Which Citizens? Which Services? Unpacking Demand for Improved Health, Education, Roads, Water etc

By Ruth Carlitz of the University of Gothenburg. Originally posted on the From Poverty to Power blog.

Clean water. Paved roads. Quality education. Election campaigns in poor countries typically promise such things, yet the reality on the ground often falls short. So, what do people do? Wait for five years and “throw the bums out” if they fail to deliver? For many people, the stakes are too high, and they may have well-grounded doubts about the ability of democracy to deliver anything other than a new set of bums. It’s worth asking, then, what other actions citizens take to improve their lives.

Building on Richard Batley and Claire Mcloughlin’s work on service characteristics as well as my own research on the politics of service delivery in East Africa, I’ve identified various factors affecting the likelihood that people will mobilize for improved public services. These include how frequently people experience (problems with) a given service, their ability to pay for private alternatives, and their expectations about the likelihood of improvements in response to their actions.

To better understand such dynamics, I’ve begun exploring data from the Local Governance Performance Index survey implemented in Malawi in 2016. The survey asked respondents what problems they faced with a range of issues related to service delivery. Those reporting problems were then asked if they turned to someone for help with the problem, who they turned to and why, whether and how the problem was resolved, and whether they were satisfied with the response.

Carlitz fig 1The figure depicts the main actors people turn to for help. In general people are most likely to turn to family members, friends or neighbors, followed by village leaders. Higher-level government officials are in a distant third place, despite the fact that they may hold much more sway when it comes to influencing outcomes on the ground.

Next, we can look at how demographics affect the likelihood of people turning to different actors. Wealthier respondents and those with more education are less likely to turn to friends and family, perhaps because they have the resources to solve problems on their own. This may also reflect their ability to exit the public system (e.g., going to a private clinic when the public health system falls short). On the other hand, such people are more likely to turn to other government officials, and to school officials – suggesting they may feel more empowered to approach authority figures. Gender also matters. Women are less likely to turn to village leaders or any other government officials but more likely to turn to school officials with their problems – perhaps because they are more involved in their children’s education. Finally, civic skills (having attended a community meeting in the past year) is positively associated with seeking assistance from all actors.

In neighboring Tanzania, recent survey data finds that nearly a quarter of all respondents took action to improve service delivery (education, health, or water) in 2015. The chart on the right unpacks what people meant by “taking Carlitz fig 2action.” Overall, Tanzanians were more likely to attend committee meetings than take any other action. We also see that people were generally more likely to raise issues in smaller group settings rather than more publicly (e.g., by calling in to the radio). Finally, note the low proportions of respondents who report tracking things like drug stockouts, teacher attendance, or water point functionality – suggesting that the focus of many citizen monitoring initiatives (report cards, etc.) may not jibe with people’s normal way of doing things.

When it comes to which citizens are taking action, we see similar results to Malawi. Specifically, civic skills are associated with increases in all forms of action-taking. Women on the other hand are less likely to take action across the board. Wealth matters, though only for actions related to education and health. Respondents who are more informed (listen to the radio more frequently) are also more likely to take actions of all kinds, though it is interesting to note that education levels do not demonstrate any relationship with action-taking. Finally, internal efficacy (belief in one’s own ability to make effective demands) is positively associated with actions related to all sectors, while external efficacy (expectations of government responsiveness to such demands) only seems to matter for water.

The paper I prepared for Twaweza’s recent Ideas & Evidence event digs into these relationships in greater detail. While preliminary, it highlights the importance of paying attention to the ways in which service delivery differs twaweza conferenceacross and within sectors. This is critical when it comes to supporting initiatives to enhance the efficacy of citizen engagement, which, despite having generated mixed results to date, continue to benefit from considerable amounts of funding.

As a final thought, practitioners may wish to consider which aspects of service delivery might be amenable to influence. For instance, establishing community groups could create greater scope for users to share information and coalesce around shared needs. Such groups will likely be more effective when they build on existing institutional channels rather than set up parallel structures. This implies taking time to learn about people’s existing routines for problem-solving, and supporting those strategies which seem to be generating more results. In other words, working with the (local) grain.

Public goods and services can also be distributed in such a way that reduces the availability of exit options. For example, a recent study of handpump distribution in Kenya advises against clustering, as people will be more motivated to maintain their local water points if they don’t have ready alternatives.

Finally, it may also be possible to shift expectations about the possibility of improved service delivery — in particular, providing information in a way that facilitates bench-marking. For instance, learning that everyone in the neighboring district has water piped into their houses when you are spending hours each day collecting buckets from a far-away tap could serve as a tipping point

Where does this leave us? For those of us who earn our keep by cranking out conference papers and journal articles (and the occasional blog) there is much work to be done. Hopefully, such work can help to guide donors when it comes to making impactful investments, and practitioners when it comes to making actual impact.

Originally posted on the From Poverty to Power blog.

Could the open government movement shut the door on Freedom of Information?

By: Suzanne J. Piotrowski, Rutgers University Newark ; Alex Ingrams, Tilburg University, and Daniel Berliner, London School of Economics and Political Science

For democracy to work, citizens need to know what their government is doing. Then they can hold government officials and institutions accountable.

