Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Improving Access and Quality of Public Services in Latin America: To Govern and To Serve

Guillermo Perry, Ramona Angelescu Naqvi

Palgrave Macmillan



Edited by Perry and Naqvi, Improving Access and Quality of Public Services in Latin America brings insights from a variety of Latin American nations to evaluate the effectiveness of mechanisms and governance structures to deliver improved quality, access and affordability to critical public services, including roads, water and education. It draws empirically from comparative case studies in Latin America from the Global Development Network (GDN) research project designed and directed by Perry and Naqvi. Its results are relevant for policymakers and planners, as well as development practitioners and academics.

Chapter 1, “Building a Culture of Accountability”, summarizes the main conclusions from the GDN project, which focuses mainly on the quality and equity of access to basic education, water supply and roads. The chapter highlights three key ways that Latin American nations have tried to “enhance accountability of policy makers to citizens and of service providers to their users”: decentralization of service delivery; direct citizen participation; and alternative modes of delivery (page 7). And in conclusion, it identifies three major factors for building accountability in service delivery. These are: adequate information flows, self-financing, and the lasting effects of political history and culture.

Chapter 2 focuses on alternative means, such as quasi-markets, that government reformers employ to provide better and more services whilst also keeping costs down. As a revealing context for the pitfalls and attractions of quasi-market mechanisms, the authors focus their analysis on their use for public service provision in Latin America. In particular, they aim to “develop a framework for analyzing the problems and challenges – in incentives, institutions, and politics – that arise in implementing market reforms” (page 41). The next three chapters are empirical and analyse a range of service provision reforms in Colombia, Peru, Chile and Uruguay. These cases are chosen because they are representative of the whole region’s implementation of quasi-market mechanisms.

Chapter 3 studies the case of decentralization in Colombia between 1994 and 2009, to evaluate the impact that local and national electoral competition has upon “incentives to build fiscal capacity and provide public goods such as education and water” (page 68). It finds that political competition has a positive correlation with the provision of public services and is influenced by municipal-level efforts to raise fiscal capacity.

Participatory budgeting (PB) in Peru’s water and sanitation sector is the topic of Chapter 4. PB began in 2004 as part of the nation’s decentralization process, and the empirical case study presented here evaluates what effect it has had upon the quality of water and sanitation services. In particular, it uses econometric techniques and analyses the socio-demographic and political determinants of PB intensity. Overall, it finds no significant relationship between PB and public service provision. However, the study reveals the importance of women’s political participation for improved quality and coverage of water services.

The final chapter, Chapter 5, presents a comparative study of Chile and Uruguay to understand the effects of governance and institutional arrangements upon basic education. Specifically, the chapter evaluates how the equity and quality of basic education delivery are impacted by institutional setups of education systems. Using the framing of environmental governance, the study looks at four main governance factors: decentralization; accountability; provision and financing; and incentives.


Book note prepared by Hannah Keren Lee

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