Decentralisation or patronage: What determines government's allocation of development spending in a unitary country? Evidence from Bangladesh

Amin Masud Ali, Antonio Savoia

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This paper contributes to the decentralisation and distributive politics literature by empirically investigating the determinants of public expenditure at the sub-national level in Bangladesh. We argue that fragmentation in a unitary developing country may not channel higher resources to local areas. Political motives may instead play a significant role in the allocation process. Using panel data methods and a novel dataset on government's district-wise allocation of annual development expenditure in Bangladesh covering the period from 2005 to 2009, the analysis focuses on the impact of local government fragmentation and tests key political distribution models (the core voter hypothesis, the swing voter hypothesis, and the political alignment theory). The results show that local government fragmentation does not have any significant impact on public spending at the district level. However, the core vote share, local elected representative's political alignment with the ruling party, and the raw number of ministers from a district are all significantly associated with higher expenditure allocation. No evidence was found in support of the swing voter hypothesis. Overall, the findings suggest that political motives matter and that the allocation of developing spending is significantly influenced by political patronage. This may be a signficant obstacle to SDGs progress, as development spending may not be governed by resource delivery mechanisms that effectively target the poor.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102385
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Economy
Early online date9 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Bangladesh
  • Decentralisation
  • Development expenditure
  • Distributive politics
  • Fragmentation
  • Local government

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute


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