Over the last 50 years, Freedom of Information – or FOI – laws have been one of the most useful methods for citizens to learn what government is doing. These state and federal laws give people the power to request, and get, government documents. From everyday citizens to journalists, FOI laws have proven a powerful way to uncover the often-secret workings of government.

But a potential threat is emerging – from an unexpected place – to FOI laws.

We are scholars of government administration, ethics and transparency. And our research leads us to believe that while FOI laws have always faced many challenges, including resistance, evasion, and poor implementation and enforcement, the last decade has brought a different kind of challenge in the form of a new approach to transparency.

Technology rules

The new kid on the block is the open government movement. And despite the fact that it shares a fundamental goal with the more established FOI movement – government transparency – the open government movement threatens to harm FOI by cornering the already limited public and private funding and government staffing available for transparency work.

The open government movement is driven by technology and seeks to make government operate in the open in as many ways as possible.

This includes not just letting citizens request information, as in FOI, but by making online information release an everyday routine of government. It also tries to open up government by including citizens more in designing solutions to public policy problems.

One example of this hands-on approach is through participatory budgeting initiatives, which allows citizens to help decide, via online and in-person information sharing and meetings, how part of the public budget is spent. Thus, while open government and FOI advocates both want government transparency, open government is a broader concept that relies more on technology and encourages more public participation and collaboration.

One type of open government initiative is data portals, such as Data.gov. Governments post lots of data that anyone can access and download for free on topics such as the environment, education and public safety.

Another popular open government reform is crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing asks the general public to come up with ideas to solve government problems or collect data for government projects. Two popular crowdsourcing initiatives in the U.S. are Challenge.gov and citizen science projects, such as the ones for Environmental Protection Agency where citizens are testing water quality.

Advocates of FOI and open government talk about them in similar ways and indeed participate in many of the same initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership. That initiative is a global partnership of countries that develop multiple types of open government practices like anti-corruption programs, open budgets or crowdsourcing events.

Movements complement each other

The open government movement could help FOI implementation. Government information posted online, which is a core goal of open government advocates, can reduce the number of FOI requests. Open government initiatives can explicitly promote FOI by encouraging the passage of FOI laws, offering more training for officials who fill FOI requests, and developing technologies to make it easier to process and track FOI requests.

There’s a lot to the Freedom of Information Act.
U.S. Department of Justice

On the other hand, the relationship between open government and FOI may not always be positive in practice.

First, as with all kinds of public policy issues, resources – both money and political attention – are inherently scarce. Government officials now have to divide their attention between FOI and other open government initiatives. And funders now have to divide their financial resources between FOI and other open government initiatives.

Second, the open government reform movement as well as the FOI movement have long depended on nonprofit advocacy groups – from the National Freedom of Information Coalition and its state affiliates to the Sunlight Foundation – to obtain and disseminate government information. This means that the financial stability of those nonprofit groups is crucial. But their efforts, as they grow, may each only get a shrinking portion of the total amount of grant money available. Freedominfo.org, a website for gathering and comparing information on FOI laws around the world, had to suspend its operations in 2017 due to resources drying up.

We believe that priorities among government officials and good government advocates may also shift away from FOI. At a time when open data is “hot,” FOI programs could get squeezed as a result of this competition. Further, by allowing governments to claim credit for more politically convenient reforms such as online data portals, the open government agenda may create a false sense of transparency – there’s a lot more government information that isn’t available in those portals.

This criticism was leveled recently against Kenya, whose government launched a high-profile open data portal for publishing data on government performance and activities in 2011, yet delayed passage of an FOI law until 2016.

Similarly, in the United Kingdom, one government minister said in 2012, “I’d like to make Freedom of Information redundant, by pushing out so much data that people won’t have to ask for it.”

Open data, no substitute for FOI

But the World Wide Web Foundation, the founder of the global open data ranking system called the Open Data Barometer, reported in 2015 that the United Kingdom government was using its first place ranking in the Barometer to “justify a (government) mandate to review, and allegedly limit, the Freedom of Information Act.”

Open government programs not mandated by law are easier to roll back than legislatively mandated FOI programs. In the U.S., the Trump administration took down the White House open data portal. The move was immediately condemned by open government advocates, to no avail. In other cases, new open government efforts could hinder existing FOI implementation due to a limited number of staff members assigned to transparency work.

One indication of this is a 2015 Mexican reform that increased the categories of information that government agencies were required to post in the online Portal de Obligaciones de Transparencia.

But the job of identifying and digitizing this information was given to agencies’ existing FOI response units – without any additional staff or resources. This led to severe administrative burdens and, in some cases, slower response times to FOI requests. Meanwhile, the updated portal was criticized for a complicated interface and unreliable or missing information.

Is it possible for open government and FOI to avoid the mistakes seen in the Mexican case? Some experts are optimistic. Beth Simone Noveck, who served as the first United States deputy chief technology officer and director of the White House Open Government Initiative from 2009 to 2011, suggests that “in the long term, FOIA and open data may themselves converge as we move to a future where all government data sits in a secure but readily-accessible cloud.”

The ConversationSuch a happy convergence would require a commitment by government to have any new or merged systems reflect the goals of both FOI and open government. That would mean a system that both supported existing avenues for transparency while also adding new ones. As scholars, we are unclear which direction government will take and thus, whether the public interest will ultimately be served.

