremely weak relationship with primary school completion rates (Hammer and Pritchett 2000:243).

A look at the microeconomic evidence indicates why government spending does not translate to better outcomes. For one thing, the money does not often reach the frontline service provider. In Uganda, the share of non-salary spending on primary education that actually reached primary schools was 13 percent (Reinikka and Svensson 2001:13).


For another, the quality of these services is often extremely poor. In Bangladesh, the absenteeism rate for doctors in primary health centres was 74 percent (Chaudhury and Hammer 2003:9).


The second reason why improving service delivery is behind most decentralization efforts is that these services are consumed locally. Historically, they were also provided locally. Norway’s health system was run by locally-appointed health commissions until the 1930s; schools in Nepal were managed by communities until the 1960s.


Yet today the central government in these two countries (as well as most others) assumes responsibility for the delivery of these services. Many governments and their electorates associate the problems of service delivery with the centralization of these services.


For instance, the fact that only a fraction of the money that is due service providers actually reaches them may be due to the power of the central government vis-à-vis local government, through whom the money gets transferred.

Similarly, centralization means that the allocation of resources among these local services may not reflect local preferences. Faguet (2001:13) shows that decentralization in Bolivia led to a better match between local preferences and budgetary allocations.


Faguet’s study points to another problem of centralization: some regions might get completely neglected. Prior to decentralization in Bolivia, an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of public resources were concentrated in the capital city and its surroundings.


Finally, central-government provision could also lead to greater corruption and misuse of funds, as the service recipients in a local district cannot monitor the bureaucrat or politician in thecapital city (Bardhan and Mukherjee 2000:78).


However, despite these problems associated with central delivery of services, the experience with decentralization has been quite mixed (World Bank 2003:57; Burki, Perry, and Dillinger 1999:346). While success or failure is difficult (and premature) to judge, some common problems associated with decentralization’s impact on service delivery have begun to emerge.


The most frequently-cited problem is the lack of capacity at sub-national levels of government to exercise responsibility for public services. In Uganda and Tanzania, the lower tiers of government lacked the ability to manage public finances and maintain proper accounting procedures.

Since these were a requirement for transferring money to the lower tiers, they actually received less money than before decentralization. In Uganda, spending on primary health care fell from 33 percent to 16 percent during decentralization (Akin, Hutchinson, and. 

In Ethiopia, where decentralization goes down to the third tier or woreda level, some woredas lack enough people who can read and write to operate the district governments Strump 2001:34).


A second problem is that decentralization has led to misaligned responsibilities, possibly because the process is incomplete, possibly for political reasons. Although Pakistan has devolved responsibility for education to the districts, school teachers remain employees of the provincial government.


The district nazim or elected executive has little authority over the hiring, firing, evaluation, or placement of teachers. 

Third, while decentralization was in some cases intended to strengthen the political power of lower tiers of government vis-à-vis the center, it has also increased the possibility of political capture within these lower tiers.


In 1979, Indonesia established “village governments” with locally-chosen village heads accountable to village councils that would determine budget priorities. A study of 48 rural villages showed that, since village heads chose the members of the council, accountability to the villagers was weak; only 3 percent of the village proposals were included in the district budgets.

Those villagers who participated in government organizations were more likely to speak out at village council meetings, crowding out the voice of others in the village (World Bank 2001:2).

Fourth, a host of other problems, not associated with service delivery, have nevertheless helped to undermine service delivery in decentralizing economies.


For instance, the “soft-budget constraint” facing sub-national governments has led to over-borrowing (Rodden, Eskeland, and Litvack 2003:23) and, in the case of Argentina, a major macroeconomic crisis at the end of 2001.


The social impact of the Argentinian crisis has clearly been a deterioration in service quality: poverty rates jumped 40 percent, 12 percent of the people with formal health insurance discontinued their policies, medical supplies were in short supply throughout the public hospital network and in 2002 a third of the provinces experienced school closings of 20-80 days out of a 180-day school year (World Bank 2003:5).


The history of decentralization in Cameroon cannot overlook the country’s triple heritage which is tied to its colonial past, its journey through independence and unification; leading up to the country’s various major efforts at governance.


According to V. Lemiux (2001:24) ‘Decentralization policies just like other public policies account for games of power among the various actors involved.’ The third and current constitution of Cameroon (Part I article 2) establishes Cameroon as a ‘decentralized unitary state’.


It further establishes that ‘Decentralization shall consist of devolution by the state of special powers and appropriate resources to local authorities. And, ‘it shall constitute the basic driving force for promotion of development, democracy and good governance at the local level.’ (Section 5: Article 1& II).


