Decentralization and the Management of Human Resources in East Asia
Draft Working Paper for the Flagship Study on Decentralization in EAP
Amanda E. Green
June 4, 2004
DRAFT: Please do not cite
Draft – Please Do Not Cite
Introduction and Objectives
A central rationale for decentralization is that, by bringing government closer to the people, it
brings the activities and decisions of government closer in line with the preferences of the
people. Yet, in practice, the civil service – a critical component of government – rarely enters the
decision calculus of decentralization design. Its importance often comes as an afterthought,
rather than as an instrument for successfully managing decentralization. This is lamentable, but
not surprising, as decentralization is quintessentially a political process. In the East Asia region,
whether it was the desire to quell the forces of regional disintegration in the Philippines and
Indonesia, the urgent need to meet the demands of economic transition in China and Vietnam, or
increased pressure for improved service delivery and greater citizen participation in Cambodia
and Thailand, the primary motivation for decentralization has been political – notwithstanding
the varied proximate causes.
The common failure to address the details of civil service management as an integral part of the
decentralization package has significant implications for the success of decentralization. Civil
servants form a crucial link between the delivery of financial resources to the government and
the delivery of essential public services to the people.1 The relationship between decentralization
and civil service management is a two-way process. First, the way in which civil servants behave
has important consequences for government performance in a decentralized setting. Second, and
conversely, decentralization alters both the incentives of and demands on the civil service.
Managing these changes is crucial for realizing the benefits of bringing government closer to the
Accordingly, this paper will argue that human resource management should be treated as an
essential component in the design of decentralization reforms, rather than as a separate, stand-
alone process. In doing so, the discussion will marshal evidence from across East Asia and
around the world. The following section will present a framework for exploring the interaction
between administrative decentralization and civil service management, in terms of the theoretical
objectives of decentralization and its implications for local governments’ ability to achieve those
objectives on the ground, as well. Section III will delve into the realities of administrative
decentralization in East Asia through the experiences of six countries – Cambodia, China,
Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – whose varied approaches and responses offer
insights into the process of managing civil servants in a decentralized setting. Finally, Section IV
will examine the central dilemmas that arise in the design of administrative decentralization and
attempt to draw some lessons on how countries in East Asia and beyond can maximize the
benefits and minimize the dangers of decentralizing the delivery of public services.
The Interplay between Decentralization and Human Resource Management
Decentralization is a spectrum rather than a single state. Under deconcentration, local services
are delivered by the central government through regional outposts. The staff in those branch
offices report to the central government, and are considered to be national civil servants. Under
World Bank 2003a, p. 91.
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delegation, responsibilities are transferred to local governments or agencies that are not fully
controlled by the central government, but are accountable to it. Under devolution, the central
government transfers functions and the accompanying decision-making authority to more or less
autonomous local governments that are held accountable not to the center but to constituents (see
Figure 1: Key Features of Administrative Decentralization
Deconcentration Delegation Devolution
(minimal change) (intermediate change) (substantial change)
Provider staff working at local Providers could be employees Providers are employees of
level are employees of & of central or local government, local government.
accountable to center, usually but pay & employment Local government has full
through their ministries; weak conditions are typically set by discretion over salary levels,
local capacity is compensated for center. allocation & numbers of staff,
by central employees. Local government has some & authority to hire & fire.
Accountability remains distant: the authority over hiring & location Standards & procedures for
short route of accountability may of staff, but less likely to have hiring & managing staff may
be weak if provider monitoring is authority over firing. still be established within an
weak, & citizens may have to rely Both long & short routes of overarching civil service
on a weak long route stretching to accountability potentially framework covering local
politicians at the center; a strong stronger; greater local governments generally.
compact between policymakers & knowledge can allow better Potentially strongest long &
providers can compensate to some matching & monitoring of short routes to accountability,
extent. supply with local preferences, but influenced by local social
strengthening both the compact norms & vulnerable to local
& client power. capacity constraints & politics.
Source: Adapted from World Bank 2003h, p. 189.
Overall, East Asian countries fall into the intermediate category, with local managers enjoying
some freedom to recruit and allocate staff, subject to central guidelines on pay levels and total
employment numbers. The Philippines and Indonesia have moved the furthest along the
decentralization continuum in both law and practice, though in both cases the central government
has retained considerable control over civil service wages at the local level. China and Vietnam
have taken a more opportunistic approach, which has allowed for experimentation with different
degrees of local autonomy, but the central government and Communist Party continue to
influence how decentralization plays out. In Thailand, an intermediate form of administrative
decentralization has been defined in the legal framework, but for the most part, has yet to
materialize in practice. Finally, Cambodia can best be described as a deconcentrated system, with
a high proportion of staff based in the field but working on behalf of the central government.
Movement along the spectrum of administrative decentralization depends in part on interactions
with the political and fiscal dimensions of decentralization. For example, a local government that
has full authority over the size of its civil service establishment can nonetheless be constrained
See Litvack, Ahmad and Bird, 1998.
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by restrictions on the use of funds transferred from the center. Similarly, the strength of a
country’s accountability framework is influenced by whether political decentralization has
created institutions for locally elected politicians to oversee the activities of local governments.
The consequences of a mismatch in the dimensions of decentralization are illustrated in the case
studies presented in Section III.
What Makes a Decentralized Civil Service Work?3
To better understand the opportunities and obstacles that a country may encounter on the road to
administrative decentralization, it is first useful to consider the end destination. A functioning
system of decentralized civil service management, as distinct from a centrally directed model,
can be defined by several key characteristics:
Local government functions are clearly defined so that staff know what is expected of
them and managers can adapt the size and structure of the local civil service according to
what needs to be done, without inefficient gaps or overlap with other levels of
Local government is able to allocate staff across functions as needed. This requires civil
service managers to have autonomy, or at least influence, over the overall local
establishment as well as the deployment of staff across different departments or facilities.
Local government is able to attract and retain qualified individuals, and to build a team
with a diverse set of skills. This requires that local government have something to offer,
either through competitive pay, career opportunities, prestige or other incentives.
Local government has flexibility in managing financial resources. Management of civil
servants requires management of their cost, either directly through pay levels or
indirectly through staff numbers.
Local government can hold staff to account for their performance. This requires the
capacity to supervise and monitor civil servants, the ability to reward good performance
through pay increases, promotions or other benefits, and the authority to punish deficient
performance through disciplinary measures or dismissals.
There are many reasons why some or all of these criteria may not be met. In some cases, it is a
failure of design. For example, as mentioned above, the administrative autonomy of local
governments may be constrained by comparatively limited independence on fiscal or political
matters. In other cases, it is by design. First, keeping local civil services under the umbrella of
central direction can ensure a degree of standardization in working conditions across the country.
Otherwise, local governments in poorer areas will find it difficult to compete against richer areas,
and national coverage of public services may suffer. Second, central government involvement in
staffing at all levels may expand the scope of civil servants’ career paths by opening the channels
between local and central employment. Third, the center may wish to retain control over hiring
and pay as a means to shield sub-national governments from local political pressure to
This section draws upon Evans and Manning, 2003.
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overspend. Fourth, centralized rules can be important in sectors that require minimum
professional qualifications to be met nationwide, as with teachers, doctors and nurses. Fifth,
where ethnic or other tensions threaten stability, the central government may wish to use the civil
service as a tool for national integration. Finally, in some cases, the central government’s
reluctance to decentralize may stem simply from a desire to retain control in the center.
Implications of Decentralization
How a country resolves this tension between the motivations for civil service decentralization on
the one hand, and the reasons for caution on the other, will shape the design of decentralization
policies and, ultimately, how the process plays out over time. The implications of this move
toward local civil service management can be examined along four critical dimensions: capacity,
incentives, autonomy and accountability. Each of these factors plays a significant role in the
success of decentralization and is, in turn, heavily influenced by the decentralization process.
These four dimensions are closely interlinked, and there are critical trade-offs among them. For
example, civil service training programs are not likely to strengthen capacity in a sustainable
way unless incentives are structured to motivate civil servants to use what they learn. Similarly,
improvements in accountability at the local level require that civil servants have the capacity,
through the availability of accounts and records, to render that accountability effectively. Finally,
it is difficult to hold local civil service managers accountable for their decisions when they do
not exercise autonomy in making those decisions.
Capacity. In order for civil servants to deliver the higher quality of local services often
envisioned under decentralization, they need to have the capacity to do so. This involves both
individual and institutional elements. First, the success of decentralization depends on the
capability of individual civil servants to take on new tasks, both at central and local levels.
Second, the institutional capacity of local governments can be constrained by their smaller size
and smaller budgets. The process of decentralization itself can have important implications for
capacity needs at the local government level. The devolution of public service responsibilities to
local civil servants requires both a broader variety of skills and a greater intensity of knowledge
in specific areas, such as financial management and performance monitoring. However, some of
these skills will be transferred to local governments if the devolution of functions is accompanied
by the relocation of central government staff. The decentralization of civil service management
places new demands on local government leaders as they learn to supervise staff, to acquire more
resources and management autonomy from the center, to interact with local constituents and
elected officials, and to develop local institutional capacity over time. Similarly, the skill set of
central government employees shifts increasingly from “doing” to facilitating and supervising.
Incentives. In some cases, what appears to be a lack of capacity to carry out the functions of
decentralized government is instead a lack of motivation to act in the public interest. The
structure and management of the civil service influence the outcome of decentralization reforms
by affecting how local civil servants behave. The level of pay and benefits, options for career
mobility, and degree to which merit is recognized or unsatisfactory performance punished can
determine the dedication with which a civil servant works, as well as the type of individual who
chooses to become a civil servant in the first place. Decentralizing functional and management
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responsibilities to the local level in turn modifies the incentive structures of local civil servants.