Suzanne J. Piotrowski, Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA), Rutgers University Newark ; Alex Ingrams, Assistant Professor, Tilburg University, and Daniel Berliner, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



The Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017 records the first halt in progress on global budget transparency since the survey was launched in 2006. Unlike the small but steady increases seen in past rounds, the global average score on the Open Budget Index (OBI) — the part of the survey that measures budget transparency — actually decreased from 45 to 43 between 2015 and 2017 among the 102 countries included in both rounds.

The modest decline in the global average OBI score is primarily due to changes in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the regional average score fell by 11 points between 2015 and 2017. This decline represents a significant reversal for a region that had been a major driver of the increase in the global average score the previous round. Consider these facts:

  • Between 2012 and 2015, of the 26 Sub-Saharan African countries included in both rounds, 12 increased their scores by more than five points, and only two countries saw their OBI scores decline by more than five points.
  • In contrast, between 2015 and 2017, of the 27 Sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in both rounds, only one country (Senegal) increased its OBI score by more than five points, while the scores of 15 countries in the region declined by more than five points.The decline in this round of the survey largely results from Sub-Saharan African countries publishing 27 fewer documents in 2017 than in 2015, a 21 percent drop.  This included six fewer Executive’s Budget Proposals, a document that receives a significant weight in the OBI as it is the core document that presents and explains a government’s revenue and spending policies and its outlook for the economy. Failure to publish this key document typically results in a much lower country score.

    This notable decline in the number of published budget documents in Sub-Saharan Africa can be partially attributed to an update in how IBP measures “public availability” — i.e., whether citizens have access to the comprehensive and timely information they need to participate in budget decision making and monitoring. For the OBS 2017, only those documents published on a government website in a timely manner are considered to be publicly available. Documents that are posted on the internet are significantly more accessible to the public than hard-copy documents that few may be able to obtain. Internet penetration has expanded rapidly, and civil society organizations can easily print online documents to share with others who do not have internet access. Furthermore, any document that is produced as a hard copy can now easily be posted to a website at minimal cost.

    This update, however, does not account for the entire decline. Absent this change, there still would have been 10 fewer documents published in 2017 than in 2015, including four Executive’s Budget Proposals. IBP undertook various analyses to approximate the impact of this update in the OBS definition of public availability on OBI 2017 scores (see Annex B of the Open Budget Survey 2017). We concluded that even under very generous assumptions, the average score for the region would have fallen, albeit by a smaller amount.


    IBP has not yet conducted in-depth analyses to determine the factors driving this sharp drop in the average OBI score for the region. But a superficial review reveals that changes in OBI scores in Sub-Saharan Africa are not strongly correlated with changes in indices measuring democracy, income, oil dependence, or human development. These preliminary findings require further investigation.

    The OBS 2017 results suggest that whatever factors contributed to improvements in transparency in the region between 2012 and 2015 were insufficient in maintaining these gains in 2017. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that increased their OBI score by more than five points between 2012 and 2015 declined by more on average between 2015 and 2017 than the countries that were not substantial improvers between 2012 and 2015.

    While this decline in transparency could be reversed in the next round of the OBS, the Sub-Saharan African case highlights the importance of preserving gains over time. Governments should prioritize institutionalizing transparency practices through laws and regulations. Concurrently, civil society should remain vigilant in monitoring their governments to ensure they do not waver in commitments to more transparent and accountable budget systems, and by continuing to advocate for transparency and participation in budgeting and engaging in budget debates.

    The original article can be accessed on https://www.internationalbudget.org/2018/03/sub-saharan-africa-failure-to-institutionalize-gains-weakens-transparency/

The impact of land corruption on women

As part of International Women’s Day, Transparency International is launching the Women, Land and Corruption resource book. This is a collection of unique articles and research findings that describe and analyse the prevalence of land corruption in Africa – and its disproportionate effect on women – presented together with innovative responses from organisations across the continent.

Corruption hits the poorest the hardest, undermining efforts to break the cycle of poverty and further distorting how income, resources and services are shared between women and men. Worldwide, one in five people report having paid a bribe for land services, however, in Sub-Saharan Africa every second client of land administration services is affected.

Women, Land and corruption

Corruption exacerbates gender inequalities in society. Women experience and perceive corruption differently from men and are more vulnerable to specific types of corruption – particularly sexual extortion – due to their social, political and economic roles.

The links between land corruption and women’s wellbeing and prosperity are evident across Africa. Women’s strong dependency on land as a resource means that land corruption disadvantages them more than men. Such corruption takes many forms, including traditions preventing women from inheriting land, bribery and sexual extortion by community leaders and land officials, and multinational investors appropriating land traditionally worked by women. Land corruption increases gender disparities, which undermines women’s livelihoods and social standing and, ultimately, perpetuates poverty.

While awareness of land corruption as a phenomenon has increased over recent years, understanding and recognition of how women are affected differently from men has been lacking. There has been no single source of background information, lessons learnt and approaches to tackling land corruption – as it affects women – to inspire civil society and inform effective policy-making.

Latest research, varied perspectives and diverse responses

The Women, Land and Corruption resource book addresses the need for a consolidated source of information on gendered land corruption. By providing fresh insights from initiatives and organisations – woven together with the latest research from eight African countries – it presents evidence on how women are affected by land corruption together with tailored responses to addressing gender-based inequalities over land.

