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«Does Elite Capture Matter? Local Elites and Targeted Welfare Programs in Indonesia Vivi Alatas, World Bank Abhijit Banerjee, MIT Rema Hanna, Harvard ...»

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Does Elite Capture Matter?

Local Elites and Targeted Welfare Programs in Indonesia

Vivi Alatas, World Bank

Abhijit Banerjee, MIT

Rema Hanna, Harvard University

Benjamin A. Olken, MIT

Ririn Purnamasari, World Bank

Matthew Wai-Poi, World Bank

January 2013


This paper investigates the impact of elite capture on the allocation of targeted government

welfare programs in Indonesia, using both a high-stakes field experiment that varied the extent of

elite influence and non-experimental data on a variety of existing government transfer programs.

Conditional on their consumption level, there is little evidence that village elites and their relatives are more likely to receive aid programs than non-elites. However, this overall result masks stark differences between different types of elites: those holding formal leadership positions are more likely to receive benefits, while informal leaders are less likely to receive them. We show that capture by formal elites occurs when program benefits are actually distributed to households, and not during the processes of determining who should be on the beneficiary lists. However, while elite capture exists, the welfare losses it creates appear small: since formal elites and their relatives are only 9 percent richer than non-elites, are at most about 8 percentage points more likely to receive benefits than non-elites, and represent at most 15 percent of the population, eliminating elite capture entirely would improve the welfare gains from these programs by less than one percent.

This project was a collaboration involving many people. We thank Talitha Chairunissa, Amri Ilmma, Chaeruddin Kodir, He Yang and Gabriel Zucker for their excellent research assistance, and Scott Guggenheim for helpful comments. We thank Mitra Samya, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics, the National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K), and SurveyMeter for their cooperation implementing the project. Most of all, we thank Jurist Tan for her truly exceptional work leading the field implementation. This project was financially supported by AusAID through a World Bank trust fund, by 3ie (OW3.1055), and by the NIH (P01 HD061315). All views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Bank, TNP2K, Mitra Samya, Depsos, or the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics.



Social scientists tend to be skeptical about the motivations of local leaders in developing countries. When encountering “village heads” or “chiefs,” the tendency is to think not about the leadership skills that allowed them to obtain these positions, but rather to imagine all the myriad ways that they are scheming to extract from their citizenry. The belief that local elites stealthily capture resources has deep roots going back at least to the Federalist papers (Hamilton et al., 1787; in the development context, see also Wade, 1982, and Dreze and Sen, 1989). More recently, these ideas have been further explored and developed in such works as Bardhan and Mookherjee (2000), Acemoglu (2006) and Acemoglu, Reed, and Robinsion (2012).

As a result of this skepticism, large swaths of development policy have been designed to systematically marginalize local leaders, with potentially significant costs. 1 One prominent example has been the case of targeted social programs: local communities (and their leaders) often have better information about who is poor than central governments (Alderman, 2002;

Galasso and Ravallion, 2005; Alatas et al, 2012a), but central governments are often reluctant to devolve decision making about who should be chosen as a beneficiary to local leaders, preferring to allocate benefits based on less precise, but less discretionary proxy-means test systems (Coady, Grosh, and Hoddinott, 2004). More generally, as Bardhan and Mookherjee (2005) articulate, administering these types of programs centrally to reduce elite capture may come at the cost of the local leaders’ better local information and greater advantage in monitoring.

Even when programs are decentralized, this is often done so as to minimize the role for local elites. For example, “community driven development” programs, sponsored by the World Bank and others in more than 40 countries, allow local communities to choose and implement


 For example, the World Development Report on Making Services Work for Poor People (World Bank, 2004), particularly chapter 3 and 4, advocates the need to prevent local elite capture in the design of social programs.

local infrastructure development projects.2 Due to the fear of elite capture, however, they are often designed to circumvent existing local leaders, and instead devolve decision-making and implementation of projects to ordinary villagers (Mansuri and Rao, 2012). This may come at a significant cost: as Khwaja (forthcoming) discusses, citizens’ ability and skills to actually implement the program may be weaker than the local leaders. As a result, local leaders often have useful skills that remain unutilized, and there may be more long-term effects on institutional and bureaucratic performance because the incentive of local leaders to acquire skills and the opportunity to demonstrate performance is reduced (see, e.g., Myerson, 2009, Shleifer 2012).

In this paper, we test for the presence of capture by local leaders in targeted transfer programs, and then estimate whether this capture is quantitatively large enough to justify the attention it receives. We do so using both a high-stakes field experiment and cross-sectional data on a variety of targeted transfer programs in Indonesia. Crucially, we collected an unusually detailed dataset on who is “elite” for 400 villages: within a randomly selected sample of survey respondents, we asked each respondent to list all of the households in his or her neighborhood that occupy leadership positions, encompassing both formal positions (i.e. village heads, heads of hamlets, etc.) and informal leadership roles (i.e. respected members of the community whose influence and power is derived from social acceptance). We then asked each respondent to identify all of the formal and informal leaders’ extended family members. Because some of those named households – or family members of those named households – were also in our random sample of survey respondents (without necessarily knowing whether they were or were not


 See Casey, Glennerster, and Miguel (2012) for a description.

  named by others as an elite or relative of an elite), we can determine whether elite households are more likely to receive government benefits, conditional on their consumption levels.

