Fiscal decentralization has been a major theme in development policy in Sub-Saharan Africa since the 1980s. However, the hopes that decentralization will lead to greater accountability have often been disappointed. This paper uses evidence on the devolution of tax collection in British colonial Africa to argue that corruption in local governance in Africa has a long history. The devolution of authority over tax assessments to district officers and their delegates in the early colonial period resulted in widespread corruption. These problems were exacerbated when authority was devolved further to the local level in the 1940s, a pivotal decade in the development of the local authorities inherited by post-independence governments. This evidence indicates that the tendency for decentralization to lead to corruption at the local level is not limited to recent moves toward decentralization
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