It includes the following three collections:

Country findings

Empirical evidence on land corruption together with information on legal and policy frameworks drawn from research conducted by Transparency International’s national chapters in eight African countries – CameroonGhanaKenyaLiberiaMadagascarSierra LeoneUgandaZimbabwe. Key findings include:

  • Women are often excluded from negotiations with investors during land deals.
  • Women are less likely to receive adequate compensation for land acquired by external parties.
  • In countries where legislation supports women’s land rights, enforcement is often weak and women’s claims are frequently undermined by traditional practice and custom.
  • Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual extortion, including demands for sexual favours in return for land services.

Supporting arguments

Key international frameworks and critical perspectives, necessary to fully understand – and adequately address – land corruption as it affects women, are offered by a range of authors. They help to place the issue and necessary responses firmly within the global context. Included in this collection are articles that explore the importance of feminism, human rights, international frameworks (such as the Sustainable Development Goals), important African initiatives and much more.

Developing responses

The final section includes a wide range of innovative responses to the intractable challenges of land corruption affecting women, as applied by various civil society organisations across Sub-Saharan Africa. This collection of 14 different practical approaches to overcoming land corruption includes descriptions of:

  • citizen journalism platform for Kenyan women to investigate and document a historical land dispute
  • participatory video project for Ghanaian women to analyse how land corruption prevents widows from realising their land rights
  • open days in rural Uganda that provide unique opportunities for exchanges of information on land governance between women and local officials

Women, Land and Corruption was created as part of Transparency International’s Land and Corruption in Africa programme. It is available to download as a free PDF.

This article was originally published on the Transparency International website: https://www.transparency.org

New South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledges to ‘turn tide’ on corruption

Originally published on Independent by Christopher TorchiaNqobile Ntshangase

‘We should put behind us the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in our country’s public leaders,’ says Mr Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a message of optimism and renewal on Friday in his first state of the nation address, saying it’s time for South Africans to put discord behind them and that the country will “turn the tide” on corruption in state institutions this year.

Mr Ramaphosa’s address capped a dramatic week in which he was elected by ruling party lawmakers following the resignation of predecessor Jacob Zuma, whose tenure was marked by corruption scandals. Mr Zuma was supposed to give the speech last week, but it was postponed because of the leadership crisis that fuelled uncertainty and anxiety in the country of 57 million people.

“We should put behind us the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in our country’s public leaders,” said Mr Ramaphosa, who was Mr Zuma’s deputy before becoming South Africa’s fifth president since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

“A new dawn is upon us,” he said in a speech in parliament that drew applause but was criticised by the opposition as short on meaningful solutions.

“Cyril Ramaphosa’s plan for South Africa is too much of a continuation of the Zuma era,” said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance. “There is no major policy reform, only some tinkering with the current policies that have not brought change to the lives of our people. There were too many conferences and summits announced, and not enough clear plans for fixing the problems.”

Mr Ramaphosa, 65, faces the hard task of rooting out corruption that flourished in both state enterprises and the private sector under Mr Zuma, implicating figures in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party that he now leads. In addition, he must tackle sluggish economic growth, high unemployment and economic inequality that are among South Africa’s most deep-rooted problems.

The new president said his administration would concentrate on creating jobs and attracting investment, while also possibly downsizing bloated government departments and restructuring state-owned enterprises that are inefficient and prone to corruption.

“This is the year in which we will turn the tide on corruption in our public institutions,” Mr Ramaphosa said. “The criminal justice institutions have been taking initiatives that will enable us to deal effectively with corruption.”

South African authorities want to arrest a key member of the Gupta business family accused of using its links Mr Zuma to influence Cabinet ministers and secure state contracts. The suspect, Ajay Gupta, is considered a fugitive after failing to turn himself in, according to police. Eight people, including a member of the Gupta family, have already been arrested as part of an investigation into alleged corruption involving the Guptas, who deny any wrongdoing.

The family is a flashpoint for national anger over “state capture,” the term used by South Africans to describe an allegedly wide-ranging effort to loot state enterprises under Mr Zuma. Mr Ramaphosa said he supports the work of a judicial commission that is about to investigate the phenomenon, but one opposition leader said the new president would have to turn on his own political party if he is serious about fighting graft.

“He must arrest his own colleagues because they are corrupt,” Julius Malema, head of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, told eNCA media.

A figure under scrutiny over his relationship with the Guptas is Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, who is scheduled to unveil the South African budget in parliament next week. Opposition parties say Mr Ramaphosa would be sending the wrong message if he allows Mr Gigaba to deliver the budget speech, though the new president has yet to announce any Cabinet reshuffle plans.

 Mr Ramaphosa was a lead negotiator in the transition from apartheid to democracy and became one of South Africa’s most prominent businessmen. He now leads a government anxious to shed months of political limbo and public frustration, and the strengthening of the South African currency, the rand, against the dollar is an indicator of optimism over Mr Ramaphosa’s ascent.

However, the new leader indicated he is aware there are no easy fixes to South Africa’s challenges, which date from the era of apartheid a generation ago.

“We remain a highly unequal society in which poverty and prosperity are still defined by race as well as gender,” he said.

