What impact has Tanzania’s Local Government Reform Programme (LGRP) had on governance, finance and service delivery? Have public services been improved? This briefing by Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA) summarises research on the programmes’ progress in six local councils. Despite developments in decision-making processes, accounting and service delivery, it is clear that devolution takes a long time to achieve and that sustainable change will require continued effort, commitment and leadership.
The LGRP aims to transfer duties and financial resources from central to local government. Local governments are considered to be better placed to identify needs and public service requirements by encouraging citizens’ participation.
In the six councils studied, a majority report improvement in local government service delivery, particularly in primary education and health. However, the accessibility and affordability of clinics and dispensaries produced high levels of citizen dissatisfaction. There was no significant improvement in water supply and accessibility, and half the population in some council districts do not receive adequate water supply services.
There is a need for more efficient and accountable financial management:
- There are no effective instruments and procedures for citizens to use to hold council officials accountable.
- Corruption was perceived as a widespread problem, although many people also have confidence in council officials.
- The fiscal autonomy of rural councils is limited both in terms of revenue and expenditure. The abolition and rationalisation of many local revenue sources has increased rural and urban councils’ dependence on central government grants.
- Gaps between budgets and accounts indicate the quality and realism of council budgeting.
- Local government authorities face numerous and competing reporting requirements from central government and are constrained by lack of technical and staff capacity.
Sustained commitment from political, administrative and civic leaders is necessary to achieve the LGRP’s objectives. Devolution is a long-term process that should use failures as learning opportunities, rather than as excuses for abolishing reforms. Lessons from Tanzania include:
- Fiscal reporting requirements must be simplified, and a reliable, consistent and updated local database on finances and expenditures is necessary. This requires building capacity at the local and central levels.
- Methods to improve the credibility of the auditing process include: strengthening the Internal Auditor’s (IA) office through recruitment and retention incentives, simplifying councils’ bank account systems and improving coordination between the IA and the Controller and Auditor General.
- Using written and oral methods to present easily understandable budget and accounting information to the public strengthens transparency and accountability.
- Civil society participation in fiscal and financial monitoring can complement formal mechanisms and strengthen the legitimacy of local authorities.