This policy report examines the role of peoples' empowerment - by broadening their capabilities and opportunities - in improving the quantity and quality of public services. Empowered citizens can use their voice and access to demand better services and force service providers to become more transparent and accountable. However, giving power to people alone cannot help resolve public service delivery issues, unless concomitant reforms in governance and public management are put in place.
Countries in Asia and the Pacific have made significant improvements in delivering public services. The region, for example, can boast of significant drops in the number of out-of-school children as well as the under-5 mortality rates, and of expanding access to sanitation facilities and clean water. The region, for example, can boast of significant drops in the number of out-of-school children as well as the under-5 mortality rates, while access to sanitation facilities and clean water has been expanding. However, challenges like inequitable access, poor quality of public services, and weak governance remain unresolved.
The benefits of public services tend to accrue disproportionately to the non-poor, while the amounts spent by governments on services the poor need most are limited. Poor quality of public services has resulted in a flight of consumers, even the poor, to the private sector. Lack of transparency and weak governance encourage corruption, rent seeking by public providers and misappropriation of public funds. How can empowered people resolve these issues?
The concept of empowerment in this report is motivated by Amartya Sen's rights, entitlements, and capability approach. Empowerment enables deprived people to be effective agents of their own human development. The report outlines three mechanisms through which the citizens' power to demand quality services and hold governments accountable is exercised: (i) rights-based entitlements; (ii) participatory performance monitoring; and (iii) community participation and community-driven development. These social accountability mechanisms expose corruption, increase awareness of entitlements, empower people to claim their rights, and facilitate citizen engagement in the service delivery process.
Governments can improve the poor's access to and the quality of public services by partnering with the private sector and nongovernment organizations (NGOs). Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is also seen as an important tool for empowerment and public service delivery improvement.
Citizen and community empowerment can improve public services, but only if there are complementary governance reforms. Reforming the bureaucracy, the political process, the judiciary, and frontline service providers is a prerequisite to effective empowerment.
Public-private-NGO partnerships are essential for widening the spread of e-delivery of public services. In leveraging the private sector, it is essential to match the non-state providers with the type of public service being contracted, design a compensation scheme sufficient for them, and adopt regulation policies to ensure accountability of non-state provision.