The original article can be found on this link http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/south-africa-president-cyril-ramaphosa-speech-corruption-turn-tide-a8214911.html 

President, please plan properly for higher education


The Public Service Accountability Monitor highlights challenges in higher education ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address on Friday 16 February

On 16 February 2018, the newly elected President of the Republic of South Africa will deliver the 2018 State of the Nation Address (SONA). The country continues to face challenges with ensuring access to a fee-free higher education.[1]. When the President delivers SONA on Friday, the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) would like to highlight the following priorities that he will address related to higher education in South Africa.

Access to higher education, just like all social services, in South Africa is determined by funding. It is critical to note that “where government allocation is failing in providing more funds. Historically white universities have private funds/income and high university fees to assist them.”[2]

The majority of students enrolled at the so-called “historically Black universities are the poor African and Coloured from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. There is an increasing need for capital to access higher education in the country.

Over the years, fees in higher education have grown at a rate that is more than inflation rates. This condition has made access to education unaffordable for a majority of the population across the country.

Higher education in South Africa continues to face financial constraints. The elected President will need to outline the implementation plans of the free Higher education, as announced in December 2017 by the former President Jacob Zuma that government would subsidize free higher education for poor and working class students.[3]

At the time of tabling the 2017/18 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, the Minister of Finance, Mr Malusi Gigaba noted that gross national debt is projected to reach 61% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2022, with debt-service costs approaching 15% of main budget revenue by 2020/21. The MTBPS was delivered in a context where there is growing inequality levels, and the unemployment rate sitting at 27.7% – the highest figure since September 2003.[4]

If the current trends continue, it is unlikely that South Africa will realise free tertiary education in the near future. The current economic crisis undermines the possibility for free tertiary education.

What is important to critically consider in the discussion for free higher education costs is the meaning of ‘free’. The call for fee-free higher education necessitates the need to engage with the questions of equity, equality, access and transformation.  Generally, it is recognised that higher education cannot be free, as someone through some means must inevitably cover the cost of education. South Africa is, therefore, not faced with a policy choice of whether higher education can be free or not but rather, a question of “who pays, when do they pay and how much of the share of the costs can they pay”.[5]

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), established in 1999 through an Act of Parliament, Act No 56 of 1999, continues to provide loans to eligible students at public higher education institutions.

Since its establishment, the NSFAS has become recognised as the only student financial aid scheme despite the funding challenges it continues to face. According to the Submission to the Commission of Inquiry in June 2016 by the NSFAS on Free-Higher Education, NSFAS has provided access to more than 1.5 million students from poor and working class families.[1]

The future of most students continue to be affected by lack of funding to further studies, even though the NSFAS is making an attempt to bridge the gap between many young people who come from poor backgrounds and the unaffordable cost of higher education in South Africa.

The effects of poverty on young people who aspire to access higher education further compound the complex barriers to equal access that NSFAS aims to address. In many instances, student debtors are often unable to repay the loan owing to the lack of opportunities to secure formal employment.

Despite the sharp increases in NSFAS allocations for student funding (R510 million in 2000, R3.6 billion in 2010 and R9 billion in 2014), the demand for higher education funding continues to increase ahead of the allocations.

In order to address the inequalities of access to Higher Education, the PSAM makes the following recommendations:

  • There is a need to improve targeting of public spending to disadvantaged groups in order to achieve more equitable education outcomes.
  • There should be bursary funding, and not just loans, for students in order to cover for their tuition fees, accommodation, books and other living expenses.
  • The financial support instruments will need to be broader to accommodate for families whose household income cannot contribute to the cost of tuition.
  • Students should never be excluded for financial reasons; promoting a system of meritocracy.
  • Government should prioritise poor people in the realisation of free higher education in South Africa.

The PSAM therefore urges  the elected President to provide clear, adequately-resourced implementation plans for the fee-free higher education.

The article can also be accessed at http://www.grocotts.co.za/2018/02/15/president-please-plan-properly-for-higher-education/ . The author Siyabulela Fobosi can be reach at PSAM on S.Fobosi@ru.ac.za.

Distract, Divide, Detach: Using Transparency and Accountability to Justify Regulation of CSOs

Originally Published by TA learning and GPSA

By Hans Gutbrod
In its latest report, TAI takes a deep dive on how governments weaponize transparency to further close down civic space and puts forward recommendations on how the transparency community can respond.

The full report can be found on the TAI website, to access it follow the link http://www.transparency-initiative.org/uncategorized/1996/distract-divide-detach-using-transparency-accountability-justify-regulation-csos/

Or you can access it on our literature page under citizen engagement http://copsam.com/literature/


Grahamstown, with an estimated population of 82 060, is well known for being the home of Rhodes University and the famous National Arts Festival (Stats SA, 2016). Regardless, however, of the many successes the town enjoys with the Arts Festival and education institutions, the municipality has been struggling with serious administrative challenges. Makana Municipality was placed under administration[1] in 2015, following their inability to pay staff salaries, due to huge debts accrued (Maclennan, 2017). The 9 months intervention did not yield the expected outcomes, however. The town still suffers, amongst other issues, from debt, high rates of unemployment, and poor service delivery, particularly water and infrastructure. Water outages are consistent and almost every road in town has potholes due to lack of maintenance and mismanagement of the public resources (Maclennan, 2017). The local civil society organisations collective calling itself the Makana Unity League has started calling for administration again, however, others are concerned that getting outside intervention is futile, as proven by the previous experience (Penxa, 2017).

