Decentralization and Reform in Latin America

Decentralization and Reform in Latin America

Improving Intergovernmental Relations

Edited by Giorgio Brosio and Juan P. Jiménez

Decentralisation and Reform in Latin America analyses the process of intergovernmental reform in Latin America in the last two decades and presents a number of emerging issues. These include the impacts of decentralization and the response of countries in the region to challenge such as social cohesion, interregional and interpersonal disparities, the assignment of social and infrastructure expenditure, macrofinancial shocks, fiscal rules and the sharing of natural resources revenue. The main aim of the book is to assess the effective working of decentralized arrangements and institutions, with a view of suggesting corrections and reforms where the system is not working according to expectations.

Chapter 4: Reflections on two decades of social-spending decentralization

José Roberto Afonso, Sulamis Dain, Vivian Almeida, Kleber Castro and Ana Cecília Faveret

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, public finance


The literature on federalism often evokes an association between redemocratization and decentralization, in which the consolidation of democracy is associated with a strengthening of federalism and a trend towards administrative, political and fiscal decentralization (Souza, 1999). The fact that this is driven by the need to provide resources and supply better-quality public services, makes analysis of the distribution of social spending highly relevant. Accordingly, the aim of this chapter is to analyze the trend of social spending in Latin America. Several Latin American countries have been pursuing an intensive process of fiscal decentralization over the last two decades; and, at the same time, almost the entire region has made changes to its social policies. These two processes reflect, first, the desire to generate allocation efficiency gains, which have an impact on expanding the decision-making, fiscal, and financial autonomy of local governments; and, second, the desire to strengthen democracy. The latter has had repercussions on social policy actions and services, generating broader coverage and higher monetary benefits, together with improved access, expansion of coverage, and the decentralization of jurisdictions and resources for service provision. In some countries, decentralization was seen as a way to resolve institutional problems caused by a loss of resources and the ability of federal governments to finance social policies and restructure service provision, while at the same time adapting to the growing importance of local areas in federative resource sharing and autonomous governance.

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