REVIEW #9: State Decentralization in Poland Has Been Successful, but There Is Still Room for Improvement


State decentralization played an important role in the successful transition to a market economy in Poland. The title of the last World Bank publication on Poland accurately describes our success (Lessons from Poland, Insights for Poland: A Sustainable and Inclusive Transition to High Income Status). The authors of the report focused on the importance of state decentralization, pointing out that local governments are subject to increased political accountability, which helped to improve governance overall.

Decentralization in Poland was implemented in two stages – in 1990 and in 1999. The early reforms passed down central government tasks as well as some revenue-raising authority, giving it limited autonomy regarding real estate taxes, local fees, and other minor taxes. The second round of administrative reforms reduced the number of voivodeships, restored counties, and decentralized public programs and services to increase citizen involvement and improve public service delivery1.

Local Governments Play a Significant Role in Delivering Public Services

Besides tax issues, the majority of interactions between public administration and citizens occurs at the local level of government. As local government service the majority of administrative matters, they employ nearly 60% of the total number of people who work in public administration. They are also responsible for primary and secondary education, which – according to the PISA results – is of a high quality by European standards. While the central government supervises the curricula and grants money (the educational grant is a function of a number of students and teachers in a given community), it is local government that runs the schools directly.

In the case of the healthcare, the responsibilities of local government (which owns the majority of hospitals) and central government (which funds the entire sector) are less clearly divided. Moreover, outcomes are much worse than in education.

Overall, local governments spend around 30% of total general government expenditure, but their contribution to investment is much higher– in recent years, on average 45% of public investment was conducted by local governments2. Although there are discussions about the efficiency of certain projects (aqua parks and airports are the most hotly debated), overall improvement in infrastructure (local roads, sewers, public spaces) during the last 30 years was remarkable.

Poles Have Trust in Local Government

In the recent survey conducted by CBOS, local governments ranked as the most trusted public institution – way ahead of central government and other remaining branches of government3. However, such results are nothing new – looking back at the surveys for more than the last 15 years, local governments have always been among the most trusted institutions, consistently ranking above central government and political parties


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1World Bank Group (2017) Lessons from Poland, Insights for Poland: A Sustainable and Inclusive Transition to High Income Status. Washington, DC: World Bank. Available [online]:

2See Annual governmental finance statistics.

3 Local city and county governments are trusted by 65% of Poles, while the President by 60%, public administration offices by 54%, central government by 44%, parliament by 34%, courts by 33%, and political parties by just 23%. Even the media rank much lower, with 37% in the case of television and 27% of the press.
Rafal Trzeciakowski