Lemieux concludes that case studies in different countries prove well, that decentralization is predominantly about policies of deconcentration, delegation, devolution of power or privatization policies.


However, Karl Weick is more moderate in his prescription, when he opinionates that ‘The real trick in highly reliable systems is somehow to achieve simultaneous centralization and decentralization’.


Decentralization in Cameroon has had a long trajectory. It is woven into numerous efforts to progressively meet with the popular expectations of the various populations. These expectations are as diverse as Cameroon by its very nature of geographical and cultural composition, further muddled with the country’s historical complexities.

To D. Abwa (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2013:77), ‘Cameroon can be singled out as a country with a succession of changed status. It was a German protectorate (1884-1916), a French and British colony (1916-1919, a territory under SDN mandate (1919-1945) a territory under UN supervision (1946-1960).


After Britain and France shared it during the First World War, the population of Cameroon partially succeeded to reconstitute the entity at the epoque, as a Federal Republic in 1961, 1st October.


This changed/changing status which constitute part and parcel of the evolution of Cameroon as a state, substantially reflect and account for the complexities around its decentralization process.


Cameroon’s long and complex history of subjugation to colonial rule, having been administered by Germany, France, and Britain, further experienced another wave of ‘internal’ transition in its post-independence era. This adds to another phase in the country’s history of governance, with which it continuous to grapple.


To Caldwell, (2017:90), ‘ Another phase of Cameroon’s history of reunification can be traced through the October 1, 1961 United Nations supervised plebiscite which first led to the creation of the Federal Republic of Cameroon in a two -state federation;

West Cameroon and East Cameroon, with English and French languages having equal status. In 1972, the first president of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, AhmadouAhidjo (1960-1982), called for a referendum in which the Federal Republic of Cameroon was again changed to the United Republic of Cameroon.


Unfortunately, the unification between French speaking Cameroon and Southern Cameroon was inadequate for both parts to efficiently recognize a dual cultural heritage and was void of equal administration.


Instead, the unification was a trajectory for the Anglophones to be involved in another phase of assimilation and/or imperialism from French speaking Cameroon. Because the French speaking part of the country dominated power, the minority Anglophone territory remained marginalized’.


The situation does not seem to have evolved very favourably thereafter. According to Anyangwe, (2018:47) French Cameroon held Southern Cameroons forcibly under the guise of the referendum (p.2).


The superficial peace and unity which was presumably in the Republic of Cameroon, that is both British and French speaking Cameroon which existed from 1961, has turned into a political and social instability since 2016 as Anglophone armed groups have taken up weapons fighting to secede from French Cameroon.

A major grievance includes marginalization of the Anglophone cultural, educational, and legal systems by the Francophone dominated central government.  British Southern Cameroon consists of two regions (provinces), in a country of ten regions.


Anglophone Cameroonians feel they are neglected because they are not adequately represented in the government (Caldwell, 2017:60).  The feelings of neglect of the Anglophone regions by the Francophone-dominated government morphed into a civil war in 2017 following months of riots.


Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, called for a Major National Dialogue from September 30-October 4, 2019. As outcome of the dialogue, the president ordered for a discontinuance of all pending cases in military courts involving individuals arrested from the Anglophone regions in connection with the strikes against the government.


In addition, the President freed 333 people who were in military custody on account of the Anglophone problem in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. Also, the president granted a “special status” to the Anglophones.


This was intended to secure some level of autonomy to the two Anglophone regions in recognition of their historical, social and economic specification.  According to Kindzeka (2019:13), the central government still maintains strong control over the economic and political life of the regions.

As such, the “special status” was not received with enthusiasm by the secessionists and was regarded as not efficient. This is because the “special status” consists only of the creation of a House of Chiefs, regional councils and regional assemblies for Southern Cameroons.


However, the “special status” does not give these institutions power to implement laws.  Instead, deliberations from these bodies will be sent to the National Assembly with an overwhelming francophone majority for legislative decisions. As such, Anglophone Cameroonian lawmakers were only granted deliberative powers (Kindzeka, 2019:12).


Attempts to monitor the efficiency of local government structures in the provision of services only gained prominence in Cameroon from June 2000 when the report on a national program to monitor the gradual implementation of the reform to decentralized institutions in order to promote democracy and grassroots development was presented (Ewumbue 2001:64).


 Reports highlighted the need to decentralize units, dissolve powers to local entities and the need for effective transfer of powers. From this report, a national policy on decentralization was adopted in 2000.


