Difference between decentralisation and devolution



In the study of local government today, many people categorize decentralisation or decentralization as the same with devolution. For better understanding, we will start by explaining all the features of local government.


One of the major features of local government administration is decentralisation. This is one distinctive
feature of local government that the central government does not have. Adamolekun states that decentralisation denotes “the organisation of government activity outside the headquarters of the central
government either as an administrative measure involving the transfer of resources and responsibilities to
agents of the central government located outside the headquarters or as a political arrangement involving
the devolution of specific powers, functions and resources by the central government to sub-national level
government units”. Decentralisation is one major platform through which local resources, initiatives and
inputs are mobilised and transformed for national development. It is through decentralisation that local
autonomy, management of their own affairs, transfer of power from central government to local
authorities can be realised. Other features include deconcentration, delegation, devolution and

3.1 Decentralisation

The strategic position of the local government is more pronounced through the instrument of
decentralisation. This is an important aspect of local government as a unit of government because it
creates the enabling environment for democratisation and development. The goals of decentralisation can
be perceived as follows; according to Laleye, local government provide for popular participation through
the implementation of the democratic principle of elective representativeness in the public decision-
making process; encourage local initiative and sacrifice and mobilise the human and financial resources
that are available in the locality for development; ensure adequate provision for social services necessary
for a decent life; and establish a functioning communication channel between the central authority and
the local institutions with a view to ensuring the effectiveness of the central governments actions.
Decentralisation can also be discussed in four basic variances such as deconcentration, delegation,
devolution and privatisation.

3.2 Deconcentration

This is the transfer of administrative functions from central government or national ministries to field
agencies within the local level. It involves the redistribution of executive responsibilities to sub-
administrative structure. Here, the local or sub-ordinate levels of governments serve as agents of the
central government. Deconcentration is a process of breaking down tasks and transferring it to the local
levels for implementation. The feature here is that, the decision-making is at the central level, while the
local government presents the platform for implementation, e.g. primary health care, universal primary
education etc. Deconcentration can be regarded as a limited form of decentralisation and it lessen the
burden of central government. For deconcentration to take place, provincial or local government is

3.3 Delegation

The central government transfers some level of responsibilities for decision-making and implementation
of specific functions to some other branch of government through this process. Under the delegation,
these other branch of governments and agencies are granted some level of autonomy or powers to
formulate and implement programmes over specific functions without the direct control of the central
government. Delegation also means conferring of specified authority to a lower authority. Legally, the
delegated authority still belongs to the principal, but in practice, its exercise is allowed to the subordinate
or lower authority. Delegation is full when complete powers are conferred on the agent or lower authority.
Delegation is conditional when the action of a subordinate is subject to confirmation or revision by the
superior; it is unconditional when the subordinate or lower authority is free to act without reservations.
Delegation is formal when embodied in written form based on customs, conventions and understanding.
Delegation is direct when no third person intervenes between the two parties to delegation; it is
intermediate when it is made through third person.
Delegation of authority means more than simply assigning duties to others in more or less detail. The
essence of delegation is to confer discretion upon others to use their judgement in meeting specific
problems within the framework of their duties. One cannot delegate the authority which himself does not
possess. Authority once delegated can be enhanced, reduced or withdrawn according to the changing

3.4 Devolution

This involves the transfer of functional responsibilities including decision-making authority to legally
incorporated sub-national units of government. It entails therefore, the transfer of political authority to
make decisions in some spheres of public policy from the central government to local government or
similar units at the local level. The central and the local governments are structurally differentiated in the
structural pattern of devolution. Each level has its own powers and separate institutions for performing its
own functions and activities. Devolution is associated with local autonomy and with increase scope for
popular participation in governmental activities. Under the devolution category, local governments are
granted powers to source for their revenue control their finances as well as recruit their own personnel.
Devolution indicate status and policy making power. Devolution of power is also designed to create a
political environment in which power to access political, economical and social resources is distributed
between the central government and lower levels of government. State authority is divided among a wide
range of actors, making politics less threatening and therefore encouraging joint problem solving.
Devolution creates a fairer political ground, protects groups and individual human rights, establishes
check and balances to central power and prevents political violence among rival groups.

3.5 Privatisation

This is a new form of decentralisation. Under privatisation, other players such as community groups,
corporate organisations, voluntary associations, cooperatives, business association, civil society groups
and other non-governmental organisations enter into Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to provide goods
and services for the benefits of the local communities. PPP can also refer to contractual agreements
formed between a public agency and private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation
in the delivery of essential goods and services. PPP relate or connote perfection and practices affecting
public private sector relationships in ensuring national global health, development and well being of the

3.6 Other Features of Local Government

There are other features of local government, which include structural differentiation, that is, it has a
corporate identity and status different from other forms of government. It possesses the authority and
institutional powers for which it has been created. The local government also has multi-functional powers,
which include the power to legislate, formulate and implement policies for the benefits of its people. The
local government also has defined territorial boundaries, just like other tiers of government, it has
jurisdiction over people inhabiting its geographical territories, and finally, its elected or appointed officers
or representatives have specified tenure of office.

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