Grahamstown citizens have become accustomed to protests and marches, heading to the municipal offices to make their concerns known and demand answers for the poor state of the municipality. Research studies show that it is to the best interests of society to ensure that duty bearers manage public resources in an efficient, transparent, and socially accountable manner, as demonstrated in the protests and advocacy campaigns. In order to do this, the citizens need to understand how the various government processes work. Therefore, social accountability pertains to the citizens’ ability to hold the government accountable for its actions, through demanding explanations and justifications for their actions. Furthermore, the willingness and ability of the government to provide those justifications and explanations to civil society and take corrective measures (Halloran, 2015). The right to social accountability, therefore, promotes citizen’s engagement and transparency regarding the use and management of public resources (Ackerman, 2005).

In order to efficiently exercise their right to social accountability, citizens need to be informed about the operations of the public resources management system and the various channels to follow when interrogating the use of public resources. It was this reason that drove the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), a local social movement and the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), a university-affiliated CSO, to want to understand accessibility of the social accountability information in Grahamstown. Social accountability information refers to information that can be used by citizens to monitor and demand justifications for the use and management of public resources.

The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) is a university-based organization involved in social accountability monitoring. The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) is a community based social movement that assists the public deal with various issues in Grahamstown. The UPM and PSAM, working in the social accountability sector formed a partnership to conduct a research study to understand the accessibility of information to the Grahamstown community.

Due to limited resources and timeframes, only 30 people (15 females and 15 males) between the ages 18 and 69 years old were interviewed. The informants were from Joza, Vukani, Hlalani, Ethembeni, and Fingo, Grahamstown West and Central. Informants indicated that they had sufficient knowledge regarding the roles or the various public servants, however they needed information related the various government process that affect them as the public. Informants identified the social accountability related information they would like to receive as:

  • All sorts of information that concerned them as community members and civil society.
  • Basic rights and grants information.
  • Municipalities expenditure records and the mismanagement of resources where applicable.
  • The Integrated Development Plans (IDP), their budget allocation and how they are spent, as well as having access to the [municipal] 5-year plans and progress reports.
  • How the government advertises their posts and recruits officials?
  • Tenders and the criteria to accessing them.
  • Who gets the services and the various steps an individual needs to take to access adequate services and employment?
  • Water and sanitation issues, especially when they affect the community, like water shortages, etc. and be regularly informed about municipality affairs.
  • Who to approach or where to report when your rights are being violated?
  • Would like transparency concerning the management of resources.
  • What resources are there that the municipality can provide for the people?
  • How government officials ought to behave because I see that they are all corrupt starting from parliament to local and provincial, to me they are the same?

The informants wanted the resource management process to be transparent enough to allow the community to monitor and assess the use of funds and ensure that proper regulations were followed when spending. There seemed to be a clear understanding that the resources the government was working with were limited. Some members wanted to understand:

  • The process of editing [financial management within the municipality] and the nature of services being delivered.
  • The basis under which the needs [of the citizens] are identified and the strategies that inform service delivery.
  • What happens when the resources are not being managed adequately?

There were informants who explained that they did not want to depend on the government, but needed the government to assist them to start their own enterprise, as stated in the sentence below that they would like to know:

“Where we can go to get resources to start our own business and what help can we get from the government to have those businesses?”

Some informants stated that they have been kept in the dark by their government officials regarding the state of affairs in their local regions, and that it was the responsibility of the public themselves to ensure that the government officials change their behavior and become more engaging and transparent. They emphasized the fact that every citizen should benefit from the resources of the country, especially since the new democratic regime prides itself on being for the people.

With regard to the accessibility of social accountability related information, the study shows that out of the thirty informants interviewed eighteen of them receive social accountability information via word of mouth, ten of them receive it in meetings and nine of the receive it via television and newspapers. Leaflets, internet and radio were rated the lowest. With regard to the preferred medium of communication as a means of circulating and distributing social accountability information, radio was rated the highest. Twenty informants indicated that they would have preferred to receive their news via radio, sixteen preferred newspapers and meetings. The internet or online services came after at fifteen, as well as word of mouth. Leaflets were rated the lowest, as it appeared that only ten people wanted to receive their information via leaflets. The informants further indicated a need for engagement platforms, to learn to interact with the various process and the circulating information to strengthen their social accountability initiatives.

The major study findings imply that:


  1. Most of the informants do not have access to adequate information to inform the social accountability initiatives they engage in, which often creates problems that hinder their progress in advocating for their needs. Their lack of knowledge regarding the roles of the government officials, and the connection between policies and public services indicated that the information they receive, or the way they receive the information, is not adequate to empower them to understand the public resources system and be involved in decision-making.


  • It is necessary to create a bridge of information flow between the various stakeholders of the social accountability sector. The availability of an organogram of the government officials and qualified personnel in every public institution will assist the public to direct their concerns to the right people.
  • Social accountability practitioners should consider creating more knowledge sharing platforms where they can engage the general public. The majority of people do not have access to information and knowledge sharing platforms that will empower them to be active citizens.


