Local Government Performance in Rural Poland: What Matters?
The 1990s saw widespread decentralization of government in the former socialist countries of East-Central Europe and Eurasia. The reforms shared a goal of improving government performance by increasing accountability, bringing decisions more in line with the preferences of populations, and exploiting locally available information in decision-making. However, outcomes have varied significantly, even within countries, among local governments operating in a uniform institutional framework. In this paper, we combine publically-available municipal-level data with data from a unique 2005 survey of municipalities to examine and explain variations in the performance of rural local governments in Poland over the periods 2003-2005 and 2006-2008. Rural governments face particular obstacles to good performance including, in some places, lower resource bases, fewer people of working age, and less-developed infrastructure. Drawing on a growing theoretical and empirical literature on local government performance in developing and former socialist economies, we analyze the role of local government characteristics (skill and accountability), European Union support, and inherited factors (economic development and orientation, location) in three measures of performance, using a simple, OLS framework, a set of representative cases, and a mapping of high- and low-performing gminas. We find that decentralization outcomes vary significantly across municipalities and that the factors associated with success are not consistent across measures or over time. Still, some variables measuring local government skill, mayoral networking, and electoral accountability have an impact on some measures of performance. These findings echo pervious work in both developing and post-socialist countries. An additional important finding is that factors outside the control of local governments, including location, infrastructure, and historical levels and types of economic activity are strongly related to outcomes but, again, the significant variables differ across outcome measures. In the 2006-2008 period, EU transfers per citizen have a consistent positive impact on own per capita revenue outcomes of municipalities, but not on other outcomes, and result in only small changes in the impact of other factors.
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