Understanding the Importance of Devolution

In response to the demands for greater self-determination, influence in decision-making and efficiency in the delivery of services and goods, many countries are devolving political, fiscal, and administrative powers to sub-national levels of government.

Devolution, often prompted in a Unitarian state, is a form of decentralization Opens in new window oriented towards the transfer of power from the central government to lower governments at the regional (i.e., provincial) level.

It entails the existence of local communities endowed with democratically constituted decision-making bodies and possessing a wide degree of autonomy with regard to their responsibilities, the ways and means by which those responsibilities are exercised, and the financial resources required for their fulfillment.

To shed more light, devolution reflects the political evolution towards more democratic and participatory forms of government that seek to improve the responsiveness and accountability of political leaders to their electorates.

It is premised on the fundamental belief that human beings can govern themselves in peace and dignity in pursuit of their collective well-being, once they are entrusted with control of their own destiny through the system of popular regional authorities or local democratic institutions.

Devolution differs from federalism Opens in new window and does not necessarily turn the unitary system into a federal one. The reason that devolution does not automatically lead to federelism brings on the topic of sovereignty.

Under the framework of devolution, the central government does not surrender its ultimate sovereignty Opens in new window to the lower level of government. The powers are not reserved to the lower level, and thus they may be taken back at any time.

In practice, however, once power is given to a unit of government, taking it back becomes difficult. Even if a central government has maintained the right to take back devolved powers, it may decide that it is politically impossible to do so.

Goals of Devolution

One of the goals of devolution is to ensure that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and business they affect.

Other goals of devolution may be summarized as follows:

  • to promote popular participation;
  • to empower local people to make decisions;
  • to enhance accountability and responsibility;
  • to introduce efficiency and effectiveness in the generation and management of resources;
  • to provide greater freedoms and flexibilities at a local level, meaning councils can work more effectively to improve public services for their area;
  • to transfer political, administrative and economic authority from the center to local communities;
  • to ensure more effective, better targeted public services, greater growth and stronger partnerships between public, private and community leaders in local areas.

Effective devolution of power result in the delivery of most government services by the local level, be it a regional or sub-regional government, thus alleviating the burden from already over-extended central governments (Stoddard, 1997: 85).

Because citizens participate in the conduct of public affairs more directly at the local level, the existence of devolved authorities that are given real responsibilities can provide an administration that is both effective and close to the citizen.

Unlike more centralized systems, this provides for more flexible responses attuned to local needs. It opens up opportunities for innovation and experimentation in policy formulation and service delivery. It can alleviate the workload of an over-stretched central government Opens in new window, something that is especially important to African States in view of the numerous tasks of development and transformation with which they are typically faced (Simeon, 1995).

related literatures:
  1. Joan Campbell, Sue Patrick, GCSE Citizenship Studies for AQA, (p.12-18) Devolution — Regional Government in the UK
  2. J. S. H. Gildenhuys, The Philosophy of Public Administration- A Holistic Approach: An ... (p. 95) Devolution of Authority and Autonomy
  3. Lowell Barrington, Comparative Politics: Structures and Choices, (p. 217) "Devolving" Government Powers from Central Governments to Lower Levels
  4. Muna Ndulo, Democratic Reform in Africa: Its Impact on Governance & Poverty Alleviation, (p. 81-83) Good Governance and the Devolution of Power.