  1. The majority of informants indicated that they are able to receive information via word of mouth, meetings, television, radio and other means. However, the findings also show that often times information recipients are not equipped to translate the information they receive to inform their interventions in a systematic manner.


  • Social accountability practitioners and knowledge distributors should consider a multiple media approach when distributing information. No one method is able to reach everyone.
  • Because the majority of study participants seem to prefer to be receivers of news and not become makers of news, it is important for knowledge distributors to understand their target’s information needs and expectations when disseminating information.
  • Capacity building for grassroots civil actors might assist them to interpret the information in a productive manner and increase their awareness of the issues and the need to get involved. The knowledge gained might also assist them to translate the information to improve their interventions.


  1. The availability of knowledge sharing platforms in the social accountability sector is undeniable, however, their value and impact is often influenced by other social dynamics that affect the sharing of knowledge and information. Dynamics that include overflow of information, and restricted knowledge sharing platforms amongst others.


  • Information distributors need to be cognizant of the characteristics of their target audience when designing knowledge sharing platforms. Paying careful attention to economic, resource and time constraints, accessibility to informal and formal meeting spaces, and difference in national or community culture amongst other things.
  • It might be helpful to create platforms where diverse groups or individuals can congregate to share their expertise and/or experiences. This will ensure that information does not remain restricted to certain groups or individuals.
  • To merely be informed without action is not enough. Therefore, it is important for both the government and the civil society sector to establish mutually beneficial relationships to share skills and expertise, and build solidarity.
  • Civil society practitioners need to consider establishing systems that will allow for a consistent flow of information between government officials and the citizens, especially at the grassroots level, where people are most affected by lack of service delivery. This will ensure that citizens take ownership of the state of affairs and work in collaboration with the government to improve conditions.

The full report is available on http://copsam.com/literature/ under social accountability case studies

Produced By Lindelwa Nxele PSAM AIP Officer- February 2018

[1] Municipalities are placed  under Section 139 1(b) provincial administration if they have been deemed unable to fulfil their administrative duties to receive a clean audit for a number of consecutive years. An administrator is deployed to a municipality to assess and clean their records to ensure future progressive operations. For more information on Makana under administration, visit, http://www.dispatchlive.co.za/news/2014/10/02/tough-job-to-fix-the-chaos-in-makana/

Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017

Originally published by Kerosi Dotcom

On Tuesday 30 January 2018 the International Budget Partnership released the long awaited Open Budget Survey (OBS) results for 2017.

This is a report that looks into how 102 countries around the world performed in terms of transparency, public participation and budget oversight.

The status of those parameters is measured and the countries are ranked accordingly. It’s based on how countries raise and spend their resources.

The OBS 2017 has revealed that the level of budget transparency has declined from 45 out of 100 to 43 out of 100.

This is a sad reality because it means that global citizens will not be able to hold their governments into account because they do not have access to adequate information. In economics 101 professor would refer to this situation as “information asymmetry.

In this article, I’ll review how Kenya was ranked and then later compare it with a few other African countries. This is to ensure that you understand what is happening in terms of public participation on the budgeting process.

Kenya was ranked based on data collected by the Institute of Public Finance Kenya which has its headquarters in the capital city Nairobi.

Uganda’s  ranking was based on data collected by Uganda Debt Network while Rwanda’s Ranking was based on detailed information collected by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) of Rwanda.

The report was written by Dr. Jason Lakin formerly of IBP_Kenya. A man from whom I owe much of the skills and knowledge on public budgeting and policy.

On Transparency, Kenya was scored 46 out of 100 hence an under-performance considering that the “pass mark” was set at 60/100. On this parameter, Kenya was advised to pull up the socks by:

  • producing and publishing the “Mwananchi Guide” which is a non-technical version of the big document.
  • Providing all budget documents on a timely manner

On Public Participation, Kenya lagged behind many other countries which were evaluated. It scored 15/100. The researchers pointed out that,

“Kenya provides few opportunities for public to engage in budget process.” OBS 2017.

On this matter of public participation, the researchers recommended that the budget and appropriation committee hold more public hearings to collect input which will inform the annual budget.

Finally, they recommended that the Office of the Auditor General (supreme institution for audit) should, “establish formal mechanisms for the public to assist the OAG in formulating its audit program & to participate in relevant audit investigations.” – Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017.

This was eye-opening. When you see the Auditor General, Robert Ouko, ask him when he is going to organize for public forum for you to advise him on better ways to do his work of auditing Ministries, Departments and agencies.

On Budget Oversight, Kenya scored 50 out of 100. Not so bad after all. The worry is that the legislature which is supposed to lead from the front only provides their oversight services during the budget formulation process. Afterwards, their efforts dies down. Too bad. They are even needed more during the project implementation process. Members of national and county assemblies should ask the executive the “difficult questions” on budget and policy. The relevant legislative committees should conduct analyses on public spending and publish their findings online. Important.

We also expect that the Office of the Auditor General will do more to deliver value to you the tax payers.  The national assembly should take a step in 2018/2019 to ensure that this supreme institution on all matters audit is well funded. The OAG is already one year behind schedule in production of their audit reports. This should change as soon as now.

The budget and appropriations committees at the national assembly and Senate should upgrade their game by taking appropriate action on those audit reports once submitted/tabled with them.

