Why fixing Africa’s data gaps will lead to better health policies

There’s been a data revolution around the world driven by advances in information technology and a need for research that responds to complex developmental issues.

African countries are also experiencing the revolution when it comes to volume, types, sources, frequency and speed of data production. This is particularly true in the population and health sector. There’s more population and health information available in the public domain than ever.

Ministries of health in most African countries conduct periodic health programme reviews to establish whether policies are producing the desired results. Countries also undertake assessments on the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases. This is done through frequent analysis of routinely collected data with the aim of improving programmes.

These periodic reviews usually serve as important input for national strategic plans. But there are still challenges with the collection of accurate and timely data, their utility, use and analytical capacity. This means that it remains difficult for many countries to develop evidence-based policies.

Mapping the issues

A number of challenges face countries trying to improve the collation and use of reliable data. Here are some of them.

Coordination: There are multiple sources of health data. These include household surveys, census, health facilities, disease surveillance, policy data and research studies. Datasets are increasingly spatially referenced and would be valuable in informing health programmes and monitoring performance. But they remain relatively under-used. It’s important to find a way to bridge this gap and increase discovery and use of data.

A platform for analytic support and triangulation of available data is needed. This would reduce fragmentation and duplication while improving efficiency.

Frequency of analysis: The premise of evidence-based decision making is that health data lack value unless they are analysed and actually used to inform decisions.

This is why coordinated and systematic analysis and review of all available data is essential. The analysis and reviews must be done at regular intervals. Regular programme assessments are critical, but are often lacking or insufficient.

Data structures: Periodical population and health surveys often consist of quantitative, qualitative and geospatial data that is voluminous and/or comprehensive. This requires well trained staffs with appropriate analytical skills to make meaning of these data.

Routinely collected health service or register-based data is common in the health sector and is traditionally used for reporting purposes. This data are longitudinal and provide wider coverage – geographically and in terms of the items recorded. This allows for trends in the use of services to be estimated. But the use of routinely collected data in most African countries has been far from optimal. This is mainly due to a lack of analytical capacity and low government demand for the data.

Data Quality: Health data, especially routinely collected service data, often have quality issues. These include missing values and errors in data entry and computation.

These errors can lead to wrong results, wrong conclusions and wrong recommendations. They can also mean that new priorities, policies and programmes based on the data will be wrong.

In addition, data analysis, dissemination and use in the sector are held back. This is a problem because the use of information sources beyond routine health management information is already weak.

Good quality data are essential for proper planning, budgeting and implementation of development activities, particularly those in essential services sectors such as public health. In the absence of quality data public resources investments are often based on guessed estimates, this leads to wastage.

Data Cost: Data collection, handling, archival and analysis is still expensive in terms of capacity, logistics and financial implications for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. National statistical offices don’t have the necessary technological, financial and human resource capacities to collect, process and disseminate the required data.

Making data work

African countries continue to work towards achieving national and regional commitments to improving data collection and use. But it’s critical that governments invest in relevant, timely and accurate data production for decision-making.

Data actors including data managers, statisticians and data analysts need to be involved at every stage. They need to be part of mapping out the problems as well as designing research methodologies and figuring out how to collect, analyse and disseminate data.

A wide range of data, including earth observation and geospatial data, needs to be leveraged to review progress in meeting health and wellbeing targets. This is critical to improving the effectiveness and sustainability of health systems.

And there’s an urgent need to shift the focus from data to information and knowledge. This includes working with end users, like health departments, to create tools to access information.

Finally, governments need to make resources available to meet commitments to providing quality and affordable health care for all. This could be done by mobilising domestic resource, setting standard data indicators (for collection, analysis and reporting) and strengthening national statistics bodies.

Commitment may be the first step towards affordable health care. But more needs to be done to harness the power of data for public health.


This article was first published in The Conversation and written by Damazo T. Kadengye

Africa Data Revolution Report 2018

The Africa Data Revolution Report 2018 delves into the current state and recent evolution of Open Data – with an emphasis on Open Government Data – in the African data communities. It explores key countries across the continent, researches a wide range of open data initiatives and benefits from global thematic expertise.

