Syndicate content

The Monday morning challenge - again

Graham Teskey's picture

Evidence-based policy has been the mantra for what seems like decades. Practitioners are aware of this, just as enlightened researchers are aware of the pressures acting on aid agency staff. But even with the best will in the world turning evidence into practice can be challenging. Let’s take the recent findings of ODI’s five year research program investigating the growth and development performance of patrimonial regimes in Africa. The research found that development and growth is possible in such circumstances as long as a number of conditions are met:

  • a disciplined and centralised management of economic ‘rents’, which is usually associated with a strong, visionary leader or leadership;
  • one single or dominant party;
  • a competent, confident economic technocracy;
  • a strategy to include, at least partially, the most important political groups in the country; and
  • a sound basic development policy framework.

By contrast, four factors were found to be massive inhibitors of development:

  • significant ethno-linguistic diversity;
  • little or no central disciplining / constraining authority;
  • a ‘winner takes all’ constitution; and
  • the absence of a visionary and developmental leadership.

I found the argument and the evidence compelling. In my (new) job here in AusAID I reflected on the implications of these findings for our program in Papua New Guinea, a major strategic partner for Australia. It is hard not to conclude that PNG could be the model for the ‘where development is difficult’ category.  It is characterised by extreme historical, geographic and cultural diversity.  Governance is characterised by the absence of any strong sense of national identity and extremely weak political and social cohesion. Many citizens have little engagement with the state, imposing few demands for improved services, and receive few benefits from the State. Informal institutions prevail over formal institutions. PNG politics is strongly patrimonial: it is shaped by the ‘big man’ culture of personalised politics where elites and politicians provide benefits to clients and supporters.  MP’s spend big to win office and there is an expectation that the MP will reward family and supporters appropriately.  There is no constraining authority at the political centre to discipline this system of rent management.

The data suggest that there has been little if any improvement in PNG governance over the last 15 years. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators show all six categories of governance are worse today than they were in 1996:


These figures may grim reading for AusAID. Since 1975 total Australian ODA to PNG has totalled almost $25 billion, of which over $14.5 billion can be considered as spending on ‘governance’ in one form or another. So the question is, with what we know now what do we do differently? The overarching conclusion of this excellent ODI research is that we must ditch Principal-Agent assumptions underpinning much development work in such regimes. Put this together with the other things we know (function not form, build on what’s there, context is all, institutions grow endogenously etc – readers will know the song sheet…..), what do they all mean for any approach to strengthening governance in PNG?

While I doubt there are any quick and easy solutions, there may be some things we can do differently on Monday morning. First, we have to recognise that we may have to make a choice between supporting the machinery of government – the Executive – and actually ensuring services are delivered to those that need them. The Executive often is not very interested in execution. We may need to accept that supporting the structures of the state may not contribute effectively to poverty reduction. This means we have to find other, non-state modalities for delivering ‘development’. Second, we may need to accept that the issue in PNG is not about the volume of aid; it is about how to change institutions and the incentives of politicians. More aid may make the problem worse, by weakening the incentives to raise revenue domestically, thereby undermining domestic accountability. Third, we should (finally) give up the assumption that ‘building the capacity’ of individuals and organisations in the government will make much of a difference to service delivery at the front line. The best we can hope for is a difference in some places at the margins.

We need to recognise that in these circumstances the political elite, the leadership, has few incentives to use the bureaucracy as a developmental instrument, in the same way that say Korea did in the 1960s and 1970s, and that Rwanda and Ethiopia are doing today. Maybe the best we can do is to ensure the survival of the ‘shell’ of the state in order that the macro-economy is reasonably well managed and that there is a sufficiency of security to prevent the downward spiral to conflict. Our objective here could be stability at minimum cost.

Fourth, we need to think more creatively about how to build on local structures at local level: structures that are visible, legitimate and have the capacity to bear a greater load. Never mind that these structures don’t look like ones we know and love: we need to experiment and be willing to take risks. Fifth, we may need to be willing to put a greater share of our funding outside the government system and increasingly rely on what is now called Community Driven Development. If the state has failed let us acknowledge this and work with non-state providers. Finally, we know that MPs and citizens like direct funds – funds that MPs can do with as they like. Why not give them an extra $1m each to spend, but with strict conditions and accountabilities? This would seem like a win-win: MPs get extra cash and the credit for delivering the cargo, while learning at the same time the nature and workings of accountability. Citizens get to benefit from services provided by their MPs and thus begin to develop developmental expectations from them. This is the beginning of state-society relations: when wantoks begin to morph into citizens, and PNG may begin its journey to real, as against imagined, statehood.

