Advantages and Disadvantages of Decentralisation / Decentralization
Decentralisation has to do with the sharing of power between the central government and other constituent units, within a political system. Powers are therefore, distributed to these different units, thereby creating many centres of power.
For example, in a decentralized political system, powers are constitutionally shared between the central government and other constituent units, e.g. state and local governments.
Nigeria, U.S.A., and many democratic state, practiced decentralised political system.
Merits of Decentralisation
Decentralization has the following advantages.
- Decentralization makes it possible to plan, in a realistic manner, for the whole country or organisation. Plans are based on the actual needs of the people as identified by the people themselves and the government representatives who also implement the plans.
- It helps to identify local needs.
- Certain functions are better handled at regional or local levels. These include water supply, sanitation, education and security. For example, local security is best provided by the local people themselves or by local security outfits. In particular, local policemen who are recruited and posted to work in their place of birth will likely be more diligent, honest and committed than those deployed from elsewhere. This partly explains why there are county, local, state and federal police in the United States.
- With decentralisation, it is possible to adapt national policies to suit local conditions. In the same way, it allows field officers to use their discretion.
- Decentralisation is effective at satisfying the needs of the people and m establishing good relations between local and central governments.
- There is efficiency in terms of increased revenue from local resources. Efficiency will be higher if the degree of bureaucratization is low. Local governments and public enterprises in Nigeria have weak revenue generating capacity largely because they are almost completely dependent on hand-outs from the central government for their upkeep.
- Decentralization leads to fiscal decentralization. That is, there is the transfer of resources from the centre to the periphery.
- It enables quick decisions to be taken during periods of national emergencies such as flooding, outbreak of epidemics and plane crashes.
- Decentralization fosters local autonomy and it promotes the Participation of the people in local affairs.
Demerits of Decentralisation
Decentralization, though desirable has some disadvantages.
Many public policies that have effect at the local levels are taken at the centre and, as such, the policies are generally not effective. The national minimum wage in many countries, for example, is fixed by the Federal Government and state governments with inputs from trade unions but without much consideration of local peculiarities.
Why should two different states/region, for example, pay the same nationally-determined salaries when the costs of living in the two states are markedly different? Trade unions would continue to clamour for uniform wages for all workers in different parts of the country primarily because such a policy serves the interest of workers.
- National standards may be compromised at the local level in the areas of education, agriculture and industry since each level of government develops according to its resources.
- Since many decentralized systems, such as the local governments, have their roots in colonialism, which is highly centralized, the centralist tendencies make the local government to depend on the centre and because of this it has not been possible for the local government to be responsive to local needs.
- Sometimes cities and local governments do not even want autonomy primarily because they cherish their relationship with the central government. In short, they enjoy the cover usually provided by the central government.
- A decentralized system is highly politicized. For example, local government boundaries used to coincide with tribal boundaries, especially during the colonial era and this was always causing conflicts.
- There is lack of proper coordination of the activities of these decentralized bodies or units.
- It may be difficult to handle issues of common interest especially where local forces are very powerful.
- The local people may owe more allegiance to local or parochial institutions of governments than national institutions. Sometimes, they are confused as to who to obey.
- Decentralization can be expensive and un-economical since too many people may be involved in the administration with many of them performing similar functions.
- The decentralized government is generally weak, as centrifugal forces tend to pull the government in different directions.