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Comparative Decentralization Lessons from Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines


  • George M. Guess

    1. Dr. George M. Guess is director of research, Open Society Institute, Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative, Budapest, Hungary. Previously, he was public budgeting specialist for the Pakistan Fiscal Decentralization project, financed by the Asian Development Bank (2001–02), and technical backstop for the Indonesia Local Government Financial Framework project (2001–02), financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development. E-mail:
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This article provides an analytic framework to guide regimes that are designing or implementing decentralization programs. It is based on a comparison of three Asian cases of fast-track decentralization. The framework suggests that regimes contemplating devolution must face fundamental issues of (1) background support, (2) culture and institutions, and (3) technical design and sequencing. It can be used by regimes to compare the relative difficulty of fundamental challenges to decentralization with their own capacity and potential for effective response. The three regimes responded similarly to the first two issues and differed in how they performed technical activities to implement the decentralization programs. Within this technical sequence, the regimes varied widely in performance. In that the Philippine program has attained better performance so far, the different responses of that regime are significant. More research is required to explain differences in technical performance in the Philippines and other similar programs and to attribute measures of decentralization success to these differences.