The proximity of local government to the recipients of public services can tighten the link
between effort and results. However, some local civil service structures are too small to offer
significant opportunities for career advancement, and poorer local governments may be unable to
pay adequate salaries. In remote areas, the combination of low pay and difficult conditions may
create a vicious circle, in which the inability to attract high-quality staff leads to a further
deterioration in conditions.
Autonomy. The argument that decentralization increases the responsiveness of civil servants to
citizen preferences assumes that local managers have the authority to respond to the demands of
their constituents. Local autonomy over the allocation of human resources can improve civil
service efficiency by allowing managers the flexibility to hire staff whose skills align with
planned activities, to discipline or dismiss ineffective staff, or to trim numbers in order to keep
local costs down. Though less common at the local level, direct financial autonomy – such as the
ability to set pay levels or to charge user fees – can improve staff performance and thereby
enhance the benefits of decentralization. However, to achieve these benefits, performance
incentives and accountability frameworks must be strong enough to prevent inefficiency and
mismanagement. By definition, it would seem that administrative decentralization would
augment local autonomy, but this is not always the case. Quite often, a significant degree of
control is retained by the center, particularly in financially sensitive areas such as wage levels
and establishment size and even more so when the extent of local capacity and accountability are
in question. (See Table 1 for a stylized, but useful comparison of East Asian countries).
Table 1: Central Authority over the Sub-National Civil Service in East Asia
Cambodia China Indonesia Philippines Thailand Vietnam
Legislation & regulations:
Designation 1 2 3 2-3 2 1
Recruitment 1 4 3 3 2 2-3
Structure & career mgmt:
Establishment control 1 3 2 2-3 2 1
Appointment and mobility 2 3 3 4 2 3
Employment framework 1 1 1 3 1 1
Standard setting and rewards 2 2 3 3 2 2
Training and development 2 3 3 4 3 3
Accountability 2 4 3 4 2 2
Source: World Bank 2003d, p. 16, and staff estimates.
Key: 1-total central authority; 2-central dominance; 3-central guidance; 4-central leadership; 5-autonomous
Accountability. The potential for improving service delivery through decentralization depends on
the degree to which civil servants are held to account for their performance and integrity, and to
whom they are accountable. Without a strong system of local accountability, devolving authority
and financial resources to local governments can lead to wastage or misuse of public sector
funds, and the potential for political capture at the local level can distort the benefits of
decentralization. On the other hand, where corruption is systemic at the central level, devolution
may enhance service delivery outcomes. Where political decentralization allows for oversight by
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locally elected bodies, the need for re-election offers strong incentives for better performance. If
civil society monitoring mechanisms are strong, the downward accountability of local staff will
tend to encourage a closer connection between public service delivery and citizen demands. If
accountability is only to the center, however, decentralization may not achieve the potential
benefits of bringing government closer to the people. Decentralization can in turn affect local
accountability. In shifting the responsibility for monitoring civil servants to local managers,
decentralization can make it more difficult for civil servants to get away with laziness or
corruption. The increased proximity of local citizens to government decision makers enhances
their ability to hold the public service to account for those decisions. However, if critical checks
and balances are not in place, decentralization can lead to nepotism, with local managers
rewarding family members and supporters with coveted positions in public sector employment,
and can facilitate political capture by bringing civil servants within reach of local power bases.
Taken together, the capacity, incentives, autonomy and accountability of civil servants provide
both a lens through which to evaluate the design of decentralization, and a picture of how
administrative decentralization has played out in practice. The following section will discuss
how these four dimensions of civil service management have influenced the decisions of East
Asian local governments under decentralization and how they can be leveraged to get the most
out of decentralization.
Civil Service Management on the Ground – The East Asian Experience
The structure of government and, by extension, the civil service varies greatly across East Asia.
In some countries, decentralization efforts have focused on the lowest levels of government,
while in others deconcentration to provinces has been emphasized. Countries also differ in whom
they consider to be civil servants. Some include teachers, health workers, and police in the civil
service, while others consider them to be separate. The definition of a civil servant may also be
blurred by the distinction between ministry staff on the one hand, and employees of public
service agencies or state-owned enterprises on the other. Finally, the determination of which civil
servants are sub-national employees can be defined either by the staff member’s physical
location or by the level of government from which they are paid.
Though these statistical inconsistencies complicate the cross-national comparison of civil service
structures, it is still worthwhile to attempt a broad characterization of the degree of
administrative decentralization in the region. With the above caveats in mind, Figure 2
demonstrates the wide variation in civil service structures across the region.4 The share of
employees at the sub-national level ranges from around 19 percent in Thailand to just over 90
percent in China. Another interesting indicator of the extent of administrative decentralization in
the region is the share of personnel expenditures in total spending at the sub-national level. As
shown in Figure 3, average sub-national spending on personnel ranges from roughly 41 percent
Data are for most recent available year, ranging from 2000 to 2003. Sources: Cambodia - World Bank 2003a;
China - World Bank 2002a, Annex 2; Indonesia - World Bank 2003d; Philippines - World Bank 2003f; Thailand -
Kingdom of Thailand, Office of the Civil Service Commission; Vietnam - Government of Vietnam, General
Statistical Office, 2003.
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of total spending in Thailand to around 60 percent in China.5 It is important to note, however,
that these figures do not necessarily point to China as the region’s most decentralized country.
The degree of authority exercised by sub-national civil service managers in determining the size,
structure and allocation of resources at the sub-national level plays an important role. Though
decentralization policies have focused on different levels of government in different countries,
and even within countries, Table 2 provides a general picture of how civil service management
has taken shape in practice in East Asia.
Figure 2: Sub-National Em ployees as a Share Figure 3: Personnel Spending as a Share of
of Total Governm ent Em ploym ent Total Sub-National Govt Expenditures
The remainder of this section will outline the practical experience of six East Asian countries in
dealing with the human resource implications of decentralization. In Indonesia and the
Philippines, extensive decentralization of the administrative apparatus has brought to light both
the opportunities and dangers of devolving authority to local managers. In China and Vietnam,
where decentralization has proceeded in stages, the roles of State and Party offer additional
insights into the relationship between decentralization and civil service management. Finally, in
Cambodia and Thailand, the focus on building capacity before rather than through
decentralization has resulted in limited implementation of decentralization policies but presents
an opportunity to think about how best to balance caution and progress. Together, these six case
studies explore the realities of human resource management in a decentralized setting. In
discussing both the pitfalls encountered and innovative responses devised, the following section
attempts to glean some important lessons about the interplay between capacity, incentives,
autonomy and accountability in decentralized civil service management.
Data are for most recent available year, ranging from 2000 to 2003. Sources: Cambodia - World Bank 2003a;
China - World Bank 2003b; Indonesia - World Bank 2003d; Philippines - World Bank 2003f; Thailand – Weist
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Table 2: Benchmarking Staffing Practices at the Sub-National Level
Enabling Mechanisms Cambodia China Indonesia Philippines Thailand Vietnam
Determine the wage
Authority to dismiss
Control overall staffing
Control staffing numbers
in local offices &
Authority to hire
Transfers within local
Local government civil
service cadre (horizontal
Direct and supervise
activities and tasks
Ability to discipline/fire
Set overall wage rates
Set local incentives/top-
Key: = Yes; = Partial; = No.
Source: Author’s estimates. Note: Ratings refer to the sub-national level prioritized by decentralization policy.
The Big Bang and Beyond: Philippines and Indonesia
In the Philippines and Indonesia, decentralization was an integral part of a political opening
following the overthrow of an authoritarian regime. In both these sprawling archipelagos, rising
social tensions added a note of urgency to the decision to decentralize, and local autonomy came
to be seen as the key to quelling threats to national unity. Neither government felt it had the
luxury to perfect the design of intergovernmental fiscal and administrative arrangements before
decentralizing. Following the logic that a chasm cannot be crossed in two leaps has worked well
in many ways.6 No major service disruptions were experienced in either country during the
transfer process, and the relatively open-ended design of decentralization has encouraged
Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, used this phrase to describe the Czech reform experience.
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innovative responses to new responsibilities in local areas. However, now that the dust has
settled, important challenges remain in correcting some of the imperfections brought to light by
the decentralization process. As East Asia’s two most ambitious decentralizers, the Philippines
and Indonesia provide a useful starting point discussing administrative decentralization in the
Central rules and local responses in the Philippines
The 1991 Local Government Code (LGC) provided the major impetus for “genuine and
meaningful local autonomy” in the Philippines, devolving for the first time substantial
government functions, and attendant financial and human resources, from the national to the
local level. Over 70,000 staff were transferred to the Local Government Units (LGU).
In each tier of government, the local chief executive (LCE) – governor, mayor or barangay
captain – has the authority to hire, fire, and promote staff, though subject to guidelines put in
place by the central Civil Service Commission (CSC).7 Civil servants are bound to a code of
conduct and are required by the LGC to declare their net worth and financial and business
interests. Government employees are also supposed to disclose a list of close relatives in the
public service, but this does not seem in practice to limit family connections in the civil service.