This second edition improves on process, methodology and collaborative part-nerships from the first edition. It draws from country reports, existing global and continental initiatives and key experts’ input and provides a deep analysis of the actual impact of open data in the African context.

Key Recommendations

Open Data needs the commitment of political leadership, to be entrusted to a dedicated and adequately resourced custodian and embedded through permanent data processes and a pervasive culture within all relevant government institutions. This takes sustained leadership and commitment inspired by a true belief in the benefits of open data to society as a whole. It cannot be achieved by short-term standalone, once-off externally funded initiatives focused on purely quantitative objectives such as making a given number of datasets available.Externally funded Open Government Data projects need to focus more on local capacity-building within governments, insist on institutionalizing open data processes, ensure that the datasets released are the ones that address needs rather than those that are easy to open, and involve stakeholder consultations.

Additionally, a different type of intervention or support mechanism is required to improve the impact of open data initiatives: support for OGD intermediaries needs to be more agile, less formalized, easier to access, allowing for more failures (i.e. higher risk tolerance), and focused on multi-pronged and more holistic outcomes.The intrinsic value of data as a strategic and social asset should be recognized by all the stakeholders in the data value chain, including those who capture the data as well as managers and decision makers at all levels of government institutions.

You can access the executive summary here

You can also find more information here

How Ugandans are improving procurement with data and dialogue

Silas Okumu leads the parent teacher association at a primary school in Kisenge, a small community just 600 meters from Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. In October 2018, he travelled six hours by bus to the capital, Kampala, to talk to the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a non-profit that works on contract monitoring, about a construction project at the school where his four children are students.

Recounting the details from neat handwritten papers, he explained that new classrooms and an administrative block had been built (with support from the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank), but the community had unresolved concerns: there weren’t enough classrooms for all the students, the school lacked teachers’ housing, a fence and electricity, and the new classrooms weren’t furnished.

AFIC’s staff had visited Kisenge primary school when construction was underway, checking the quality of building materials and following up when things weren’t going well with the contractors. When Okumu told them about the community’s other requests, they advised him to write the details down and promised to inform the relevant authorities. Okumu had come to Kampala to deliver his letter in person, so AFIC could share it with various government offices and follow up to ensure action was taken.

Demanding accountability: a network tracking public contracting across Uganda

AFIC is part of a network of passionate Ugandans who dedicate their time to tracking public contracting processes across the country, helping citizens like Silas Okumu to ensure their communities get the goods, services and works they need, and public officers have the information and resources they need to purchase those items at the fairest price. The group is diverse, but shares a common goal: “value for money, value for many.” They believe this occurs most effectively when people understand the contracts that affect their communities and participate in decisions made about those deals — from companies wanting to do business with the government to citizens who benefit from the services.

Before open contracting was established, citizens made complaints and requests about contracts on an ad-hoc basis, they didn’t know whether any action was taken, and there was often little clarity about which government office was responsible for what processes.

The strength and collaborative nature of this group has helped them to advocate successfully for the government to adopt open contracting — a best practice approach designed to improve the management and performance of public contracting through open data and public engagement. It’s an ambitious project — corruption is endemic in Uganda, especially in public procurement, the anti-graft laws are poorly enforced, freedom of speech is often restricted, and government agencies are under-resourced. Unreliable IT infrastructure and technology make setting up stable digital resources a challenge.

But there are early signs this network’s efforts seem to begin paying off. The government has used open contracting to begin making its public procurement portal more useful for a wider range of people. Civil society has created their own platform that displays procurement information in a way that’s easy for community monitors to understand, drawing on open data extracted from the government’s portal and supplemented by FOI requests. The public procurement agency is using open contracting data to identify potential irregularities in procurement processes. Public access to contracting documents has improved since open contracting reforms were introduced, as have communication channels between citizens, civil society and public servants. Meanwhile, the government is drafting an amendment to the procurement law, the PPDA Act, that would improve transparency and accountability in the sector. There have also been notable improvements reported in some procurement policies and practices; in particular, public officers say contracting data has helped them to plan and budget better, and open contracting has been embedded in anti-corruption reforms within the country’s largest procuring entity.

