Decentralization and access to social services in Colombia
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Decentralization is meant to improve access to public services, but relatively few studies examine this question empirically. We explore the effects of decentralization on access to health and education in Colombia using an original database covering over 95 % of Colombian municipalities. We show that decentralization improved enrollment rates in public schools and access of the poor to public health services. In both sectors, improving access was driven by the financial contributions of local governments. Small increases in own-shares of spending led to surprisingly large increases in the access of the poor in both sectors. Our theoretical model implies that where local information dominates productive efficiency, elected local governments will provide services better tailored to local needs. Decentralizing such services should increase their use by the public. Together, theory and empirics imply that decentralization made the Colombian state more accountable. It provided local officials with the information and incentives they need to allocate resources in a manner responsive to voters’ needs and improve the impact of public expenditures.
KeywordsDecentralization Education Health Public investment Colombia Local government
JEL ClassificationH41 H75 H77 01
This paper was written while Faguet was on research sabbatical at the Center for Latin American Studies, UC Berkeley, to whom he is grateful for warm hospitality and support. The research was financed by the Corporación Andina de Fomento’s Research Papers Program, a STICERD/LSE New Researcher Award, and the British Academy. We are very grateful to Patricia Rincón, Camila Torrente and Victoria Soto for expert research assistance, and to Robin Burgess, Maitreesh Ghatak, Alain de Janvry, Asim Khwaja, Dilip Mookherjee, Daniel Ortega, Pablo Sanguinetti, Daniel Treisman, Hernan Vallejo, three anonymous reviewers, and seminar participants at STICERD and the LACEA 2008 meetings for their thoughtful suggestions. All remaining errors are ours.
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