Indeed, despite the constitutional requirement that “appointments in the civil service shall be
made according to merit and fitness,”8 there are several mechanisms by which “merit and
fitness” may lose out to patronage and nepotism at the local level. For example, though the
minimum qualification standards set out by the CSC are generally met in the development of
shortlists for civil service appointments, the LCE is not bound to choose the top-ranked
Moreover, the formal appointment process does not apply to recruitment of confidential, highly
technical or non-career staff. Perhaps because these workers are relatively easy to hire, non-
career employees make up over one-third (38.6% in 2001) of total LGU staff, significantly more
than in national government agencies (4.67%).9 Furthermore, emergency and casual staff can be
retained without CSC approval for a period of up to six months. This provision is often used as a
means to circumvent central controls and delays and to avoid payment of contributions to the
national employee benefit scheme. Repeated extensions of temporary contracts lead to de facto
permanent employment, and not all LGUs advertise for non-permanent positions. This lack of
transparency undermines merit in government hiring, as temporary positions are often handed
out as patronage for loyal supporters.
The LCE’s relative flexibility in appointing staff is constrained by central regulations on
establishment size and expenditure allocations in local government. A uniform system of
position classification imposes rigidities upon much smaller local-level civil services structures.
Personal services expenditures at the local level are limited to between 45 and 55 percent of the
The exception to this general rule is the local treasurer, who is appointed by the Department of Finance, but paid
by the LGU. Manasan, p. 12.
Philippine Constitution, Article IX, Section 2 (2).
World Bank 2003e, p. 12.
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previous year’s total income, depending on the income class of the LGU.10 Salary scales and
benefit entitlements are also determined by the center. Base wages tend to be low, but are
supplemented by a complex system of both monetary and in-kind allowances and benefits. On an
aggregate level over 1992-2001, the personal services spending of LGUs averaged 56.8 percent
of the previous year’s total LGU regular income, thus exceeding the nationally mandated wage
bill cap. In municipalities, the average was 64.4 percent.11
Through the 1989 Compensation and Position Classification Act (CPCA), local government
salaries in all but first-class LGUs were originally designed to be lower than those at the center.12
However, because the salaries of national staff transferred to local government service under the
LGC remained the same, this created a wage gap between local and devolved staff. In fact, in the
lower-income municipalities, some transferred civil servants were paid more than the mayor.
This influx of better-remunerated staff imposed a budget crunch on local governments. The 1993
Salary Standardization Law (SSL), which called for the unification of pay regimes across all
levels of government, exacerbated this problem by raising salaries at the lower levels. The SSL
has also affected the incentives of civil servants by compressing salaries and thus lowering the
salary increase that an employee can expect as he or she moves up the ranks. Career mobility for
local civil servants is also restricted by the compact organizational structure of LGUs.
LGUs have responded in different ways to these central directives. Some cash-strapped LGUs
are forced to simply ignore the mandated salary scales and pay their employees less. Some local
chief executives have exercised control over their establishments by failing to fill mandatory
positions in order to leave room for additional staff or salary supplementation. Others have
attempted to lay off workers at the local level, though this has proven to be rare in practice due to
the political difficulty of retrenchments. Local governments with greater access to own-source
revenues have been able to supplement the incomes of their staff and have done so even in the
case of functions and positions whose costs are to be covered by the national government –
police, for example. Another common response to rising personnel costs has been for LGUs to
charge some personal services expenditures, such as payments for contractual workers, to other
budget lines. This crowds out non-personnel expenditures while masking the true extent of staff
costs at the local level. As the central government does not have the capacity to monitor and
enforce these regulations, LGUs have much more flexibility than implied in the legal framework.
Balancing national unity and local autonomy in Indonesia
The “big bang” implementation of Indonesia’s decentralization, ambitious and swift as it was,
brought the risk that public services would be disrupted, local unrest incited or civil servants left
unpaid. In actuality, the transition went quite smoothly. Delivery of services continued for the
most part unscathed, and expected upheavals among reassigned civil servants failed to
materialize. Over 2.1 million staff, nearly 60 percent of central government employees, were
The 45% cap applies in 1st-3rd class LGUs, and 55% in 4th-6th class LGUs.
World Bank, 2003f, p. 40. Due to the penchant for local governments to use alternate sources to supplement wage
expenditures, these official figures likely underestimate the degree to which local governments have exceeded
restrictions on personnel expenditures.
Pay scales were indexed at a fixed percentage of national government levels, ranging from 75 percent in sixth-
class LGUs to 95 percent in second-class LGUs.
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transferred to provincial and (primarily) district civil services with relatively little difficulty,
though it should be noted that few people had to physically move due to the highly
deconcentrated nature of the previous system. The process was also greatly aided by the central
government’s decision to continue paying devolved civil servants from national coffers for five
Now that Indonesia’s decentralization program is settling in, however, other complications are
coming to light. There is considerable confusion in the application of the various laws and
related regulations, leading to overlapping authority and eroding efficiency. According to Law
22 on Regional Administration, the head of region has the right to hire, fire, promote, transfer
and discipline staff. The subsequent Civil Service Law, however, maintains that authority for
civil service appointments rests first and foremost with the central government, though it can be
delegated to heads of region. Government Regulation 97/2000 allows the head of the regional
administration autonomy to determine the size of the regional establishment, but this has since
been limited, somewhat arbitrarily, by central regulations requiring nationwide advertising for
some posts. Though perhaps intended to spark inter-regional mobility, this requirement limits the
flexibility of local managers to determine staffing.
The autonomy of regional civil service managers is limited by central influence over local civil
service size and remuneration. There seems to be a “zero growth” policy in place, which may be
interpreted by regional governments as a prohibition on new hires. Pay levels and increases are
determined by the central government, regardless of their affordability at the local government
level.13 In addition, the pensions of civil servants transferred from the center are to be paid by
local governments, which can create an unsustainable burden on local governments, particularly
as the cost of pensions increases as salaries rise. In 2001, the “contingency fund” of the dana
alokasi umum (DAU) or general allocation grant, was used to cover the cost of a 14- to 30-
percent pay increase mandated by the central government. Though this transitional mechanism
was introduced with good intentions, it has created incentives for overstaffing at the local level,
as regional governments have begun to assume that excess personnel costs will be covered by
supplementary funding from the center.
Hiring and promotion decisions are to be based on merit, but anecdotal evidence indicates that
this needs strengthening, especially regarding promotions. Subject to due process, the right to
discipline and dismiss underperforming civil servants is part of the management authority of the
head of region, though dismissals are in practice. Instead, staff reassignment seems to be the
preferred penalty. Regional governments are allowed to hire contract workers provided they are
paid from their own funds. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some local governments have taken
to hiring contractors and fixed-term consultants in an effort to circumvent formal restrictions on
Recently, the civil service agency, BKN, has begun to define job classifications and associated
qualification requirements for the civil service as a whole, including regional governments. The
Indonesian government has also been developing minimum standards for service delivery,
Some local governments, though, have begun to informally supplement salaries. Also, several regional allowances
are offered which are imperfectly recorded.
Cumberford and Gervais, para. 13.
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including directives regarding the supervision of minimum wage levels. Heads of region have
generally been enthusiastic about this initiative, both because they prefer to be held accountable
to established criteria rather than to arbitrary standards set by local parliaments, and because they
expect to receive increased funding in exchange for taking on greater responsibilities. 15 In
principle, minimum service standards can improve civil service management by offering some
basis for unity among public servants, ensuring a minimum level of civil service performance
across the country, and enhancing local accountability through improved understanding of what
is expected of local civil servants. In Indonesia, however, many standards are being issued
without adequate thought to their feasibility and affordability at the local level. To be effective,
minimum standards must be designed carefully, so that they are specific enough to provide clear
direction on what is expected of the local civil service, but not so detailed as to hamstring
The design of decentralization in Indonesia is constricting the inter-regional mobility of civil
servants, and therefore their career paths. Because local staff are no longer members of the
central civil service, there is no streamlined system for relocation to other areas. Mobility seems
to be further limited by discriminatory hiring practices at the regional level. Despite regulations
designed to prevent this, reports indicate that some heads of region are engaging in preferential
treatment of locals over staff from other areas or discriminating on the basis of ethnicity or other
special interests. Many regions have resisted taking on staff transferred from the center, in large
part due to ethnic tensions (central civil servants are primarily Javanese) and to the association of
staff in Jakarta with the authoritarian rule of Soeharto.16 Inter-regional mobility of civil servants
is important, however, in ensuring national unity and guaranteeing acceptable levels of service
delivery in more remote regions. Possible measures to address this issue include joint training
across regions or the introduction of a secondment system to place central civil servants in local
areas for a time.
Ironing out the wrinkles
In both the Philippines and Indonesia, the decision to decentralize was considered a necessary
step in keeping the nation together and regaining the trust of dissatisfied local governments.
There was a strong sense that decentralization plans could not await the relatively long process
of institutional development and capacity building, and thus that human and institutional
capabilities should be expanded over the course of the decentralization process. This approach
succeeded in focusing the policy agenda on the actual transfer of functions and management
authority to the local level, but left in its wake some unfinished business that must now be
Capacity. Decentralization policies in the Philippines and Indonesia have focused on the lowest
tier of local government, but implementation of devolved functions is running up against the
limited capacity of staff in these administrations, particularly in the areas of planning, budgeting
and financial management. In response, the Government of Indonesia has laudably adopted a
National Framework for Capacity Building, but will now have to work toward financing and
implementation of this plan. In the Philippines, the continuing mismatch between needed and
Ibid, p. 12.
World Bank, “Subnational Government.”
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available skills at the local level points to a need for improved coordination in the training of
local civil servants. Most activities are currently provided in isolation, either by individual
central government agencies or by LGUs themselves.
Incentives. The decentralization process has also affected incentive structures at the local level.