Towards a new, more collaborative and open approach to public contracting

AFIC’s executive director Gilbert Sendugwa recalls reporting anomalies to the national procurement oversight body, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), as early as 2011, when he was the chairman of a board of governors overseeing education development projects in Rushenyi county. He says the PPDA didn’t respond to him directly, but speaking to beneficiaries sometimes revealed that complaints had been addressed.He continued to share information with the PPDA informally, before they signed a formal agreement with him. When a coalition of procurement monitors was established, PPDA began hosting their meetings and training them on the agency’s processes. Now “we work very warmly and very openly in a strong partnership,” Sendugwa says

In 2015, the PPDA launched the Government Procurement Portal (GPP), an online platform to systematically publish contracting information. But despite its good intentions, civil society groups found it difficult to use. The platform featured data on procurement plans, tender notices, winning bidders’ names, awards, contract status and suspended suppliers. But many procuring entities didn’t publish their data, and contracting processes lacked unique identifiers so they couldn’t be followed through different stages of the procurement cycle. Important data were also missing — such as detailed bidder information, award criteria, implementation milestones and amendments, and procurement plans for local district governments (see detailed data mapping) — and the data formats weren’t user-friendly.

The Ministry of Health’s latest procurement plan on the Government Procurement Portal (GPP)

AFIC began advocating for open contracting with the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) five years ago, as a way to make information about contracts more accessible, useful and timely. With the help of fellow transparency advocates from Nigeria and elsewhere, AFIC used open contracting mapping tools to assess the quality of the procurement agency’s data against international standards, and how the GPP could be improved to allow better monitoring by civil society. In 2016, they compared a sample of GPP data against the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), a universal schema for organizing the most important information about contracting processes, from the planning stage to award and implementation.

The OCDS made gaps in the data apparent, such as planning and implementation milestones, bidder enquiries, and tender updates. After hearing AFIC’s findings and recommendations, the procurement agency asked the civil society group to expand their assessment to cover all the portal’s data and agreed to redesign the portal in line with the OCDS. The PPDA was convinced because they could see the benefit of open contracting to their work — improving disclosure, public participation, and public sector responsiveness would improve their capacity to monitor public procurement, and create better practices among procuring entities, who often had a reputation for failing to follow procurement rules, in some cases awarding contracts based on personal or political preferences rather than value for money. Now, PPDA data shows 402 procuring entities are registered on the GPP, 202 of which disclosed procurement plans for the 2017/18 fiscal year, compared to 97 entities registered in 2015/16 before the redesign. Each contracting process has a unique identifier across the procurement cycle and data is in accessible and reusable formats (Excel and JSON).

Edwin Muhumuza, performance monitoring manager at the PPDA shares: “… for citizens to be engaged in promoting accountability for effective service delivery, they must have information related to the contracts that are being implemented in their localities. Our commitment to open contracting is also intended to leverage the capabilities of other stakeholders such as civil society organizations in monitoring public contracts. Making public procurement information accessible to the public also enables us to take advantage of the civil society organizations’ networks that can supplement and complement our efforts in contract monitoring. We have seen the fruits of such collaboration, and they have encouraged us to promote open contracting.”

Putting open contracting data to use: Identifying red flags

With open data, the PPDA has enough complete records to flag and investigate anomalies, such as incorrect award methods, overpricing, and time overruns. For example, an officer at the PPDA noticed that the bid process was restricted for a valuable contract for supervisory services at the Kabaale International Airport. Normally Uganda would run an open competitive procedure for a 21.3 billion shilling (US$5.7 million) contract, according to Edwin Muhumuza. But after making further enquiries, Muhumuza told us, the PPDA found the direct award was legal, because it was requested by the international funder and international agreements take precedence over other procurement legislation (the PPDA Act).

AFIC has extracted data from the GPP to build their own tool specifically designed for civil society and citizens, Budeshi.ug, which it released in October 2018. The GPP data in Budeshi is further supplemented by contracts and information obtained through Freedom of Information requests. The tool is an adaptation of one developed by AFIC’s partners in Nigeria, the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC). Like the Nigerian platform, Budeshi.ug offers powerful analyses focused on information of interest to citizens and civil society in particular. It allows users to search projects by procuring entity, contractor, procurement method, project type, and year, and run basic analyses on the aggregated data. AFIC also plans to upload other data sets, such as budget and spending data, to perform further analysis. This cross-referencing of data sets can lead to powerful insights. For example, Emanuele Colonnelli, an academic and researcher collaborating with the PPDA, said he requested Uganda’s tax registry data manually and combined it with GPP data to reveal 45% of firms doing business with government never pay taxes (study yet to be published).

