Report of DeLoG Webinar: Who Does What? Functional Assignment Challenges and How to Address Them

On May 19th, DeLoG organised a webinar on functional assignments in multilevel governance systems, with examples from Cambodia and Rwanda. The discussion showed that clearly defined roles and functions across government tiers are essential for a more effective and successful service provision.

The concept of functional assignment (FA) provides a framework for addressing questions about which and how roles and responsibilities should be assigned to different levels of governments or to different administrative tiers. Governments often promise better service delivery as the main rationale and expected outcome of decentralisation initiatives. Also, the international development community views the success or failure of decentralisation reforms mostly from the perspective of whether or not service delivery has improved. Citizens are interested in obtaining public services such as health, education services and infrastructure quickly, at reasonable costs, with good quality and according to their needs. Translating these ambitions to improved outcomes on the local level still remains a difficult task. 

The institutional and organisational set-up of the different levels of government is thereby a critical issue. Defining and deciding on the exact roles and functions of different government tiers is essential for a more effective and successful service provision. The emerging concept of functional assignment (Ferrazzi and Rohdewohld 2017) provides a framework for addressing questions about which and how roles and responsibilities should be assigned to different levels of governments or administrative tiers. 

Rainer Rohdewohld, co-author of Emerging Practices in Intergovernmental Functional Assignment with Gabe Ferrazzi, provided a conceptual introduction to the fundamental terms and processes of functional assignment during this DeLoG webinar. In addition to the lack of knowledge and expertise of those involved in the process, functional assignment often lacks proper preparation therefor missing linkages with other elements, like overarching decentralisation reforms and strategies or intra-governmental coordination mechanisms. The normative concept of functional assignment can be described as an ideal policy formulation for attributing functions, resources, and authority. Five major steps must be considered in every FA exercise: (i) Defining the goal and scope; (ii) organising the process; (iii) mapping of functions (status-quo analysis); (iv) reviewing the assignment of functions to decide changes to their existing allocation; and (v) effective transfer of functions. The functional assignment approach is flexible, highlights stakeholder participation, and allows sector institutions to play a lead role while the process is steered by an inter-governmental/inter-ministerial coordination body.  

The core criteria and principles, which need to be considered, involve the vertical and horizontal unbundling of sector functions and distinction of modes of decentralisation and types of functions (like obligatory, exclusive and optional functions). At all times stakeholders involved need to be aware of the principles for transferring functions such as subsidiarity, effectiveness and efficiency and accountability. 

Kolmaly Pen, Decentralisation Policy Advisor for GIZ Cambodia, gave an insightful presentation, starting with the current administrative structure of Cambodia, which consists of four tiers of administration (national, province, district (or municipal) and commune level).  She then showcased the development of decentralisation reforms in Cambodia with key milestones, leading to success factors and lessons learned from the functional assignment practices. Political commitment of top level of government to foster the engagement of sector ministries and relevant institutions in moving reform forward was thereby one of the key components. Also, the relevance of a strong coordination body that called for meetings, discussion and lobbying the sector ministry to decide on functions transfer and strictly facilitated with ministry of finance to allocate the budget following the functions, was highlighted by Ms. Pen. The involvement of partners in supporting the reform process (both financially and technically) to conduct pilots and extract the experiences from the implementation for filling the missing gaps and improve the implementation in the next scale up plan ensured effective and consistent assignment of functions.  

The process is still not finished. Some of the lessons learned that Kolamly Pen mentioned included the limited engagement of relevant sector ministries and institution in the discussion and decision process as well as the missing buy-in to decentralisation by some of the sector ministries, showing their reluctant in giving up powers and resources.   

Vincent Rwigamba, Director of Rwanda’s Housing Authority (RHA), complemented the discussion with examples from the field. In the infrastructure sector in Rwanda, different policies, such as the National Housing Policy, the National Urbanisation Policy, urban planning and construction codes, contain provisions on the assignment of functions to the local government. While the development of local land use plans is the responsibility of the districts and the city of Kigali, in practice the development of district urban master plans is procured and coordinated by RHA for all districts. This may allow for economies of scale and quality control of the product, but also limits Local Governments control over the process, while access to allocated resources and building local capacity are hampered. Adequate financing and role definition throughout the different tiers of administration needs some stronger commitment by all stakeholders involved. The capacity of the local governments is still limited. Dialogue and coordination between different levels of government need to be strengthened and further expanded to enable them to drive the process locally in the future. 

You can find the presentations of the webinar here.  

The publication Emerging Practices in Intergovernmental Functional Assignment by Rainer Rohdewohld and Gabe Ferrazzi can now be accessed as open source here