Both the Philippines and Indonesia have encountered difficulties in the design of
intergovernmental financing mechanisms. The Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) in the
Philippines has not followed the assignment of functions as closely as it could, flooding some
localities with excess resources while saddling others with unfunded mandates. The former
situation skews incentives toward overspending and overstaffing, and the latter discourages long-
term planning and maintenance expenditures. In Indonesia, the central government demonstrated
its willingness to use the DAU to cover any local government shortfall on salary payments, thus
creating an implicit incentive for overstaffing in regional governments. In both countries,
performance incentives of individual civil servants are dampened by compressed salary
structures, ineffective monitoring of performance results and weak links between performance
and pay. These incentive effects have been compounded by a lack of mobility within the civil
service – vertically in the case of the Philippines, and horizontally in Indonesia.
Autonomy. Despite these restrictions on individual staff, the autonomy of local civil service
managers in the Philippines and Indonesia is the highest among the developing nations of East
Asia. Yet in both countries, the central government has retained some control, particularly in the
definition of pay levels for local civil servants. Sub-national governments are subject to national
wage scales that impose significant fiscal burdens, especially in poorer localities. Local budgets
have recently been strained by the additional weight of sudden salary increases imposed by the
center. In Indonesia, these were covered by the DAU, but in the Philippines, the Salary
Standardization Law has yet to be fully implemented because it is unaffordable for several
LGUs. Another unfunded mandate that impinges upon the management autonomy of local civil
service managers in the Philippines is the 1993 Magna Carta of Public Health Workers Act, a
generous package of wage and benefit guarantees extended to health employees by the central
government as an inducement to accept devolution to the local level. This has increased an
already noticeable gap in the remuneration levels of local versus devolved staff, and has imposed
significant costs on LGUs while reducing the ability of local civil service managers to allocate
resources according to need. In both Indonesia and the Philippines, limits on local management
authority have led local managers to circumvent established regulations by hiring staff on a
temporary basis and topping up salaries with non-transparent allowances.
Accountability. The tendency to go around the rules may reflect an adaptive response on the part
of local civil service managers to do what needs to be done, but the resulting lack of clarity and
transparency poses a considerable risk in terms of reduced accountability and vulnerability to
corruption at the local level. In the Philippines, weak controls on staff appointment open the door
for patronage and nepotism in local government. In Indonesia, though the speed of
decentralization most likely prevented vested interests from influencing the outcome of
decentralization policies in their favor, there is evidence that local positions are bought and sold
in return for the promised rewards of graft in the public service. 17 The accountability of local
civil servants is further threatened by a lack of clarity, in Indonesia because of imprecise roles
World Bank 2003c, pp. 102-3.
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and in the Philippines due to the “double subordination” of local staff to both the local executive
and the continued monitoring of the relevant central agency. Internal accountability mechanisms
remain weak in both countries, though external accountability institutions – such as ombudsmen,
complaints bureaus and citizen monitoring – are growing in importance.
Overall, the experience of East Asia’s relatively more decentralized countries demonstrates that,
though establishing the right rules is important to the success of administrative decentralization,
it is not enough for decentralization to be designed well on paper. Attention must also be paid to
the realities of implementation, and particularly to creating incentives for local governments to
work within the rules.
Decentralization in Transition: China and Vietnam
The imperative for administrative decentralization in China and Vietnam was borne out of the
transition to a market economy. During the time of economic opening, the central governments
relinquished control over some of the state’s activities and offered greater administrative and – to
a lesser extent – political independence to sub-national entities in return for greater central
authority over revenue assignments. This system has introduced a significant degree of confusion
in the roles of sub-national civil servants and limited the autonomy of local leaders to manage
On the other hand, in “crossing the river by feeling the rocks,”18 decentralization in China and
Vietnam has encouraged governments to experiment with a given amount of local autonomy and
address problems that arise before moving on to the next stage of decentralization. And local
governments in both countries have formulated innovative responses along the way. The
decentralization experiences of these two countries – very different in size yet emerging from
similar bureaucratic traditions – provide some insights into the particular effects of
administrative decentralization on civil service management and local public service delivery in
East Asia’s transition countries and beyond.
The ebb and flow of China’s decentralization
In a country as large and varied as China, some form of administrative decentralization is a
necessity, yet the statutory basis for decentralized human resource management is fairly limited.
The 1993 Provisional Regulations on Civil Servants address the nationally unified core civil
service, which includes only white-collar workers such as managers and professional staff.
Teachers, doctors, support staff, research institute employees, and members of the military are
not considered part of the core service, but of separate Public Service Units (see below). Political
appointees are considered civil servants, however, as no distinction is drawn between political
and bureaucratic personnel. Though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is formally separate
from the People’s Republic, it does influence staffing and other aspects of public management.
Central and sub-national civil servants alike are subject to the national guidelines; though local
jurisdictions prepare their own regulations, these usually conform to the national rules.19
At the 11th Party Congress in 1978, Deng Xiaoping used this analogy to urge Chinese policy makers to take a
gradual approach to economic reform in the country.
Wong 2003, p. 12.
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The decision to hire or fire a local civil servant is usually made by the People’s Congress at the
corresponding level; appointments of senior staff, however, are controlled by the CCP through
the nomenklatura system of bureaucratic patronage common in many Communist countries.
Since 1984, high-level officials in each administrative tier have been appointed by the Party
committee at the next-highest level.20 Recruitment is to be determined by open, competitive
examinations, and the selection and promotion of employees based on merit and performance. It
is important to note, however, that these criteria are generally defined to include “political
integrity” or commitment to Party policies. Local staff are held accountable to the central
government rather than to local administrations. Civil servants must follow codes of conduct set
out in both the Provisional Regulations and Party writings. Temporary workers, such as
substitute teachers, are exempt from the national guidelines.
The number of posts authorized for local jurisdictions is determined by local branches of the
State Commission for Post and Establishment (SCPE), a joint Government-Party organization, at
the next-highest level of government. A weighted formula is used to calculate each jurisdiction’s
establishment size and a quota for the number of support staff in each administration.21 Staffing
numbers are not necessarily efficient, however, and inefficiencies can be preserved over time, as
the budgetary implications of staffing choices are not systematically examined due to the
separation of responsibilities in the Chinese budget system for budget preparation on the one
hand, and staffing policy on the other – a holdover from the days of central planning.
Civil servants are paid according to a nationally determined salary scale, which is benchmarked
to the wages of similarly responsible staff in state-owned enterprises (SOE). This restriction has
the effect of pegging salaries closer to those found in larger, urban localities. Bonuses and
benefits are determined locally and can make up a hefty proportion of overall remuneration.
These additional perks are used liberally by well-off localities to supplement the pay levels of
their civil service cadres. Poorer areas have difficulty meeting nationally mandated wage
increases, and some have been forced to ignore these instructions or supplement personnel
budgets with funds originally allotted to capital expenditures. The central pay scale does not,
therefore, ensure nationally consistent pay. The fiscal pressure caused by central control over
wage levels is intensified by the fact that local governments are responsible for paying civil
servant pensions, unemployment benefits and other social safety net expenditures. When the
national government raises pay, these salary-based expenditures increase as well, tightening local
budgets beyond the control of local managers.
The attractiveness of relatively high salary scales places further weight on the shoulders of less
prosperous local governments, where the civil service may be one of few sources of wage
employment. Indeed, the tendency for local government administrations to serve as the employer
of last resort is exacerbated by insistence at higher levels that local jurisdictions absorb the
Prior to 1984, these appointments were made by party committees two levels up in the territorial hierarchy. Burns,
At all levels, the criteria used are population, land area and value of industrial and agricultural production; at the
city level, additional factors include the number of component administrative units, local budget income and the
amount of developed land.
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streams of recent graduates.22 These forces together inflate staffing levels, especially at the
county level, which accounts for over half of excess staff.23 Despite several attempts to save
money by downsizing the civil service and streamlining the structure of government, redundant
agencies have not always been completely eliminated, and have tended to increase staff again
over time. China’s propensity for overstaffing only increases the burden of salary and safety net
payments on poorer local governments.
Wage levels appear to be high enough to recruit and retain qualified employees in public service.
The number of higher-level staff with university degrees has increased from about 20 percent in
1981 to over 80 percent in 1994.24 Though pay increases and bonuses are designed to reflect a
system of performance evaluations, this does not seem to have a significant effect on incentives
to perform well. The majority of staff receive positive appraisals, and bonus payments are
generally handed out across-the-board rather than on the basis of exceptional work. Overall pay
levels are highly compressed. The ratio of highest to lowest salary is 5.6 to 1 for base wages, but
flattens to something on the order of 3 to 1 when subsidies and bonuses are included. 25 The
relatively small increments between pay categories substantially lower the payoff gained by an
employee in ascending to the next rung of the bureaucratic ladder. There are no explicit
restrictions to the transfer of local civil servants from one locality to another, or up to the central
level, but the structure of the Chinese labor market – in which the hukou system of household
registration assigns workers to a designated work area – limits civil servant mobility in practice.
Some movements take place among higher-ranked staff but rarely in the lower echelons. In the
late 1990s, the central government initiated a program to relocate mid-career officials to local
jurisdictions for six months to one year as part of the career path to senior public service.
The core civil service, as defined by the Provisional Regulations, does not encompass a
substantial proportion of government-financed workers in China who are employed by Public
Service Units (PSU), such as schools, hospitals and research institutes. PSUs figure prominently
in the public employment landscape, making up 96 percent of the civilian, non-SOE workforce at
the central level and 73 percent in sub-national entities.26 Human resource management is
slightly more flexible in PSUs than in core government entities. Local PSUs can be run at the
central or local level or managed jointly. As in the core service, establishment levels are
determined by the next-highest branch of the SCPE. These restrictions do not seem to be heeded
in practice, however, as local PSU employment averaged 110 percent of the authorized
establishment in 1999.27 And PSU employment is growing, particularly at the sub-national level.
