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Opinions of Saturday, 24 July 2004

Columnist: Agyeman, Harold

Deepening National Ownership And National Leadership

...In Ghana?s Next Poverty Reduction Strategy

The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) recently gave us all ?heads up? of its intention to update before the end of 2005, Ghana?s Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS). The review of the GPRS, which would commence in the third quarter of 2004, is expected to lead to an improvement, in substance and strategies, over the prevailing one, and serve as a more elaborate development framework, that also translates into concrete programmes the commitments voluntarily undertaken by Ghana within the context of the New Partnership for Africa?s Development (NEPAD), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other outcomes of major United Nations summits and conferences, such as the Monterrey Consensus (International Conference on Financing for Development) and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (World Summit on Sustainable Development). The impending review, which comes in the heels of impressive performance in meeting the objectives set in the current GPRS, as reflected in the 2003 Annual Performance Report of the GPRS, is an exciting prospect and truly something to look forward to.

In sounding off its intention to review the GPRS, the NDPC also requested contributions that will enhance the development of the GPRS. I seek, herein, to make a modest value-added contribution on processes, by focusing on the concepts of national ownership and national leadership. I also attempt to make a few suggestions to practicalise these concepts, in ways that can ensure not only quantitative results but also qualitative outcomes in the design and implementation of the next GPRS. This article does not, however, seek to engage in the substantive issues since that should rightly be the outcome of the consultations with relevant stakeholders at all levels of the process.

What is national ownership and leadership?

In the development field today, the concepts of national ownership and national leadership in the design and implementation of development frameworks are generally accepted. In simple terms, national ownership and leadership is a recognition that each country has primary responsibility for its own development and an attempt to increase the policy space for developing country governments to pursue national development, even as it is recognised that though external support may be required to implement national programmes, national governments must nonetheless lead that process. This shift in thinking, acknowledged by the MDGs recognition that the route to development goals can differ significantly, even if not all measures are necessarily justified, is in a sense the outcome of the painful realisation, following the notorious failure of the infamous structural adjustment programmes that derived from the prescriptive policies of the Washington Consensus, that ?one-size-fits-all? policies are generally inappropriate.

The underlying logic for this shift in paradigm is that a country is more likely to know what its greatest problems are, as well as the best approaches to solving them. Moreover, it is hoped that when a development framework has been nationally designed, there would be greater political commitment to implementing them, since, presumably, it fulfills the national aspiration. Yet still, there is great expectation that national leadership would leverage international best practices and the global norms voluntarily accepted by all countries.

Beyond the broad concept, the question still lingers as to what national ownership or leadership actually are. Is it enough for public representatives to collate the views of relevant stakeholders and design a national framework? The Director-General of NDPC, Prof Baffoe, is reported to have reaffirmed a consultative approach in the formulation of the revised GPRS. That approach is commendable and must be encouraged as the basis for developing national consensus on what Ghana?s medium-term priorities should be.

Below, I attempt to ?flesh out? national ownership and national leadership in two areas. First, in the design process of the GPRS and its implementation, and, secondly, in Ghana?s relationship with its donor partners.

Developing national ownership and leadership through the ?centralisation of decentralisation? in the design and implementation of the revised GPRS

To deepen national ownership and leadership of the GPRS, I believe that the full, continuous and effective participation of decentralised governance should be encouraged and ensured. Sustainable development and the transformations aimed at by development programmes would not be achieved without true commitment and the active involvement of people at the local level. In this respect, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDA?s) as well as Regional Coordinating Councils (RCCs) should be involved early in the process. That would be crucial in determining the district level aspirations to be aggregated into regional level goals and national targets, even as that bottom-up input process may need to be top-down guided by what the national policy in the fiscal and monetary areas can contain. Local government leaders must be encouraged to be inclusive and proactive, and to ensure the allocation of adequate resources towards locally stated priorities. It is the expectation, to ensure a cleaner delineation of responsibilities between central government and local governments, that aside macro-level matters and national projects, which central government must rightly be seized of, MMDAs would be seized with concrete district level goals and targets, programmed in a results-oriented manner. In other words, there should be clear allocation of functions for the achievement of targets between central government and the respective MMDAs, and the Medium Term Development Plans (MTDPs)of local governments should contain am adequate level of detail that can serve as a credible plan of action, with time lines, for implementing development goals.