We start our analysis by testing for capture within Indonesia’s largest targeted government programs: the direct cash assistance program (BLT), which distributed one-time grants of about US $100 to poor households in 2005 and 2008; Jamkesmas, which provides health insurance to the poor; and Raskin, which provides the poor with subsidized rice. Next, we examine administrative data from the Government of Indonesia on the 2008 official asset-based targeting list, which is the data that was collected to help design beneficiary lists for use in subsequent targeted programs. Looking at capture at these two different stages in the program development – actual receipt of benefits, as measured from a household survey, and administrative data on who was supposed to receive benefits according to the government’s targeting list – allows us to differentiate between capture when programs are actually implemented and capture through manipulation of the process by which central government enumerators survey household assets to create a targeting list.

The above analysis is useful because it provides a descriptive picture of the current level of local capture in programs that involve local leader participation. However, one can argue that aspects of the programs may have been designed or implemented to minimize elite capture in cases where the central government feared it could be a problem. To address this issue, we ran a high-stakes field experiment in which we randomly varied the degree of control that local leaders could exercise over a program, and specifically included a treatment that allowed substantial flexibility for local elites in deciding who should receive benefits. In 400 villages, we varied the rules through which the government conducted the beneficiary selection for the 2011 expansion of Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH), Indonesia’s conditional cash transfer program that provides on average US $150 per year for six years to poor households. Villages were assigned to one of three selection rules: a proxy-means test allocation, which uses a formula based on assets and other household characteristics to determine beneficiaries; a community-meeting approach, in which community members could modify the results of the proxy-means test in open, hamlet-level meetings; and an elite-meeting approach, in which hamlet-level meetings run just by local elites were allowed to modify the results of the proxy-means test essentially behind closed doors.

Overall, we do not find evidence of elite capture by local leaders. Looking at existing government programs, we find no clear pattern that leaders or their relatives were more likely to receive assistance, conditional on their consumption level. Even more strikingly, despite the high stakes ($150 per year for up to 6 years per beneficiary), elites are no more likely to receive benefits than non-elites in all of our experimental treatments – even when local leaders decide on the beneficiary lists behind closed doors. In fact, the distribution of characteristics among those targeted in the community and elite-only meetings are remarkably similar, suggesting that the local leaders were also no more likely to conduct other forms of patronage in the elite-only meetings. Note that our experimental findings in this very high-stakes setting are consistent with earlier findings in a low stakes (one-time transfer of US$3) environment (Alatas et al, 2012a).

This suggests that these findings are quite general, holding even when the stakes increase by a factor of 300. These results are even more notable considering the reputation Indonesia has for high levels of corruption.

When we inspect the data more closely, however, we do find some evidence of elite capture, but only for formal elites, and only in certain cases. We still find no evidence of capture by either formal or informal elites in any of the targeting mechanisms used in our experiment or in the official 2008 targeting survey conducted by the national government. However, we find that the formal leaders and their relatives are actually more likely to actually receive targeted benefits during program implementation in the 2005 and 2008 temporary cash assistance programs and the health insurance program – by as much as 8 percentage points (19 percent) more than non-elites at comparable consumption levels. In contrast, informal leaders and their relatives are less likely to receive targeted benefits than one would expect based on their consumption levels across almost all the programs that we consider. The difference between the original targeting lists drawn up by the government – which show no capture – and the final allocations of programs suggests that, when it happens, elite capture occurs in the final tweaking of beneficiary lists during program implementation.

Interestingly, we find formal elite capture in programs that are targeted at roughly 40 percent of the population, but we do not observe it in PKH, which is targeted at the bottom 5 percent. Furthermore, we find that capture by formal elites is most likely to occur in villages that, for a variety of reasons we discuss later, received a larger share of benefits relative to its poverty rate. Both of these findings suggest that, to the extent we observe capture by formal elites, it is most likely when there are additional benefits left over after addressing the very poor, or when the coverage is high enough that it is at least plausible that relatively well-off households could potentially be eligible.

Many have argued that democracy may be an important constraint on elite capture (e.g., Foster and Rosenzweig, 2004; Faguet, 2004; Rosenzweig and Munshi, 2010; Bardhan and Mookherjee, 2005; Martinez-Bravo, et al, 2011; Beath, Christia¸ and Enikolopov, 2012). To examine this, we take advantage of the fact that villages in urban areas generally have appointed village heads, whereas villages in rural areas generally have elected ones. This status is slow to respond to demographic shifts, so that there are both types of heads in both types of areas (Martinez-Bravo, 2012). We find that leaders do not appear to be constrained by elections: if anything, we find that the elite capture we observe for formal elites is more likely to occur in areas where the village leadership is elected.

Despite the fact that formal elites do appear somewhat more likely to receive government benefits in some types of programs, the main takeaway of our paper is that quantitatively, the type of elite capture we study in this paper may not matter very much – and certainly matters much less than other targeting failures that are well within the government’s ability to correct.

Because we have detailed consumption survey data on the elites as well as non-elites, we can not only estimate whether elites receive more benefits than they should be entitled to, but we can also estimate how much richer they are than everyone else, and how many of them there are in the population. These factors turn out to matter a lot: even though formal elites are as much as 19 percent more likely to receive certain types of benefits than they should be based on consumption, they comprise a small share of the population (at most 15 percent) and they are not that much richer than non-elites (about 9 percent richer). Estimating the gain in social welfare from these programs formally using a CRRA utility framework, we estimate that eliminating elite capture entirely would improve the welfare gains from these programs by less than one percent.

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