Chapter 2 & 3 – Local Government at the Extremes: Viacha Charagua

The changes described in Chapter 1 are exactly the opposite of what many academics and policy-makers predict, and what some researchers have found in the past.  Why is Bolivia different?  Why did Bolivia’s municipalities behave in this manner?  To answer, we must investigate the political mechanisms by which power is allocated locally, and the social and institutional methods by which public decisions are made.  Chapters 2 and 3 do so with qualitative evidence, using thick description to provide accounts of the workings of local government in the best and worst of my case studies, which ranked easily amongst the best and worst municipalities in Bolivia as a whole.  The extremal focus places in stark relief the systematic differences in decision-making that characterize each.  This, in turn, facilitated theorizing about institutional causes, effects and necessary conditions relating to the quality of local government.

In Viacha (chapter 2) government was unresponsive, violent and corrupt.  This was largely due to the mayor’s successful efforts to short-circuit public accountability by sabotaging the institutions of government, leaving them unable to carry out their role in the governance system, and him free to deform local policy in his and his party’s interests.  By contrast governance in Charagua (chapter 3) was participative and responsive, led by strong institutions of government that produced high-quality policy outputs.  Careful consideration of how policy is made, from the perspectives of all the major and intermediate players in each district, shows that the performance of public institutions was firmly grounded in the local economy, political system, civil society, and the interactions amongst them.

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