At the provincial, prefectural, and county levels, PSU staff complements increased by 21, 21,
and 75 percent respectively between 1991 and 1999.28
PSUs are subject to the authority of and held accountable to the central government. In many
cases, the boundaries between these two forms of public employment are blurred. Throughout
various attempts to downsize the civil service in the late 1980s and 1990s, retrenched employees
Wong, p. 12.
World Bank 2002a, p. 158.
Ibid, p. 159.
Ibid, p. 159. Including rank-based benefits, such as housing and car allowances, does widen the gap.
World Bank 2002a, p. 141.
Ibid, pp. 157-8.
Ibid, p. 145.
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have often been absorbed by PSUs, thereby limiting cost savings from employment reductions.
There is an expectation that staff can move freely between PSUs and core government positions.
In essence, PSUs are a reservoir of extra-budgetary human resources upon which the government
can draw.29 Moreover, it is not uncommon for the functions of core agencies and PSUs to
overlap, creating inefficiencies in the administration and delivery of public services.
Traditional and innovative approaches to decentralization in Vietnam
Along with the transition to market-oriented economic principles, a major outgrowth of the doi
moi reforms begun in 1986 has been an increasing shift in the balance of state power, first from
the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) to the government, and then from central to sub-national
levels of administration. The impetus for administrative decentralization is growing stronger with
the Master Program on Public Administration Reform (PAR), which strongly advocates
realigning the management of human and financial resources to address the fact that
“administrative machinery at local levels is not really responsive to people…”30
Most civil servants in Vietnam are hired and fired by the People’s Committee at the next-highest
level of government. In the provinces, these decisions are made by the Provincial People’s
Committee, though high-level appointments to the provincial level require the approval of the
Prime Minister. Position openings at the local level are formally required to be advertised within
the locality, usually by way of a public posting outside the Office of the People’s Committee.
While job classifications have been defined centrally, they are not accompanied by precise job
descriptions and thus offer local governments significant discretion in determining their staffing
profile. Reliance on non-permanent staff to circumvent central hiring regulations does not seem
to be a major issue in Vietnam.
All civil service appointments and promotions are to be based on merit, as determined by
examinations conducted by provincial-level political schools. There are indications that, in
practice, seniority is accorded more weight than performance in promotion decisions. Selection
to higher-level positions also requires ranking membership in the CPV. No performance
management system exists to link high quality work to high return in a civil servant’s career
path. Two 1998 regulations, the Ordinance on Complaints and Denunciations and the Ordinance
on Procedures for Resolving Administrative Disputes, offer mechanisms for disciplining staff,
but neither of these options is often exercised. In the case of the former, this is due to a lack of
specificity in the provisions, and in the latter to the limited effectiveness of the Administrative
Courts. There are no formal procedures in place for dismissed civil servants to address
grievances or appeal personnel actions.
Though officially there are no geographical constraints to the recruitment and transfer of staff,
incentives for inter-regional mobility are generally inadequate as most local positions are filled
by local staff. Furthermore, remote areas tend to have difficulty in attracting high-quality
employees. There is also room to boost recruitment of regional minorities into public service,
particularly above the commune level. Local civil servants are not formally barred from moving
In Hebei Province, for example, the director of the budget preparation PSU had kept his post as director of the
Budget Department in the Hebei finance bureau. World Bank 2002a, p. 144.
Government of Vietnam 2001, p. 2.
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into the central civil service, but in practice, only People’s Committee Chairpersons are brought
up to service in Hanoi.
Instead, it seems that central civil servants may be spending more time away from the capital. In
2003, the Government of Vietnam launched a new program of staff rotations aimed at deepening
the hands-on experience of top central bureaucrats. The intent is that time spent at the grassroots
level will serve as a critical step in the path to high-level government posts.31 It remains to be
seen, however, whether this promising initiative bears fruit. There is a concern that the rotation
scheme has been used not as a tool for instilling an improved public service ethos, but instead as
a means of banishing political opponents.
The Government of Vietnam’s personnel establishment is managed at the center by the Ministry
of Home Affairs, through staff quotas at each level of government. Until 2004, these staff quotas
also determined the budget allocations for personnel expenditures at the local level, but the one-
to-one relationship between a larger staff size and a larger budget allocation created incentives
for overstaffing and penalized administrations operating with a leaner, more efficient staff
complement. New staffing norms have since been introduced which allocate budget according to
the population size of a province rather than its staffing levels.
Salaries and allowances are specified centrally and applied uniformly to all levels of government.
Wage levels have traditionally been considered to be low compared to alternative employment
sources, though new analysis casts some doubt as to the validity of these comparisons. Bales and
Rama argue that, while professional and technical level employees may be underpaid in public
service as compared to the private sector, for most civil servants – particularly those based in
rural local governments – the alternative employer would most likely be the informal sector,
where salaries tend to be lower.32 In poorer regions, in fact, the comparatively high wages fixed
by the center – along with recent salary increases – are tightening budgets. This pressure will
only build with the planned pay reform program, which promises to raise salaries by 30 percent,
on average. Because staff pay represents a considerable share of spending in service delivery
sectors, other important spending can be squeezed out. Though the crowding out of operations
and maintenance expenditures by salary payments is not a major problem in Vietnam as
compared to other developing countries, it is an important issue in poorer local areas.
Turning transition into forward momentum
Decentralization in China and Vietnam has been incremental, proceeding in stages as the central
government reacts to the effects of each policy before moving to the next step. While this
approach allows experimentation with different decentralization mechanisms to address any
unexpected consequences before they become entrenched, the lack of a pre-defined plan can
create inconsistencies between the different aspects of decentralized governance. For example,
administrative mandates have not been accompanied by sufficient fiscal resources – indeed, in
China, finances have been increasingly recentralized. In Vietnam, the PAR Master Program is an
important step toward redressing fiscal and human resource imbalances in the decade ahead.
Bales and Rama 2002.
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Capacity. Vietnam’s PAR program emphasizes the capacity and accountability of civil servants
as critical elements in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of public service and calls for
the development of capacity building plan to: reorganize the current system to provide better
training opportunities at local as well as central levels; refresh the curriculum and methods used;
and align content more closely with on-the-job skills requirements. Enhancing the reach of
educational opportunities will be important in addressing the low capacity of many local
governments in Vietnam, particularly in remote areas. The training of civil servants has also been
a priority in China, where local governments are required to upgrade the skills of civil servants in
line with the needs of the market economy. In both countries, the central government provides
resources to local governments for locally organized training programs. In China, local
governments are taking advantage of training resources to send their employees to Chinese
universities as well as to training programs in East Asia and beyond. However, local
administrations in both China and Vietnam continue to lack expertise in accounting and financial
management. In Vietnam, a recent audit found an absence of record keeping in the communes,
which prevents local managers from effectively rendering accountability in the civil service and
the center from tracking use of funds.
Incentives. Improving the ability of local governments to manage financial resources can only
address part of the problem when the incentives of civil service managers are skewed away from
prudent supervision of local budgets. Until recently, the design of Vietnam’s system for
administrative budget allocation, calculated per staff member per year, encouraged local
managers to inflate staffing levels in order to obtain greater resources from the center. In China,
local officials have little motivation to reduce personnel costs, since they are budgeted separately
from other expenditures. By saving on wages, managers lose part of their budget allocation. In
poor regions, adding staff is often seen as the only way to increase a local government’s budget
allocation. Coupled with the government’s position as employer of last resort, this system has
brought about a tendency for overstaffing in Chinese local governments.
The ability of decentralization to translate into improved service delivery also depends on the
incentives of civil servants themselves. In both China and Vietnam, despite official rules
defining merit as the basis for promotion, the career paths of local staff appear to be more limited
than those of their central government counterparts. Seniority and party loyalty receive as much
or more consideration than performance, and salary compression limits the benefits to be gained
from hard work. China’s attempt to enhance incentives for high-quality work through
performance based pay has not succeeded because bonuses have been applied across-the-board.
Staff rotation schemes in both countries focus on developing the careers of central civil servants
through time spent in the regions, rather than on rotating local staff to other areas for the sake of
sharing experience and information (see Box 1). The Government of Vietnam has had significant
success in improving incentives for prudent management of administrative expenditures through
an innovative pilot program for block-grant budgeting in Ho Chi Minh City.
Autonomy. Controlling administrative expenditures has indeed proved difficult for local
managers in these countries due to their restricted autonomy over wage and staffing levels and,
in China, the associated safety net expenditures. The high percentage of local budgets preempted
by personnel costs in turn limits the discretion of local governments on other expenditures. In the
meantime, the personnel management activities of local civil service leaders have been focused
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on a few areas in which they do have autonomy. In China, bonus pay is determined locally and
has thus been used to supplement civil service wages. In both countries, local governments have
the right to supplement their budgets by collecting user fees for certain services. While this has
eased the strain on some local government budgets, many of these user fees are
disproportionately costly to the poor. Moreover, because these resources are external to the
budget, they are often spent in non-transparent ways that do not reflect budget priorities and thus
Box 1: Personnel Exchange in India and Japan – Whose Capacity is Being Strengthened?