The extent to which these policy documents, coupled with local government performance measurement tools have helped improve the performance of councils in Cameroon in service provision is what this study intends to investigate

According to part 10(Article 55) of the 18th January 1996 Cameroon constitution, it emphasizes on the aspect of decentralization by legalizing the creation of local councils and brings out their functions. It also spells out their jurisdictions and grants them autonomy that is power to make rules governing the municipality under the supervision of the central government.


It is worth nothing that Article 55 (2) state clearly that “regional and local authorities shall be public law corporate bodies. They shall have administrative and financial autonomy in the management of regional and local interests.


They shall be freely administered by councils elected under conditions laid down by law. The duty of the regional and local authorities shall be to promote the economic, social, health, educational, cultural and sports development of the said authority.”


In 2004, the State of Cameroon embarked on the process of decentralization which entails transferring some competences to the local government or council for proper management.


Since the inception of this policy, there have been accusations and counter arguments from political and opinion leaders who claim that the policy will remain a nightmare in a centralized state as Cameroon.


This explains why recently, some political leaders and other opinion holders have been clamouring for a change of the form of the State with many asking for the return to the federal system of government which was practiced in 1961.


Recently, following the recommendations of the Major National Dialogue which was aimed at resolving the Anglophone crisis; it completely ignored the main proposal which was the form of state, suggested by many groups/persons that were consulted prior to the dialogue.


This shows that the dialogue had a prepared agenda and result as it failed to meet the aspirations of the two affected regions. The main recommendation which is still hoped to be implemented by the government is the granting of “special status”to both regions as stipulated in Article 62 of the 1996 Cameroon constitution.


The form of state was prohibited on the dialogue table, while the government emphasized on the continuity of its 23 years old decentralization policy which so far has yielded less than half the percentage of its expectations (Enowbachem Agbor, 2019:1).


1.2 Statement of the problem

One of the most outstanding defects of Cameroon as a post-colonial African state is its lack of genuine decentralisation policies. A major dimension of this problem is the fact that ethnic, linguistic and political differences continue to widen the gap between regions. 

Ethnic conflicts and feelings of superiority of some cultures over others have exacerbated the problem.


This is evidenced by the fact that service delivery in Cameroon, such as street lightening, public toilets and maintenance of streets, motor parks, and public taps has not been afforded constitutional status.

  • Looking at the Cameroon constitution of January 18th 1996, article 55 (2) which states that the regional and local authorities shall have administrative and financial autonomy and shall be freely administered by elected councils, but the problem is; does the local government have autonomy.
  • According to article 58 (1) (2) which states that city mayors shall represent the state in regions, they shall be responsible for national interests, administrative control, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations as well as maintaining law and order. They shall under the authority of the government supervise and coordinate state activities in the region.


Decentralisation as a strategy was introduced in Cameroon in an attempt to solve the problem in the two English speaking regions of Cameroon as it involves the transfer of powers from the central government to local governments.


It implies the local government manage their resources and budget by themselves. Foquet (2014:12) also noted that, African countries took deliberate initiatives to reform their Public services with a key agenda of improving service delivery to the citizens through decentralising roles and responsibilities to Local Government Authorities.


Yet, despite these policy reform initiatives, contrasting outcomes of decentralisation are being witnessed between and within countries, with marked divergence in anticipated outcomes related to public services.


Several studies underscore the positive impact of decentralisation (Faguet, 2012:14) while others show its detrimental effect (Treisman, 2006:243) and even some show no effect at all (Khaleghian, 2003:512) or mixed evidence (Smith &Revell, 2016:213).


The question here is that, has decentralisation been efficient in service delivery in Limb II municipality. It is for this reason that this study seeks to investigate decentralisation as an efficient mechanism for service delivery in Cameroon, the case of Limbe II municipality in the southwest region of Cameroon.


1.3 Research Questions

The study seeks to examine the extent to which decentralisation provides an efficient service delivery in Limbe II municipality


1.3.1 Specific Research Questions of the Study

The following are specific research questions of this study

  1. To what extent does the application of decentralisation relate to efficient service delivery in Limbe II municipality
  2. What is the perception of end users of health and social service delivery in the context of decentralisation in Limbe II municipality?
  3. What are the challenges faced by local authorities in effective service delivery in Limbe II municipality?


1.4 Main Research Objective

The main objective of this study is to establish a relationship between the decentralisation process of the country and the efficient provision of services in the Limbe II municipality.


1.4.1 Specific Objectives of the Study

The specific objectives of the study are to:

  1. Examine the link between the application of decentralisation and efficient service delivery in the Limbe II municipality
  2. Assess the perception of end users of health and social service delivery in the context of decentralisation in Limbe II municipality
  3. Evaluate the challenges faced by local authorities in effective service delivery in Limbe II municipality