These issues are being considered. The alternative is to continue what we have being doing for the last twenty years. It is clear however that one more push doing this, but trying a little harder this time, won’t work; history and the research from ODI tells us this. But designing a program knowing this remains tough. We know enough to know what should guide us on Monday morning, but we often end up having to triangulate among evidence, the desire to spend, and the legitimate priorities of our partner governments. But hey, whoever said development, let alone this governance business, was easy?

 

-----

Graham Teskey is a Principal Sector Specialist at AusAID. This post represents Graham Teskey's views and not necessarily those of AusAID. 


Development as a collective action problem. ODI, 2012

 

Comments

Submitted by Anand P. Gupta on
The issue boils down to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending, with effectiveness measured in terms of the delivery of the outcomes the people in PNG are concerned with. I totally agree with Mr. Graham Teskey that this will necessitate a major change in the structure of incentives that politicians in PNG face – they need to behave in a manner that their self-interests are in line with the self-interests of the people in PNG. What also needs to be done is to put in place institutional arrangements for tracking all public expenditures, with a view to ensure efficient and effective use of public money by the implementing agencies. I strongly believe that public expenditure tracking work must go beyond determining how much of the expenditure incurred on a scheme is regular and how much of it is irregular. It must also go beyond tracking whether right amount of money flows at the right time to the right level, with no parking of funds. In order that public expenditure tracking work is meaningful, it must help in substantially improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public expenditures. In other words, it must help in developing the culture of measuring performance in terms of the delivery of the outcomes that people in PNG are concerned with. This will necessitate that before one begins tracking of public expenditures on a programme, one articulates the theory of change underlying that programme. Once this is done, those responsible for tracking of public expenditures on a given programme will need to (a) check whether money is available according to the requirements of that programme, (b) check whether money has been spent as it was supposed to be spent, (c) identify the missing/weak links in the causal chain of the programme in question (these missing/weak links may differ from one programme to another, and from one place to another), and (d) report their findings to the programme manager without any waste of time. The programme manager will be expected to take appropriate and timely action(s). In case the programme is not producing the intended outcomes because, say, the programme beneficiaries are not behaving the way they were expected to, the programme manager will investigate the reasons for this and take the requisite corrective action(s).

Submitted by Archil Kapanadze, M.D., Ph.D. on
Dear Graham, I am from Georgia (former Soviet Union) and the problems described in your blog is very vivid to me for last 20 year. It is very good phenomenological descriptions you have done. I mean you see the problems correctly. But to resolve them ("with what we know now what do we do differently?") it needs more scientific approach. I am working on this issues but it is difficult to put everything in small letter. But, as it was said by one Georgian scientist "Human is a meaning giving animal". So, when you coming with willing to help, you must consider what meanings in this society are comparable with that you want to introduce in there. So, one thing (maybe scenario of action) I want to add to something described by you very correctly - while "MP will reward family and supporters appropriately" he/she must be accountable by his/her family name (family in "patrimonial" societies includes more persons and have a greater meaning), it means if you will perform unethically as a government stuff (executive) no one from your family will come on this position in future. Maybe someone think it as a joke but I know you will understand me. With respect, Archil Kapanadze

Submitted by Anonymous on
I started to write a response that said that the idea of anticipating accountability for million dollar handouts in PNG was one of the sillier ideas that I had heard. It did not work in Solomon Islands and is,perhaps, less likely to work in PNG. Then I realised that my own 'solution' was very similar. In PNG, and just about everywhere else that AusAID's gives our taxes away, we need to put the mutual into mutual accountability. Indeed, why not give the Executive incentives to promote bottom up solutions? If they don't they get nothing. If they do, they get assistance to do that project and something dearer to their ambitions. Yes, a different approach should be encouraged. Doing samesame has predictable results.

Submitted by Marcus Manuel on
Graham Great to see ODI research being applied to a context as challenging as PNG. However I wonder if there would be merit in also reflecting more fundamentally on what groups in PNG might be interested in working with external actors to solve collective action problems before jumping in with particular solutions. Four other quick questions - which you may well have already considered. First giving money to MPs may indeed by right approach - and is consistent with the research result of seeking solutions that involve working with the grain. But is there evidence this has worked elsewhere? Second community driven development has a mixed record. What is the evidence that it would fit the PNG context? Third has anyone considered cash transfers? Given the large PNG resource base the necessary long term sustainable finance should already exist. And the payments on a nationally agreed - or even locally agreed - basis would help to start to build the linkages between citizens and the state without the costly inefficient intermediation of government spending. There is a growing evidence base of how such transfers have been important politically in Latin America as well as being a highly effective way of reducing poverty. The cost of national ID cards is now very cheap (US$3/card) and these can again be a way of building greater national unity. Rachel Slater in ODI is about to come up with set of key questions for any governement to consider before going down that route and we would be happy to send you these when these are ready if you'd be interested. Fourth have you considered the new Fragility Assessment tool that the group of g7+ countries have been piloting as part of the New Deal agreed in Busan? One of the key elements is that countries themselves make their own assessment - rather than the World Bank UN etc. From what you say that might be an interesting political process in PNG. Another variant on this would be south-south learning and explore whether PNG would be interested in asking the Africa Union for support to undertake an Africa Peer Review Mechanism process. This has been a remarkable successful way of getting debate going at the highest political level in Africa on issues as sensitive as shortfalls in parliamentary democracy in Ghana; crime in South Africa and land rights in Kenya. Good luck for the rest of the week! Marcus

