The Limits of Participation in a Transitional Democracy
Methods. This study is based on a case study comparison design. Community members in Kuçova were compared with community members in Saranda on the perceived quality of public services and goods. Starting in 1996, the municipal leaders of Kuçova have promoted several local development initiatives that focus on strengthening citizen participation in decision making and improving service provision. Such efforts have not been made by the municipal leaders of Saranda. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with randomly selected community members (n = 100) in both communities. In addition, field observation and archival research were conducted in Kuçova. Seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) was conducted to predict the perceived quality of public services and goods, controlling for the effects of income, age, gender, and political beliefs. Thematic content analysis was conducted to examine the mechanisms through which citizen participation in decision making affects the quality of public services and goods.
Results. Community was a strong predictor of the perceived quality of the greenery service and the street cleaning service. For instance, living in Kuçova was associated with a perceived quality of the greenery service that was 1.36 points higher, compared to living in Saranda. However, no statistically significant differences were found for the street maintenance service and public goods. Qualitative analysis provided two insights: First, in the presence of limited fiscal capacities, local officials assigned higher importance to those services that they considered more important for the development of the community. A green and clean city was perceived as more vital than a city with improved road infrastructure. Second, local officials enjoyed more discretionary power over the provision of public services than public goods.
Implications. The evidence partly supports the theoretical expectation that participation results in improved public services and goods. In the presence of responsive local leaders, participation can result in positive outcomes. However, such outcomes are conditioned by the fiscal capacity and autonomy delegated by the central government. Findings suggest that the central government should devolve adequate powers and resources to local authorities, and encourage them to establish mechanisms of downward accountability.