In many civil services in around the world, systems have been put in place to transfer staff across levels of
government. The motivations behind these personnel transfers are varied. In some cases, the intent is to groom
central civil servants for high-level postings, using hands-on work at the local level to ground and broaden their
policy formulation skills. In other cases, central government staff are transferred to sub-national jurisdictions to
fill gaps in local-level technical capacity to implement national programs. Where civil servants are transferred
across sub-national governments, the aim may be to keep them at a safe distance from local vested interests.
A comparison of civil servant rotation schemes in India and Japan demonstrates how the design of these
human resource management tools can shape their impact in a decentralized setting. In India, the principal focus
is on preparing members of the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for senior positions in central and state
governments. Those who make the cut in the highly competitive recruitment process and rigorous training
program are then dispatched to state governments where they spend several years working in field and
secretariat assignments in different sectors. After reaching senior positions in the field, IAS officers typically
rotate between central and state governments, as repeated exposure to field conditions is key to gathering
insights into on-the-ground realities. The IAS system also fosters working-level collaboration between the center
and sub-national governments.
In Japan, on the other hand, the impetus for personnel exchange arose from the need to boost technical
capacity in newly established local governments. Since that time, many of these local postings have become
“hereditary,” in the sense that staff members returning to central government are typically replaced by other
central staff from the same ministry. Though it could be argued that this practice has prevented qualified local
staff from accessing these senior positions in sub-national government, the fact that autonomous local
administrations continue to pay for relocated central staff implies that the transfer of information and knowledge
from the center still plays a useful role. Moreover, the Japanese system of personnel exchanges is much broader
than that found in India. Staff are not only transferred from the center to the prefectural governments, but from
prefectural governments to the municipalities, from local governments to central postings, and across prefectures
as well. While it is true that, in both countries, the placement of centrally recruited officials in local
administrations can strengthen the capacity of local staff as well as the transferred official, the design of the
Japanese system is more conducive to the skills development of local government staff.
Source: Schiavo-Campo et al, 1997; Inoki, 2001; Iqbal, 2001.
Accountability. The accountability of local civil servants in China and Vietnam is blurred by a
lack of clarity in the roles and responsibilities of each level of government, though Vietnam’s
new Budget Law has made significant progress in clarifying these roles. In Vietnam, and at the
township level in China, the lack of clarity is intensified by dual subordination, in which local
staff are beholden both to the directives of the central government and to the demands of elected
assemblies at the local level. Audits of local government expenditure in both countries have
found that accountability mechanisms are weak. In China, the internal audit function is strong,
focusing mainly on compliance and fraud prevention. External ex-post audits are less effective,
as local audit bureaus report to the central government and thus lack needed independence. The
effectiveness of audits in Vietnam is constrained by a lack of capacity and low pay. In both
countries, efforts are underway to improve accounting and financial management at central as
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well as local levels. These measures will help the central government improve and monitor the
results of local government service delivery. The presence of the Communist Party in China and
Vietnam holds important consequences for the accountability of civil servants in a decentralized
setting. The Party exerts considerable influence over staff appointments and promotions,
particularly at senior levels. As such, civil servants will most likely feel more accountable to the
Party than to the local population. While the Party can be seen as a source of discipline in an
otherwise weak system,33 its traditional control over the flow of information can reduce
transparency and thus undercut efforts to hold civil servants accountable.
Government transparency is beginning to increase in China and Vietnam, both within the civil
service and with respect to the public. The state-run media and citizens are paying increasing
attention to corruption issues. In Vietnam, after peasant protests in Thai Binh and Dong Nai
provinces brought to light the extent of corruption in the local civil service, the Government
introduced a Grassroots Democracy Decree (GDD) to enhance local government consultation
with residents on decisions that affect them. While this could in principle provide a strong check
on abuse of power and strengthen accountability through an increased demand for good
governance, implementation of the GDD has been weak because of limited management
responsibility at the commune level, insufficient training of civil servants in sharing information
with local citizens, and inadequate mechanisms to tackle corruption in the management of social
The Cautious Decentralizers: Cambodia and Thailand
In Thailand and Cambodia, implementation of decentralization has been relatively limited. In
response to growing citizen demand for improved service delivery at the local level, both
countries have recognized the importance of devolving some management responsibilities – and
the rights that accompany them – to local governments. Yet concerns about the limited capacity
of sub-national governments have engendered a cautious approach to decentralization,
concentrating first on developing the legislative framework and building the local-level capacity
needed to manage, undertake and monitor the delivery of public services. In Thailand, a reduced
political imperative to decentralize has also stalled implementation of previously outlined
In low-capacity countries, the gradual transfer of responsibility can be a pragmatic way to ensure
continuity in service provision and to limit the potential for political capture of inexperienced
local civil servants. However, gradualism can also have its disadvantages. Piecemeal approaches
may lack an overall strategic focus, leading to a mismatch between responsibilities and resources
or between authority and accountability. Moreover, caution can serve as an excuse for inaction
on the part of central government officials who are reluctant to relinquish their authority. In
Thailand and Cambodia, there have been some understandable reasons for delay. Yet, in taking
such a long time to establish the building blocks for decentralization, these countries have
delayed the stated goal of improved service delivery. In the meantime, the success of several
small-scale experiments with local autonomy indicates that, with careful design, decentralization
can work in these countries. The following discussion of guarded decentralization in Thailand
Wong, p. 12.
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and Cambodia will explore how countries may resolve the tension between exercising caution
and achieving tangible results on the ground.
Building the foundations for personnel decentralization in Thailand
Thailand’s 1997 Constitution represents a significant step in bringing government closer to the
people in a traditionally centralized country. Building upon this solid foundation,
decentralization efforts have shifted to creating the institutions and developing the legal basis for
devolving responsibilities to sub-national administrations.
So far, very few civil servants have been transferred to local government administrations. Only
4,108 staff (less than one percent of the 1.2 million national civil servants) in five departments,
principally in the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Ministry of Interior’s Accelerated
Rural Development (ARD) Department, have moved into local government service. The transfer
of staff has thus not followed the transfer of functions, as stipulated in the decentralization
legislation.34 The Office of the Civil Service Commission’s (OCSC) strategy for the transfer of
remaining staff prioritizes voluntary transfers, though mandatory transfers and compensated
retrenchment are not discounted as options. The OCSC has set up a Public Sector Personnel
Development and Deployment Center (PSDC) as a hub for the training and deployment of
transferred central government staff to new positions in local government. The staffing
implications of devolved authority for local governments are being evaluated by provincial
personnel transfer centers.
Still, the low number of relocations made thus far points to a lack of motivation on the part of
both central government agencies and public sector employees. Ministries in Bangkok are
understandably unenthusiastic about letting their staff go. Poorer local governments, especially
the small tambons (TAO), may be reluctant to accept additional staff due to the financial burden
they may pose to tight local budgets. Employees are hesitant to move due to a lack of clarity
about the availability of comparable pay, benefits (including pension fund provisions),
recruitment and dismissal procedures, career mobility and quality of life at the local level. Some
staff worry that relocation to a smaller local community will leave them open – and their jobs at
mercy – to the vagaries of local politics.35 Civil servants transferred to the regions from the
central government are entitled to the same pay as in the center, but the system of position
classifications at the local level does not offer the same range of job levels (and accompanying
pay grades) as found in the center.36 A financial incentive has been offered to central public
servants who volunteer to serve in local governments for a three-year fixed term, but this does
not address the longer-term issue of permanent personnel transfers.37
The central government exercises general authority over personnel decisions at each level of sub-
national government through the Civil Service Commission. Local administrations may hire low-
Webster (2002) argues that functional devolution does not require the transfer of all corresponding civil servants,
making the case that if decentralization is meant to improve efficiency of public service delivery by transferring
authority for service delivery to those units closest to the service’s beneficiaries, then fewer people should be able to
perform the same task just as well or better than it was carried out at the center.
Wegelin, p. 7.
Teacher pay, for example, could be much lower after transfer to the local level. See Wegelin, p. 23.
The amount of this incentive is Baht 6000 per month, or roughly $150.
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level staff and contract workers, but are not authorized to recruit higher-skilled or career
employees. Vacancies are not formally advertised. Recruitment is based on competitive
examinations administered by the OCSC, though there are special circumstances in which the
OCSC can waive the exam requirement. All civil servants are subject to a code of professional
ethics, and those in higher-level positions are required to publicly declare their assets. Public
employees are entitled to appeal within 30 days of being informed of a punishment or dismissal.
The number and grade level of authorized staff positions at each level of local government is
rigidly prescribed by the center. Fifth-class TAOs may employ no more than three staff members
and first-class TAOs no more than 21. Limiting staff in this way decreases manpower in the
remote, rural areas that may need the most intensive work in terms of public service delivery and
outreach. Yet keeping staff lean in these areas can assist in managing the fiscal burden of civil
service salaries. Local governments are required to adhere to a central pay scale and a 40 percent
cap on personnel expenditures as a proportion of total local government spending. This is a
“Catch 22” for poorer TAOs, where capacity to perform local functions is constrained by sheer
lack of staff, while paying more people would leave little money left over for anything else. 38 In
hopes of addressing the particular issues of personnel management at the local level and
redressing the disincentives to staff transfer, the Local Civil Service Administration Working
Group has put forward a proposal to form a separate Local Government Civil Service
Commission – as distinct from the provincial and municipal commissions that already exist. In
addition, the Ministry of Interior is looking into a local-level personnel management system to
track the pay, benefits and career streams of sub-national civil servants. Finally, the Thai
government’s recent acceleration of broader civil service reforms may reinvigorate the
Top-down and bottom-up approaches to decentralization in Cambodia
According to its National Poverty Reduction Strategy (NPRS) for 2003-2005, the Royal
Government of Cambodia is pursuing a two-pronged approach to the devolution of power from
the center to the local level, tackling both political decentralization to the communes and
functional deconcentration to provincial-level outposts of the central government.
