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A key assumption behind decentralisation in developing countries is that it enhances the accountability of local government and results in policies that reflect the preferences of the local community. However, previous research shows that local politicians and administrators in many developing countries to a large extent behave as if they were primarily accountable to central government, not local communities. The literature suggests various explanatory factors but does not provide insight into their relative weight and into how different factors interact. This paper combines comparative case-study research with in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with local government politicians and officials involved in the delivery of agricultural extension services in Tanzania. It shows that limited administrative and political decentralisation and centralistic human resources management restrict downward accountability to the community. Downward accountability is also constrained by the social rules that local politicians and administrators observe. For downward accountability to materialise, formal systems of public administration need to introduce incentives to that effect.
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