An obvious advantage of ensuring that targets and goals are set at the district and regional levels is that aside of the participatory process involved therein, accountability is also strengthened. Accountability is strengthened by local awareness of what must be done, as well as by local assessment of what has been done. Such an accountability tool can also serve as a benchmark against which performance can be evaluated by the appointing authority of central government?s chief representative at the district level (DCE); to hold him or her accountable for the district?s portion of the implementation of national goals. However, benchmarks must be realistic, and informed by our sense of history and social milieu. Measuring progress must take place without introducing rigidities that fail to accommodate emerging realities.

Somewhere down this article, when discussing the management of the relationship with donors, I make the point that conditionalities may not of itself be necessarily a bad thing, to the extent that we voluntarily agree to them. This is because it can act as a form of positive pressure to ensure discipline in implementation. I go further to suggest here that central government should actually be seeking to develop with each district, and on the basis of consultations, conditions under which additional funding would be provided, other than statutory funding like the District Assemblies Common Fund (DACF). Yes, central government should ?domesticate? and utilise conditionalities in some of its funding arrangements with MMDA?s, where it makes sense, to remove the strictures off structural and institutional impediments holding back reforms in the districts, including on such institutional changes like the compostive budget system. Of course the restraint against ?one-size-fits-all policies, is equally applicable, and Regional Coordinating Council?s would need to play a vital and proactive role in customising, in collaboration with MMDAs, central government?s broad policy goals for implementation by the respective districts. I am here reminded of a saying attributed to a fine British gentleman, that ?the challenge of reforms is not in adopting new ideas but in escaping from old ones.?

Policies based on local capacities are sustainable and portend better success. The question may rightly be posed whether MMDAs have the required capacities to pursue their portion of development goals. In my mind adequate capacity exists within Ghana to pursue development. It must be cautioned, however, that even where high capacity exists, poor leadership can blunt progress. Leadership at the local level is, therefore, crucial. But even in situations where available capacity at the district level does not meet needs, innovative measures must be explored to bring about a convergence between the capacity needs and the numerous unemployed but qualified persons, mostly the youth. One such way could be for the Public Services Commission to agree an MoU with the districts, whereby its shall establish an up-to-date national roster of qualified persons across the various personnel categories, for example budget officers, agriculturists, etc., from which districts in need can choose their pick, so to say.

Also, while the concern of most donors that public sector wages as a percentage of the national budget is too high, may be reasonable, this assertion requires further scrutiny before acceptance. In 2003, personnel emoluments constituted about 43.7 per cent of the budget. Granted that more resources need to be redirected towards service delivery and priority sensitive sectors, as well as regions and districts, to shore up efforts to reduce poverty and promote growth and basic social cover, the point must be made that a mere reading of the aggregated figure for public wages is inadequate. Public sector wage bills include expenditure for health professionals and educationist in the field, who deliver direct social services, and which perhaps under a more sophisticated information-based system could be better captured under service. Of course, there are also scores of public agricultural workers engaged in extension and ancillary services to farmers, in pursuit of the objectives of food security, whose salaries are a component of the broad aggregates for public wages. The concern over the public wage bill, valid as it may seem, is, therefore, dubious, and could actually be counter productive to the efforts to stem the brain-drain in the public sector, particularly in the medical and education fields, which represent our best efforts for long term progress. If anything at all, and to address the investment drain of our human resource capacity, facilitated by the pull factors in most of their countries, donors should urgently step up their support to education and health for all, as we seek to enhance output and quality in national development.

The effective management of Ghana?s relationship with its donor partners.

In light of Ghana?s short to medium-term domestic resource constraints, donor funding may continue to be critical to the implementation of Ghana?s key development programmes and projects, and disruptions in external financial support could adversely impact the achievement of set objectives. But we must recognise that aside finance, donors also bring along to the table goodwill, values, agendas, priorities, interests and constrains, the mix of which may not properly align with Ghana?s development objectives. It is, therefore, important that national leadership be asserted in the relationship with donors, and the process, effectively managed.

In this regard, the Multi Donor Budgetary Support (MDBS) initiative adopted by Ghana, which represents ?a shift from sectoral, project driven approach towards more long-term development partnership based on budget support,? is a useful tool for better managing the relationship with donors and needs to be actively encouraged. Thus far, nine donor partners, who collectively provide about 40 per cent of Ghana?s ODA, namely, the African Development Bank, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the European Union, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the World Bank, participate in this initiative. The benefits of a common instrument for external budgetary support are many, including the reduction in ODA transaction costs as a result of the harmonisation and simplification of donor procedures and the removal of constraints for the development of sustainable domestic capacity.

