Researching the politics of development



Competitive clientelism and the politics of core public sector reform in Ghana

Working paper 82

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Daniel Appiah and Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai
Although Ghana has implemented several donor-sponsored public sector reforms (PSRs) in an attempt to improve core areas of state functionality, the impact of such reforms remains generally disappointing. In this paper, we show that the nature of the political settlement in Ghana, described as one of ‘competitive clientelism’, is central to understanding the country’s limited success in improving the effectiveness of public institutions. Faced with a credible threat of losing power to excluded factions in competitive elections, reform initiatives tend to be driven largely by the logic of the maintenance of ruling governments, rather than by their potential to enhance the effectiveness of state institutions. This has often resulted in decisions that undermine reform efforts, ranging from needless and costly institutional duplications to the politicisation of the bureaucracy through patronage-based appointments, and the wholesale removal of public servants perceived to be associated with previous regimes. In this political environment, policy discontinuities across ruling coalitions are a norm, undermining the impact of reform initiatives that require a longer-time horizon to bear fruit.