The improvement of service delivery through decentralization and capacity building, Sierra Leone


With the 2004 Local Government Act, the Government of Sierra Leone embarked on a nationwide decentralization reform programme. Its goal was to improve the delivery of basic services and increase participation in decision making processes. The programme was critical in addressing the country’s longstanding issues of a highly centralized governance structure, which excluded the majority of the population and was a key cause of the country’s drawn-out conflict that ended in 2002.

Development results

Sierra Leone has achieved notable success in reestablishing local government in a fragile post-conflict environment. Development results include significant improvements in service delivery. In health, for instance, clinic infrastructure, availability of drugs, and numbers of staff have all increased, and public satisfaction with health services rose from 81 percent to more than 90 percent between 2005 and 2006. Household surveys also show improved rural access to primary education, and the percentage of households within 30 minutes’ walking distance of a school grew from 68 percent in 2005 to 74 percent in 2008.

Enhanced performance

These results are related to the improvement in local councils’ capacity to supervise service delivery and perform administrative functions. Local governments are now in a position to contribute to service and infrastructure, such as water and sanitation, feeder roads, and offgrid power. Local councils hold regular meetings and produce minutes, citizens participate in meetings, participatory development planning has taken root (although scope remains for improvement), accounts are completed on time and regularly audited, and financial information is disclosed.

The strategy also sought to orient, sensitize, and educate all key stakeholders on the new local government system, and the roles and responsibilities, functional relationships, and accountabilities of various agencies. The stakeholders targeted were government ministries, departments, and agencies, local councils, training institutions, civil society, media, NGOs, and the private sector.

Surveys of trust in public institutions have been encouraging. They suggest that public confidence in local councillors has increased over time, with local councils making the largest gains among political institutions between 2007 and 2008.

These improvements would have not been possible without the Local Government Act that created a framework for fiscal decentralization through tied grants to local councils to carry out the responsibilities devolved to them and to meet their administrative costs. Budgeted transfers to local councils increased from Le19 billion in 2005 to Le34 billion in 2009, an increase of 44 percent. With the exception of 2007, when there were national elections, actual transfers increased during the same period by 150 percent, reflecting an increase in budgeted transfers from about 70 percent in 2005 to about 98 percent in 2009. The provisional figures for 2010 indicate that the budgeted amount for that year was more than 50 percent higher than for 2009 and that the actual transfers were higher than the budgeted amounts. This is a remarkable achievement for a country with a history of centralization.

Support to the capacity development process

National investments

The process of decentralization, strongly advocated by the Decentralization Secretariat and the Local Government Finance Department, was made possible by investments in capacity development at the institutional, organizational, and individual levels. In particular, the legislative framework provided by the reestablishment of local governments, and the associated regulations for political, fiscal, and administrative decentralization provided (with some exceptions) a robust foundation for decentralization by devolving key functions from the central government to local councils.

Investment in capacity development focused on strengthening local governance through a rapid results approach and action learning on prioritization of development issues, using development project funding, participatory planning processes, coaching for senior officers, and technical and managerial training. Publishing local council rankings based on the Comprehensive Local Government Performance Assessment System, and linking those scores to development funding, offers a strong incentive for strengthening administrative performance. Local councils are now fully staffed and operational: each council has a core staff of development planners, internal auditors, monitoring and evaluation officers, and procurement officers with the necessary capacity to manage their service delivery functions.

Development partners’ support

The process of decentralization in Sierra Leone was supported by the Institutional Reform and Capacity Building Project (financed by the International Development Association). Its project development objective was to “support the post-conflict Government of Sierra Leone to establish a functioning local government system and improve inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability of public resource management at all levels of government”. A multi-donor trust fund financed by the European Commission and the UK Department for International Development also provided support.

The project’s capacity building approach involved a conscious effort to enable local councils to enhance their abilities to identify and sustainably address development challenges. The capacity building programme did not limit itself to training or transfer of knowledge and skills -- the traditional focus of capacity building programmes -- but helped develop the necessary environment for stakeholders to effectively undertake their responsibilities. Accordingly, capacity building support was provided for information, education and communication activities, training, organizational and institutional development, financing and financial management, physical infrastructure, and logistics and equipment.

(The story draws from V. Srivastava and M. Larizza. 2011, “Decentralization in Postconflict Sierra Leone: The Genie Is Out of the Bottle”, in P.Chuhan-Pole and M. Angwafo (eds) Yes Africa Can: Success Stories from a Dynamic Continent, Washington D.C, World Bank.)

Year of publication: 
LenCD "Capacity: Results"
Themes and sectors: 
Decentralisation and local government
Themes and sectors: 
Public administration

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