The aim should be to adopt additional measures that encourage all donors to participate in the MDBS, and that indicates clearly, without fear, that extra-budgetary support that divert resources to lower priority activities simply because a donor wants to hoist its national flag over a project, may be rejected. The national advocacy on ODA should not only be about quantity. It should also, and perhaps more importantly, be about the quality of aid. We must demonstrate in practical terms that Ghana is no longer prepared to bear the weight of supposed huge amounts of ODA that merely feeds fat the nationals of donors on a project, leaving very little resources for real projects and service delivery for real people. Ghana must make it clear to such type of donors, that they are in the wrong place, and that we will no longer serve as a charade that conveniently balms the scar on their conscience as they pursue the rhetoric of selfless assistance to developing countries.

But in all this dynamics, we must appreciate that even an altruistic donor may have some interest as well as constraints, and aim to derive maximum effect from our interaction with them through better preparation. One such preparation is to appreciate the component of ODA as percentage of their overall budget and to endeavour to better sequence the finalisation of our development framework with the timing of appropriations of the national budgets of the donor partners, to avoid delays in disbursements as a result of late initiation of their own internal or domestic procedures. In that respect, it is imperative that as the NDPC seeks to finalise the next version of the GPRS by the end of 2005, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning should hold prior consultations with donor partners on the envelope of external resource requirements necessary for implementing the GPRS, to enable an adequate lead time for the process. Sometimes as a recipient it may be difficult to understand that a donor also has constraints, but that is a reality we must factor into our planning.

The period 2005 marks a very significant juncture in the global effort to achieve the MDGs by 2015. Development experts assert that the gestation period for development programmes is 10 years. Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that while progress towards achieving the MDGs has been generally tardy, Africa?s is peculiarly way-off target, and would require focused interventions to bring it back on track, if the MDGs are to be achieved globally. The crux of Africa?s constraint is inadequate resources, stemming from among others the problems of inadequate flows; inadequate trade opportunities as a result of developed country subsidies and the lack of market access; and the problem of the debt burden. In the midst of all these, one can rightfully describe the argument that Africa does not have the capacity to absorb additional flows, as hogwash, and only an attempt by some donors to excuse themselves from fulfilling their voluntarily agreed commitments as declared in the United Nations Millennium Declaration and other major United Nations summits and conferences, such as the outcomes of the International Conference on Financing for Development and the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Indeed, Ghana in its advocacy for increased funding to implement its national priorities, which also reflect the promises of the MDG, must remind donors of their commitments, voluntarily taken. The 2005 high-level review at the United Nations, of progress in meeting the MDGs offers a unique opportunity for Ghana to enhance the moral clarity of its dialogue with donors on the need for an increase in the volume and quality of ODA and the forgiveness of debts.

On the question of conditionalities, so-called, the contents of which have evolved since the early periods of the structural adjustment programmes, and which donors have a penchant for insisting on, I have a non-traditional view. It should not come as a surprise that donors would always seek to exert pressure for the pursuit of certain policies as a condition for support. In my mind, such inputs to the process before finalisation must be properly considered as advise and not dictates and where external proposals are unacceptable, clear and logical reasons should be articulated rejecting them. However, where these external proposals are voluntarily accepted as a condition for donor support, either because we agree with it or do not adduce cogent counter reasons to reject it before accessing external funds, it would be inappropriate to go against such an agreement without just cause. Sometimes, also, these so-called conditionalities, where they accord with Ghana?s stated national policies, can actually be good discipline.


Before concluding let me express the hope that the link established between the GPRS and the national budget would be strengthened, and, equally, that the resources of MMDA?s would be geared towards the achievement of their respective Medium Term Development Plan?s, which should be a true reflection of their priorities towards achieving the agreed national goals. I also believe that further reforms in the public sector is necessary, to ensure that meritocracy prevail, that the very best are recruited for the job, that the size of public bureaucracy is compact and sustainable, and that conditions of service are competitive, all in the effort to provide effective and necessary public services in the national developmental endeavours. In this respect, the need to roll down public bureaucracy and deliver public services at the local level where it is most required, cannot be over-emphasised. Decentralising functions to local level governance should be accompanied by decentralised authority also.

Finally, let me also express the hope that the question of trade would be given some added prominence in the revised GPRS, reflecting our common aspirations to trade our way out of poverty. The concept of private or cooperative marketing boards that can access the international market, including the supermarket chains, on behalf of small producers, could be facilitated by Government. In that regard, we must as a country seek to intrude our traditional exports into non-traditional but potentially lucrative markets such as China and Japan and expand our non-traditional exports to our traditional markets in Europe and North America, all in a semi-processed or processed format and under the very strong brand name - ?Distinctly made in Ghana.?

Harold Agyeman
- Antoa, A.R.

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