Massively increased aid flows will meet an ongoing reform process in Africa.
The process of governance reforms is not new – in fact it can be traced back to the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action. Recently it has been reinvigorated, as it has benefited from the parallel support of the African states and the G8 group since the Kananaskis Summit in 2002. It is characterised by the recognition that African states claim and accept the principal responsibility for their social and political transition and reform processes. This consensus has found its clearest expression in the reform of the African Union and the creation of various mechanisms such as the New Partnership for African Development’s (NEPAD) African peer review mechanism (APRM), as well as regional and sub-regional initiatives. These initiatives are in the process of being implemented, and progress is visible in many fora, but it is too early for impacts to be shown at the national level where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are measured. Initiatives are also being better linked to national or regional civil society capacities that are needed to drive these reforms from below.
These initiatives as well as the Cotonou partnership of the European Union permit a more fruitful dialogue among and within African states on governance issues which in turn may help to put governance work on a more sound footing. In parallel, donors are currently pursuing joint and separate activities to strengthen the sustainability and the impact of instruments such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), mostly in the areas of public administration and public financial management in general and, more particularly, in supervision, control and auditing. In the policy cluster of safety and security, the first steps for common strategies and action have successfully been taken on the sub-regional level.
The national picture for governance activities is very varied. Similar sector-wide approaches (SWAp) on law and justice in neighbouring countries have had quite different trajectories in recent times (e.g. Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania). Other equally demanding reform processes allowing participation in policy analysis and development (e.g. on budget reforms) have not reached the status of institutional deepening, let alone of sustained application. More fundamental issues of cooperation with countries that show less favourable framework conditions have not yet been tackled with the necessary resolve.
These processes have succeeded in building up some capacity. They have allowed African governments and citizens to have a greater say in the way their countries are involved in international efforts for better governance. Increased aid flows will necessarily lead to substantive changes in incentives and, above all, in relations of power and influence given the concomitant changes in structures and relations that shape the political process.
Budget-financed programmes of the SWAp and PRSP type cover many sectors and levels, and have led to an increasingly complex reform architecture. One case in point is decentralisation, one of the reforms that is thought to unleash capacities and to bring policy making closer to civil society.
Decentralisation processes deal primarily with functional and territorial reform issues. But they involve many other areas such as civil service reform as they try to combine “downsizing” and “rightsizing” of national and sub-national organisations. These reform aspects become more urgent as the measure of capacity needed on the local level becomes apparent and the multiple requests to increase jobs at this level have to be addressed.
Another major reform area for decentralisation is the transfer, sharing and generation of revenues. Broadening tax bases for the local level and improving revenue flows through responsible and legitimate government are essential parts of these reforms. They are particularly sensitive to changes in the availability of funds.
Accounting and auditing are reform areas, linked to decentralisation but following its own rationale. In weak policy and management environments, both stress the repressive part of auditing and thus are of little help to newly decentralised organisations groping with new tasks. They have not factored in roles for the private sector or decentralised internal audit institutions in a decentralised environment. Nor can they take into consideration emerging instruments and practice for public administration supervision and control in a decentralised environment.
If decentralisation is to have any effect on poverty reduction,civil society needs to get involved in policy analysis, policy making and in exercising some measure of “social control”. There are many very positive experiences in this area, but also many cases where misguided accountability did not improve the quality of public services but disrupted public administration decision making. Moreover, mechanisms of accountability across levels of government and the coordination between internal control and external accountability take a long time to mature.
These reforms are lengthy, costly and involve almost every part of society. They do not, by their nature, lend themselves to an acceleration brought about by outside influence. The reasons are well known. Programmes are in reality a host of different reform processes that are driven by different micro-motives, which depend on different coalitions of actors and involve different resources. Increased fund flows are liable to change the balance of power and relations between reform actors that are driving the process and the direction the reform process takes. The chances that the impact of changed incentives can be managed appear rather slim. On the other hand, the risk that increased fund flows will interfere with emerging democratic processes are all too apparent.
While it may be theoretically easy to increase spending by increasing the number of spending and accounting entities (local governments, autonomous authorities, etc.) using additional funds to produce reform results would require wellestablished systems of commonly accepted rules, buttressed by a common profile of civil servants, for example based on a common induction and public sector training, similar recruitment procedures and career paths.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.3 (2005) The State and Governance: The Main Bottlenecks for Absorbing Massively Increased Aid?