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Political History and Culture Have Lasting Effects on Accountability, but They Can Eventually Be Overcome Through Persistent Institutional and Incentive Reforms

Last, but not least, political culture and legacy seem to be lasting determinants for the existence of effective accountability systems.46 Many of the GDN case studies show the pervasive influence of these factors on both the degree and effectiveness of service delivery decentralization efforts, on the existence and operation of formal participatory mechanisms—including the actual degree and effectiveness of citizen’s participation—and on the degree and effectiveness of the use of competitive modes of delivery, including private participation.

This conclusion appears with special force when comparing the positive effects of decentralization and direct citizens participatory channels found in countries with a long history of local self-government, such as India, with the very limited effects of the same mechanisms apparent in most countries that come from highly centralized and hierarchical systems, with no previous culture of citizens’ participation, such as most of the Central and Eastern European countries included in some of the GDN case studies. In the latter, by and large, despite recent reforms, decentralization and formal participatory systems have advanced much less, and appear to have been much less effective, largely because of the lack of a culture of participation and accountability. The exception of this rule, Slovenia, comes from a longer history of (school) autonomy and parents and community participation in decision-making than the rest.

A couple of quotes from some of the GDN case studies illustrate this general conclusion. The authors of the comparative study of the roads system in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan conclude, “Like in Soviet times, citizens have a lack of belief that they can affect or bring any changes in general and on public service delivery patterns in particular. As a result, they often remain passive and/or resort to informal mechanisms to resolve their issues, though formal mechanisms are available (while they are usually more time consuming) to tackle the issue. Therefore, quite often it is hard to say whether the centralization of the state or passive citizens’ participation contribute more to the ineffective public service delivery and accountability.”47 Similarly, the authors of the comparative study on the education quality assurance systems in six Central and Southeast European countries conclude, “In-depth interviews with stakeholders confirm indeed that ... the relationship between service providers and policymaker is powerbased, top-down, hierarchical. The idea persists among service providers that they indeed should and do account for their actions much rather to the administration (ministry, and foremost inspectorates) than to parents/ students.” Further, they conclude that this happens “because of low citizen participation in public service delivery in general in our part of the world (due to socialist legacy, frail states/democracy, weak civil society, etc.), and parents' participation in education makes no exception.” Their study shows that most “parent representatives” end up being teachers and public ofhcials themselves and act more as such than as real parent representatives.

These are admittedly extreme cases, but political culture and legacy also seem to help explain the unsatisfactory results of formal participatory mechanisms in Peru and the Philippines, as well as the mixed results of reforms in decentralization, direct citizen’s participation and modes of provision in most other cases examined in the GDN project.

Peru had a legacy of a highly centralized and hierarchical management of public policy, service delivery and public expenditures, if not as extreme as those in Central and Eastern Europe. As a consequence, the authors found that in Peru, though decentralization was recently enacted, from the top, and local participatory budgeting became mandatory, the lack of a participatory culture has contributed to inhibit its practical development, as many authorities and citizens pay only formalistic or no attention to it. The authors conclude that the lack of a culture of citizens participation and accountability of officials, coupled with deficiencies in the design of participatory budgeting and its scope, seems to explain its lack of a significant impact on water service outcomes.48

in a similar fashion, the Philippines case study authors concluded that the perpetuation of the previous regime, with authoritarian and clien- telistic practices and culture (“bossism”) is largely responsible for the observed ineffectiveness of formal participatory mechanisms and local government involvement in education. The authors conclude: “Local leaders continue to be seen as patrons and beneficiaries continue to be seen as just their political clientele, as was the case in the previous regime.”49 They show how the persistence of this patronage/clientelistic political culture permeates and makes the formal budgeting participatory channels largely ineffective.

Similarly, most of the African case studies in the GDN project found uneven or weak effects of decentralization and formal participatory systems, and the authors also concluded that the lack of a well-developed accountability culture among officials and participatory culture among citizens was a major factor in explaining their results.

It appears to be clear from all these cases that a culture of accountability and participation takes a long time to develop from both ends. “Demand” for information on budgets, actual costs and performance by the users or beneficiaries does not appear overnight when coming from highly centralized or authoritarian regimes. Similarly, on the supply side, regular and transparent sharing of useful information on costs and outcomes with citizens and users, either by policy makers or service delivery agents, appears to evolve slowly in such cases.

But a culture of participation can develop as a consequence of sustained institutional reforms that create adequate incentives. There is thus significant path-dependence in the development of effective accountability mechanisms. However, political determination and continuity in changing the incentive structure, through more adequate institutions and policies, can lead to significant changes in political culture, effective accountability and service delivery outcomes in a few decades, as appears to be the case in the Chilean educational system. Chile, as several other countries in our sample, also came from a tradition of a highly centralized and hierarchical management of public policy, service delivery and public expenditures. But it appears to have moved fast into a culture of effective accountability in basic education.

indeed, as mentioned, the authors of the comparative study on the Chilean and uruguayan educational systems highlighted that both countries had a hierarchical organization and management of the educational sector (and of service delivery in general) until the 1980s. Then Chile engaged persistently in aggressive decentralization and pro-competition reforms among schools, student tests publication, performance-based teacher’s incentives and participatory mechanisms, while Uruguay did not. Chile has since significantly improved outcomes in terms of coverage, quality and equity, while Uruguay has not. As a consequence, although the Uruguayan educational system had historically higher coverage, quality and equity of results, Chile eventually surpassed Uruguay in most outcome measures along these dimensions.

At the same time, this comparative case study found that while parental influence in staffing and budgeting of schools is not very frequent in Uruguay, neither in private nor in public schools, it seems to be relatively important in public and private subsidized schools in Chile.50 Regarding curriculum and assessment, parents do not seem to have much influence in either country, but, again, it is somewhat higher in Chilean public and private subsidized schools.

The authors summarize their conclusions as follows: “while in Chile principals and teachers were acquainted with the notion of accountability and all of the interviewees embraced it as a desirable aspect of a healthy education system, in Uruguay the notion was no part of the discourse of actors interviewed and there was a tendency to associate it with economic transparency in schools and not with responsibility of stakeholders over educational achievements”. As noted above, this change of school culture in chile has gone hand in hand with increased parent pressure on school performance, closely linked to the public dissemination of average school student’s tests, while parents remain essentially passive in Uruguay.

in synthesis, though history, political institutions and political culture matter a lot, the comparison of the chilean and uruguayan educational systems offers some hope that an effective accountability and participatory culture can be built over time, if authorities persist in implementing institutional reforms that provide adequate incentives.

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