On devolution, the legal framework has been established, but the effect on staffing has been
limited. While recognizing that communes should have their own financial resources, the Law on
Administrative Management is much less ambitious regarding decentralization of personnel and
human resource management, requiring only two technical staff positions at the commune level:
a commune clerk appointed and paid by the Ministry of Interior to assist the commune council in
performing its functions, and an accountant from the Provincial Treasury. These individuals
wield central influence over the otherwise relatively autonomous commune councils, though the
commune chief can request the appointment a new clerk based on the council’s decision. If
needed, councils are allowed to directly employ other staff, who are deemed by the Law to be
outside the “State framework.” These additional employees are retained on a temporary basis for
the duration of the council’s mandate, but their terms can be extended by the next council.
Wegelin, p. 9.
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At the commune level, general administration expenditures are limited to 30 percent or less of
the total allocation from the center. This limit reduces the temptation for nepotism and
overstaffing, while giving communes considerable discretion on how funds within the threshold
are spent. There is a concern that the centrally determined allowances paid to commune
councilors are high relative to civil servant salaries and to the part-time nature of the councilor’s
contribution, which could foster resentment among local-level staff in addition to further
stretching the bounds of CSF regulations regarding administrative expenditures.
On deconcentration, the legal framework is less well defined, but the number of staff affected is
high. In 2003, approximately 78 percent of staff are based in the provinces (including health and
education employees). At the provincial level, staffing needs and positions are determined by the
relevant central ministry, but provincial administrations have discretion in whom they hire.39
Though recruitment is supposed to be based on competitive examinations administered by the
State Secretariat for Civil Service, anecdotal evidence indicates that this requirement is not
strictly followed.40 Similarly, promotions within each grading category are to be based on merit,
but it appears that seniority plays a stronger role in practice. Performance evaluations should be
conducted annually, but this is not common. Disciplinary procedures exist, but are rarely
utilized. Incentives are therefore not structured in a way that encourages civil servants to perform
well and to improve over time.
Incentives are further dampened by extremely low and highly compressed pay. Wages are so low
that many civil servants are forced to seek additional employment in the private or informal
sectors, and the resulting levels of absenteeism undermine public sector performance. While
ministries are responsible for monitoring attendance, punishment for absenteeism is rare. 41 Low
pay also affects how civil servants choose to spend their time when they are at work. For
example, the payment of per diems for field visits encourages staff to focus on activities that
require travel, regardless of whether this is the most efficient use of their time.
Salaries, allowances and social benefits are determined by the central government and must be
paid out by local governments on a priority basis. As a result, the flexibility of provincial budget
managers is limited, and there is the potential for other important activities to be crowded out of
the budget. At the provincial level, personnel expenditures averaged 48 percent of total
expenditures in FY 2002, though this figure ranged from 18.6 percent in Mondul Kiri to 57.4
percent in Kandal.42 This share is much higher than the 33 percent of the budget spent on the
wage bill at the central level.43 Throughout the Cambodian civil service, a lack of systematic
establishment control has allowed the proliferation of contractual workers and high levels of
overtime pay, and these issues are likely to be even more noticeable at the local level.
The combination of low pay, low staff motivation and low mobility have left line ministries
desperate for a way to skew incentives back toward improved service delivery performance, and
several ad hoc responses have evolved. MOH has allowed health centers to collect user fees for
World Bank 2002b, p. 29.
World Bank 2003a.
World Bank 2003a, p. 111.
World Bank 2002b, p. 30.
Including defense and security expenditures. World Bank 2003a, p. 93.
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services, and to apply 49 percent of those fees to supplement the salaries of their staff.44 This
approach has shown tangible benefits, as the utilization rates of health centers have risen by up to
60 percent. Apparently clients are willing to pay extra for better service. Turner notes, “the salary
supplements mean that staff are likely to devote more time to their official duties. When salaries
might be only US$ 15 per month, an extra US$ 10 makes a considerable difference.” 45 However,
these salary supplements may lead to inequalities in pay across various regions. In education,
MOEYS has worked to improve the efficiency of education services through financial
incentives, including pay supplements for work in remote areas, double shifts or multi-grade
teaching, and performance incentives to heads of provincial and district education offices.
Balancing caution and action
The measured approaches to decentralization adopted in Thailand and Cambodia reflect
expressed concerns on the part of both governments that local administrations – and their staff –
do not yet have the capacity to take on the responsibility for service delivery at the local level. In
Cambodia, there is some basis for concern; in Thailand, however, this may rather reflect a
lessened political drive toward decentralization. In both cases, policy makers have sought to
avoid the potential dangers of decentralization by putting capacity building before
Capacity. Low capacity is certainly an issue in Cambodia, where decades of civil war and the
atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime took a devastating toll on the country’s pool of human
resources. Even in Thailand, a middle-income country with a bustling capital city, most local
governments lack the technical skills and institutional resources to undertake even basic service
delivery tasks. Both countries have created decentralized structures without devolving significant
authority or responsibility.
The skills development of local staff is seen as the bridge between these initial steps and more
significant decentralization. In Thailand, municipal staff are regularly rotated in order to enhance
the sharing of knowledge and experience among sub-national civil servants. Various training
institutions offer a wide array of training courses, but these have not yet been incorporated into a
focused strategy for developing local public sector capacity in a sustainable manner. Training
and technical assistance for decentralization are also growing rapidly in Cambodia, building
upon the success of the donor-supported Seila program. A critical challenge for Cambodia will
be to leverage this positive experience to design coherent and sustainable capacity building
initiatives that extend to all local government staff. Thailand and Cambodia have also turned to
deconcentration as on-the-job training for civil servants in the field – in Thailand through Local
Education Authorities and Area Health Boards, and in Cambodia through Health Center
Management Committees, which have the authority to supplement staff salaries with proceeds
from user fees. The service delivery improvements observed through these experiments indicate
that the devolution of management authority to local levels is feasible in Thailand and
Cambodia, if designed carefully.
The other 51 percent is to be spent on operational expenses. See Turner, p. 357.
Turner, p. 357.
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Capacity is not just about technical and bureaucratic skills, however. The institutional and
financial capacity of local governments is also crucial. In both Cambodia and Thailand, many
local governments are simply too small – in terms of geographical size, population, staff
numbers and budgets – to exercise the functions of government. Most of Thailand’s TAOs are
allowed to employ only a handful of staff and cannot be considered viable units of government,
as many of them are unable to support even a primary school, let alone more technical local
services such as infrastructure. In Cambodia, a maximum of eleven people sit on the commune
councils, supported by two centrally appointed civil servants.
Incentives. The small size of local government units has influenced the incentives of civil
servants to engage in local government employment, which has in turn affected service delivery
capacity at the local level. Few civil service positions are available in local government, at lower
grade levels with lower salaries and limited career paths. Attracting highly skilled professionals
is difficult as there is not enough work to sustain full-time technical experts. As a result, central
government officials in Thailand have strongly resisted transfer to local government service. The
Thai government has attempted to address this issue by offering financial incentives to central
civil servants who volunteer to transfer, but unclear rules and benefits have prevented this
program from having any significant effect. In Cambodia, where over three-quarters of staff are
based in the field, local staff are reportedly migrating to provincial centers in search of additional
work opportunities to supplement the very low public sector pay levels. Local public servants are
in effect being paid full time to work for part of the day. This is a particular problem in health
clinics, which despite a 24-hour mandate are often closed for most of the day. It may be a useful
exercise for the Government to consider explicitly allowing part-time work in public health
facilities, so that work schedules could be arranged to ensure continuous availability of care.46
Autonomy. In both Thailand and Cambodia, limits on personnel expenditures have prevented
local governments from hiring enough staff to get the job done – or even from filling all the
positions to which they are entitled. In Cambodia’s Kampong Cham province, however, low
utilization of health services means that even the very small numbers of local staff employed in
provincial and district offices are excessive in comparison to the workload.47 In both instances,
the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery are hindered. Though local managers in these
two countries do enjoy discretion in whom they hire, those in rural communities do not have
access to the highly skilled staff that are available in the center. In Cambodia, the autonomy of
local leaders is further constrained by a lack of predictability in financing. Unsure of when and in
what quantity resources will arrive, field-based managers are reluctant to make long-term
investments, including in human resource development. The Government has taken some steps
to alleviate this problem by piloting mechanisms for streamlined execution of budgets in priority
sectors, such as the Priority Action Program (PAP), which offers some flexibility for local
education authorities to supplement the low pay levels of its staff. Still, in these traditionally
hierarchical societies, managerial autonomy in the civil service remains limited at the local level.
Accountability. The limited autonomy of sub-national governments in Cambodia and Thailand
poses important challenges for the accountability of local staff. In both countries, local
governments at the lowest tier are officially accountable to popularly elected assemblies. Yet, so
Conversation with Pamela Messervy, World Health Organization, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 2003.
World Health Organization, p. 12.
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far, they are only responsible for a limited set of tasks, and most of the decisions are being
handed down from higher levels. As a result, it is difficult for local citizens to hold civil servants
in their area responsible for the quality and timeliness of their services. Community monitoring
of government is also limited by incomplete dissemination of information on decentralization
plans and transferred responsibilities. The flow of information on public preferences is
interrupted by the “missing middle” of decentralized politics, as provincial authorities in
Cambodia and Thailand are not elected and thus report only to the central government. Despite
the time taken by both governments to lay a solid foundation for decentralization, many local
officials are still not fully aware of their own responsibilities – and thus, for what outcomes they
would be held accountable. Local standards and benchmarks are not yet in place to assist the
Thai and Cambodian central governments in evaluating local government performance. In both
countries, vote buying, corruption and elite capture may be significant at local levels, posing an
important risk to the success of decentralization plans.
