Accountability Failures and the Decentralisation of Service Delivery in Pakistan

S K Mohmand, A Cheema


Historically, Pakistan’s rapid economic growth has not been matched by advances in social development. So, were the 2001 local government decentralisation reforms effective in improving the magnitude and quality of provision of essential public services? This paper published by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) examines the impact of these reforms in rural Pakistan over a three year period in a set of case study villages. Evidence from these villages suggests that, while the provision of targeted services has increased, the quality and provision of universal services has not.

Local Government Ordinance 2001 (LGO 2001) represented an attempt to address recognised accountability failures through local government reforms. It sought to redesign political, electoral and administrative structures at local level in order to increase the accountability of service providers to local citizens. This paper looks at perceptions of pre- and post-reform provision and quality in four villages in rural Punjab three years after the reforms were instituted. It also draws on a 2004 Pakistan-wide social audit designed to track changes in service delivery.

The key features of the reforms and the rationale behind them are outlined below:

  • Key provincial functions were devolved to district and tehsil (rural) levels.
  • Provincial line departments at the district and tehsil levels were placed under the authority of elected governments.
  • Changes in institutional arrangements aimed to foster citizen participation in service delivery and oversight.
  • Electoral reform aimed to create a direct link of accountability between patrons and union level citizenry.

Nevertheless, poor quality state-provided healthcare and education has persisted. Poor quality provision of universal services has differentially affected the lives of girls, small landholders and low caste citizens. Whilst incomplete implementation of fiscal decentralisation is partly responsible for the lack of impact of the reforms, weaknesses in administrative procedures and local government structures may be more significant.

  • The government continues to concentrate on the provision of targeted services (e.g. sanitation drains) despite the declining quality of universal services.
  • Villages which have strong representation on union councils are more likely to benefit from improved targeted services. This may be because targeted services are tangible and visible and therefore representatives cater to their own village-specific factions.
  • Universal services are less visible and less easily targeted to specific groups and therefore not directly attributable to union representatives. Citizens are not yet able to hold local universal service providers accountable.
  • Lack of improvement in universal services may also be the result of accountability failure at district, not union, level. Local government reforms have not been complemented by bureaucratic reforms below the district level. While unions are directly accountable to local citizens, they do not have the authority to hold local level service providers accountable.
  • The poor performance of citizen participation bodies such as school councils is contested. Citizens maintain that the councils are partisan. Unions insist that factional divisions within the villages spill over into councils.


Khan Mohmand, S., and Cheema, A., 2007, 'Accountability Failures and the Decentralisation of Service Delivery in Pakistan', IDS Bulletin, vol. 38, no. 1, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, pp. 45-59