The suggestion late in the blog "Why not give [MPs] an extra $1m each to spend, but with strict conditions and accountabilities? This would seem like a win-win: MPs get extra cash and the credit for delivering the cargo, while learning at the same time the nature and workings of accountability. Citizens get to benefit from services provided by their MPs and thus begin to develop developmental expectations from them" merits comment. First, the author presents the idea in the guise of a new, 'creative' conjecture, as if a light bulb has just gone on in the development community's collective head. In fact, such discretionary funds have been around since the end of the 1980s. Over the five years of the 2007-2012 parliamentary term, MPs received about K27 million each in District Services Improvement Program funds, or about US$2m/year, to do just what is suggested. A lot of effort has gone into evaluating whether the money is spent wisely, with the overwhelming weight of opinion, both from international analysts and commentators from within PNG, concluding that there is rarely anything to show for it in electorates (=districts) and, worse, that the scheme creates harmful perverse incentives. Second, the 'strict conditions' have taken the form of the Joint District Planning and Budget Priority Committees, as set out in 1998 legislation. Reviews show that planning in the conventional sense is impossible, with district after district having rival sets of administrators, rival political factions unable to sit at the same table, and even JDPBPCs that never physically meet within the district. There is no M&E to speak of. Third, even if JDPBPCs sit properly, there is no win-win. MPs get a lot of cash and a few lucky constituents make off with free outboard motors, dinghies or (in one district) goats. The vast majority continue to suffer without safe drinking water, functioning health posts or elementary schools that have books or chalk, let alone desks or paid teachers. Fourth, MPs 'learning ... the workings of accountability'? I think not - 89 MPs get DSIP funds but a scattering provide any reports at all on what they have done with them, which they are required by law to do. Fifth, 'Citizens ... begin to develop developmental expectations from [MPs]'. Unfortunately, all that has happened is that crony contractors are the ones who have developed expectations - of being able to pocket fat cheques and get away with outrageous and non-existent infrastructure 'developments'. The blog suggests 'an extra $1m each' as if it was loose change. In fact it's not the amount but the priority that harms district development. The national budget is crippled by the MPs' demands to have their funds released first, so that one can visit program after program in districts, with budget lines set according to national priorities, that receive no funds at all, or a fraction of their allocation very late in the year. The effect of this on the morale of public servants in provinces is devastating. None of this is new. One of the saddest things about it is that all the scenarios are revisited year after year as if it was. Best John Burton, ANU

Graham Great to see ODI research being applied to a context as challenging as PNG. However I wonder if there would be merit in also reflecting more fundamentally on what groups in PNG might be interested in working with external actors to solve collective action problems before jumping in with particular solutions. Four other quick questions - which you may well have already considered. First giving money to MPs may indeed by right approach - and is consistent with the research result of seeking solutions that involve working with the grain. But is there evidence this has worked elsewhere? Second community driven development has a mixed record. What is the evidence that it would fit the PNG context? Third has anyone considered cash transfers? Given the large PNG resource base the necessary long term sustainable finance should already exist. And the payments on a nationally agreed - or even locally agreed - basis would help to start to build the linkages between citizens and the state without the costly inefficient intermediation of government spending. There is a growing evidence base of how such transfers have been important politically in Latin America as well as being a highly effective way of reducing poverty. The cost of national ID cards is now very cheap (US$3/card) and these can again be a way of building greater national unity. Rachel Slater in ODI is about to come up with set of key questions for any government to consider before going down that route and we would be happy to send you these when these are ready if you'd be interested. Fourth have you considered the new Fragility Assessment tool that the group of g7+ countries have been piloting as part of the New Deal agreed in Busan? One of the key elements is that countries themselves make their own assessment - rather than the World Bank UN etc. From what you say that might be an interesting political process in PNG. Another variant on this would be south-south learning and explore whether PNG would be interested in asking the Africa Union for support to undertake an Africa Peer Review Mechanism process. This has been a remarkable successful way of getting debate going at the highest political level in Africa on issues as sensitive as shortfalls in parliamentary democracy in Ghana; crime in South Africa and land rights in Kenya. Thanks, Marcus

Add new comment