Successful Management of the Civil Service – The Way Forward
East Asia’s experience with administrative decentralization highlights both the opportunities and
challenges associated with devolving authority for civil service management to lower levels of
government. As the case studies have shown, decentralizing the management of human resources
can improve the responsiveness and resourcefulness of local governments. Yet, without careful
design, devolution can also bring about fiscal imbalances, negative incentives, and confused
accountability at the local level. There is no single formula for successful civil service
management in a decentralized context. Success can be found in various forms, and tactics that
work in one context may produce the opposite result in a different environment. The diverse
approaches adopted in the six cases examined in this paper offer useful lessons for countries
considering the decentralization of civil service management. In designing policies and
institutions for administrative decentralization, governments must strategically address several
Centralized Control vs. Decentralized Management
Implicit in the notion of decentralization is the devolution of some level of responsibility and
authority to the local level, which brings decisions on public service delivery closer to clients
while freeing central government of the day-to-day details of local government administration.
On the other hand, there may be substantial benefits to the preservation of some control at the
central level, including national standards for service delivery performance and wider scope for
mobility within the civil service. It is critical for decentralization policy to achieve a rational
equilibrium between these two valid, but opposing, considerations. The roles of local
governments and their civil servants must be clearly specified and accompanied by sufficient
resources and flexibility to tailor local activities to the needs of residents, as well as by
appropriate mechanisms to ensure accountability and prevent proximity from opening the door to
elite capture at the local level.
Indonesia and the Philippines have taken the greatest strides toward this balance, but even these
countries continue to struggle with the untenable fiscal burdens imposed upon poorer local
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governments by national wage policies, and with non-transparent local government responses to
central control in a weak accountability environment. In China and Indonesia, central decisions
on wage levels and increases have squeezed the budgets of local governments, both directly
through salary payments and indirectly by compounding the size of locally financed pension
obligations. Yet central government interventions to cover these costs have created incentives for
overstaffing at the local level. In Cambodia and Thailand, reluctance to devolve authority to low-
capacity local governments is threatening to stall progress on the decentralization agenda.
Box 2: Uganda’s District Service Commissions
Uganda’s decentralization experience is generally considered to be a success story in terms of the extent and
effects of devolution. As in Indonesia and the Philippines, decentralization in Uganda took on the characteristics
of a “big bang” following an era of political opening. Along with the launch of regular local elections and the
transfer of broad service delivery responsibilities and attendant fiscal resources to local governments, steps were
taken to decentralize the administrative apparatus. Staff posted to districts were formally transferred to local
government service, and separate District Service Commissions (DSC) were set up to manage human resources
in district and local administrations. The right of the DSC’s to hire, fire, and oversee sub-national staff was
enshrined in the new Constitution and further detailed in the Local Government Act. As such, the creation of
DSC’s provided an institutional protection for district governments’ relative autonomy in managing sub-national
civil servants. The system has not yet been perfected, however. Recruitment procedures are slow, performance
evaluations are rarely conducted, and the authority of DSC’s to enforce disciplinary decisions is limited in
practice. Moreover, because DSC members and recruitment standards are subject to the approval of the central
Public Service Commission, the central government retains a measure of influence over sub-national personnel
decisions. Nonetheless, the DSC’s offer scope for promoting the qualifications and professionalisms of local
civil services throughout the country. As East Asian countries grapple with how best to manage civil servants
under decentralization, the Ugandan experience may provide a useful guide.
Source: Ndegwa and Levy, 2003; Evans, 2004.
Uniformity vs. Unification of the Civil Service
The degree to which civil service management authority is devolved in turn has implications for
the extent of uniformity across the civil service. If the conditions of local civil service
employment are totally circumscribed by the center, administrative decentralization will remain a
myth and its potential benefits unrealized. On the other hand, if local managers are entirely free
to adjust salary and staffing levels, it is likely that the size and composition of local government
establishments – and the size of their paychecks – will vary considerably. Allowing some degree
of local variation can enhance the ability of civil service managers to design their establishments
to meet the needs of their locality and can offer poorer local governments relief from
burdensome central directives. However, by simultaneously allowing richer areas the flexibility
to increase pay and benefits, there may be a detrimental effect on inter-regional equality in public
employment conditions as well as public service quality.
Without some level of national standardization, the difficulties faced by remote areas in
recruiting and retaining qualified staff will be compounded, causing the provision of local public
services to suffer further. Moreover, civil servants may be on such unequal footing that
competition for lateral movement to desirable posts and vertical movement to positions in higher
levels of government will automatically favor staff in better-endowed regions. In its ideal form, a
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country’s civil service will be uniform, but not unified. Public servants will share a distinct
national identity without necessarily being subject to identical rules on pay and employment.
In ethnically diverse countries such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and even Vietnam,
differences in how civil servants are treated can fuel existing tensions. China, Vietnam and
Thailand have attempted to foster cross-pollination of the civil service through a variety of staff
rotation schemes. Potential solutions to the problem of inequitable salary differentials include
systems in which centrally defined base wages can be topped up through user fees and other
own-source revenues at the local government level, as in Cambodia, China and Vietnam, or
perhaps a compromise in which the center establishes an acceptable salary range for local civil
servants and leaves the determination of exact salary levels to the discretion of local managers.
Economies of Scale vs. Client Responsiveness
Administrative decentralization also raises questions about the appropriate level of government
to which responsibilities should be devolved. If the goal of decentralization is to bring
government closer to the people, then it would stand to reason that the management of public
service provision be handed off to the lowest tier of government, where civil servants are best
placed to understand and respond to the needs of local residents. However, improving the
responsiveness of local governments through proximity can disrupt the potential for economies
of scale. Running a government, no matter how big or small, requires a minimum number of
staff – accountants, managers, secretaries, and so on – and thus a minimum amount of human
and financial resources. In devolving functional responsibilities to the local level, central
governments must consider the capacity of small local civil services to undertake increasingly
complex technical and managerial tasks. Small local governments will generally have difficulty
paying the salaries of highly skilled staff, and they are unlikely to have enough technical work to
keep them busy full time.
Economies of scale in public service provision are a particular issue in countries such as
Cambodia and Thailand, where local government budgets and staff complements are too small to
be viable providers of government services. In these countries, ongoing boundary reviews may
lead to the improvement of technical capacity at the local level through the consolidation of local
units, though no decisions have been taken thus far. Alternatively, local governments could
consider joining forces to provide public services that require more sophisticated technical
equipment and skills or that introduce spillover benefits for other jurisdictions. In China and
Indonesia, on the other hand, the larger scale of sub-national governments limits their ability to
effectively reach local populations.
In addition to striking a balance in the substantive considerations of decentralization design,
countries also face important decisions on the sequencing of reforms. The two main temporal
tradeoffs associated with administrative decentralization are as follows:
Capacity first or capacity through decentralization?
The appropriate sequencing between decentralization reforms and capacity building initiatives is
a subject of considerable debate in the decentralization literature. On the one hand, the
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devolution of increasing responsibilities for local government management and public service
provision is argued to be a necessary step in building individual and institutional capacity at the
local level. Skills development, performance incentives and innovation are encouraged through
“learning by doing,” which is generally a more sustainable and individualized learning method
than occasional training courses developed without close attention to the specific tasks being
performed by civil servants. On the other hand, Prud’homme and others warn of the “dangers of
decentralization,” through which the low capacity and inexperience of local civil servants can
bring about a sharp deterioration in the quality and efficiency of local government services.
Decentralizing governments have found a variety of ways to manage this critical tradeoff. In
countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where decentralization was viewed as an urgent
reform in the interest of national unity, there was no time for careful capacity building. Instead,
priority was given to tackling the more difficult political steps – establishing the legal framework
and implementing the transfer of functions, resources and staff, while leaving room for
adjustments in later stages. Decentralization in these instances has been considered a means to
build the capacity of local civil servants. In other countries, where the impetus for
decentralization has been less urgent, an iterative process has been adopted. The stepwise
approach undertaken by China and Vietnam has in large part addressed the balance between
caution and action, but has left room for hesitation. In Thailand and Cambodia, low capacity at
the local level and political considerations in the center have invoked worries about
decentralization’s possible dangers. To some extent, caution has encouraged an ad hoc form of
asymmetric decentralization, with some autonomy being devolved to social sector agencies at the
local level and, in Thailand, with plans in place to devolve public sector responsibilities to local
governments on the basis of “readiness” criteria. Yet this has also delayed the realization of
potential benefits from decentralization. In each of these cases, the critical challenge has been to
maintain forward momentum while balancing capacity considerations.
Civil service reform before or after decentralization?
Though a full discussion is outside the scope of this paper, it is worth mentioning the nexus
between decentralization reform and civil service reform. In principle, it makes more sense to
decentralize the structure and management of the civil service after ensuring that it is efficient
and effective at the national level. Yet given the political drive for decentralization and the
difficulty of civil service reforms, many countries cannot wait for these to take place before
decentralizing. On the other hand, the decision to delay civil service reform until after
decentralization can be a means for the central government to transfer the political burden of
difficult policy measures. The linkages between these two reforms should be considered
explicitly in the design of decentralization policies in order to avoid replicating national-level
flaws – for example, duplication of effort or overstaffing – at the local level.
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