Crack the whip honorable members!

Elsewhere in Morocco, public participation is a vocabulary which has no meaning. In that North African country as well as in Sudan the OBS 2017 shows that there is no public participation.

Finally, South Africa serves as a good example to borrow best practices from. This rainbow country “provides the public with extensive budget information.” Secondly, the legislature plays their role well during the entire budget cycle. Finally, the supreme audit institution scored 100 out of 100 in terms of providing adequate oversight budget information. At last audit offices around Africa have a peer to learn from.

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Declining institutional trust: the need for the South African state to reconcile itself with the society it governs

Originally posted on the IJR website by Tiaan Meiring

Over the past two years, the trustworthiness of political institutions across the globe have generally taken a hiding. This is best illustrated by the rise in populist leaders across Europe and the USA, many riding the wave of increased anti-establishment sentiment (alongside anti-immigrant nationalism).

Domestically, the South African polity continues to be plagued by multiple divisions: i) structural exclusion that still correlates with apartheid boundaries, ii) vast disparities in income and wealth between different class and racial groupings, iii) perpetual incidences of racist and xenophobic confrontations (and the persistence of their underlying sentiments), iv) high levels of civil unrest and demands for increased resource allocation in a stagnating macro-economic environment, and v) large sections of the governing executive and public institutions that stand accused of large-scale, systemic nepotism, corruption and being ‘captured’ by private interests. Not only does this sketch a society and social groupings that are divided amongst themselves, but it also highlights the lack of trust in a central authority that can act as a unifying, progressive and developmental force. Supposedly, this central authority should be the state envisioned in all of the country’s key legislative- and policy literature, from the Constitution to the National Development Plan.

In a society with such a divisive history, the post-1994 government’s role in state- and nation-building was always going to be crucial to its cohesion and sustainability. Indeed, the post-apartheid government has made significant strides on both aspects, especially in terms of nation-building. Every iteration of the IJR’s South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) survey has shown that the vast majority of citizens from diverse class and race backgrounds buy into the desirability and possibility of creating one, united South African nation. This is no trivial feat for a collective that was arbitrarily grouped by colonial boundaries and that shares a subsequent history of conquest, violent oppression and resistance.

However, recent institutional failures are disconcerting. Indeed, some argue that the success of nation building project itself is inextricably linked to progress in the building capable state institutions. Service delivery has been a long-standing challenge for a post-apartheid government in the process of building capacity with limited resources. However, more recently service delivery frustrations have increasingly been exacerbated by perceptions of large-scale corruption. Too many public institutions, especially those crucial to economic development (like the state-owned enterprises), have been hollowed out by narrow private interests. In tragic irony, this has occurred under the very pretence of ‘pro-poor’ economic transformation under the guidance of a supposedly ‘developmental state’.

2006 2015
Parliament 6,4 24,9
National Government
4,8 22,8
Local Government 15,0 22,0
Legal System 8,2 21,7

*Trust on provincial government data available up to 2013.

Commensurately, confidence in political institutions have declined significantly in recent years. The table compares the high point of institutional trust in 2006 (when the country’s GDP growth also peaked at 5.6% per year), to the record lows recorded in the latest SARB survey in 2015. It highlights the increased proportion of South Africans that indicate that have no trust at all in key governance institutions. The decline in trust is also not limited to certain institutions, but affects all branches of government (the executive, legislature and judiciary). The political system as a whole thus increasingly suffers from a trust deficit.

This has important implications for both social cohesion and economic development. First, in a society with particular historical fault lines along race and class, there is all the more need for a central arbiter that is widely trusted to formulate and enforce “the rules of the game” on how the society and its economy operates. Perceptions of fairness in the distribution of power and material resources play a fundamental role in a society’s cohesion. In turn, state institutions and -policies are central to the objective of achieving a fair distribution of power and resources, by alleviating exclusions and inequalities. A society consents to the distribution and redistribution of resources based on need (predominantly by means of progressive taxation, labour market policies, and social welfare policies) based on two phenomena

  • the extent to which members regard themselves as bound to the beneficiaries by strong ties of community, and
  • the extent to which they have a widely trusted and efficient central mechanism (i.e. the state apparatus) by which to do so.

Therefore, if the state is not trusted, it cannot address these inequities- leaving a sense of injustice and uncertainty to fester within society.

Second, a term pervasive in South African policy- and economic development literature is that of the “social compact”. It implies a developmental consensus between the major societal stakeholders (business, government, labour and civil society). Such a developmental consensus is required to provide the basis for the durable institutions and policy certainty that would foster inclusive economic growth. Again, the central agent in driving such a developmental consensus must be a widely trusted and capable state. A trusted state is required to bring together these diverse societal stakeholders, provide leadership and ameliorate differences between them, as to produce coherent policy measures. Widespread buy-in, in turn, is required for policies to be implemented.

In short, South Africa’s immediate development path remains uncertain as long the state suffers from a trust deficit amongst the society over which it governs. Measures to address perceived corruption should go a long way to reconciling state-society relations in the short run. Longer term social stability and inclusive development requires something more, however. A sustainable and inclusive long run growth path requires a capable and committed state that enjoys the confidence of its society.

Tiaan Meiring is the Project Officer for the Inclusive Economies project at the IJR.