Budeshi.ug and key visualizations

A shared mission for better procurement: building relationships between civil society and government

Members of civil society from AFIC and UCMC have repeated their evidence-based advocacy approach to earn the trust of other institutions who had been unresponsive, even when the civil society groups invoked access to information laws. Their monitoring work serves several purposes: to increase communities’ understanding of individual projects — looking for signs of common problems like potential fraud, collusion, diversion of funds, or inflated costs — and to motivate government agencies to engage more actively in open contracting, which in turn increases the amount and quality of data on the GPP.

Through this work, we have seen that proactive disclosure and collaboration have improved among district governments where civil society monitors contracts and the PPDA has trained procurement officers in using and uploading data to the portal.

Before their first monitoring report was finalized, AFIC shared their draft findings and recommendations with the relevant agencies and incorporated their input in the final report. They invited elected officials who have an oversight role, accounting officers and the heads of departments. This helped to improve accountability, but it also gave different stakeholders a chance to raise concerns about capacity or resource needs.

“Initially in these districts they were not cooperating, giving us information and contracts,” said Sendugwa. “We had to get some of them through the PPDA. But after our first report, when we shared results, that’s when it opened doors to establish formal relationships.”

Shortly after, three districts signed MoUs with AFIC to share their contracting information. Six months later, when AFIC conducted their second round of monitoring, they gathered more than three times as many contracts (98 contracts, 37 of which were accessed via the GPP, compared to 29 contracts in 2017, all accessed via FOI request) and all five districts’ procurement plans (three via the GPP). The other two districts signed MoUs after the second monitoring period. After this improvement in data disclosure, PPDA registered 43 additional procuring entities to the GPP and trained 86 officers from these entities on using the open contracting data portal.

The PPDA and Ministry of Finance also adopted AFIC’s recommendation to enshrine open contracting in the procurement legislation. An amendment to the PPDA Act is currently being drafted by the First Parliamentary Counsel.

Road work in Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

At the agency level, open contracting has been embedded in important measures to address endemic corruption in the largest procuring entity, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) (a commission of inquiry in 2016, for example, found the agency had misappropriated more than 40% of its road construction budget over seven years). According to the PPDA, the entity has begun publishing additional procurement information, such as procurement plans, via digital platforms and traditional media, and engaging more with contractors and other stakeholders. This has helped potential bidders to plan better and make more competitive offers, according to the UNRA’s Procurement Director John Omeke Ongimu. Several people interviewed from government and civil society also said bids per tender at the UNRA have increased and come from a wider range of firms and countries. Reported improvements like these represent an encouraging first step in the right direction, and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) hopes to conduct a quantitative evaluation of them in the near future.

Better planning and budgeting

Officers from central government agencies and district governments told the OCP that compliance has improved and procurement processes are more efficient and transparent since the GPP was updated. For example, timelines and automated notifications of delays help them to track processes; the list of blacklisted suppliers helps them evaluate proposals; and bid notices can be printed by providers, rather than collected in person after being prepared manually.

Procurement plans have become more realistic and within budget, according to the government officials interviewed. A procurement officer at the Ministry of Education, Richard Ahimbisibwe, said the ministry’s budgeting has improved, because they and the PPDA can monitor actual spending against procurement plans more efficiently. When the ministry’s initial procurement plan for the 2017/18 fiscal year was over budget by 200 billion shillings, the PPDA followed up with the procurement unit, who took a second look and found they were able to remove some unnecessary items and cut costs of others to bring the plan within budget.

Construction of new classrooms at St. Matia Malumba Primary School. GPE/Livia Barton

Civil society has observed improvements in procurement planning, too. Only 21 percent of the contracts obtained by AFIC for their first monitoring reportin October 2017 were included in the government’s approved procurement plans (6 out of 29 contracts), which could indicate a diversion of funds. Their second report, in April 2018, revealed a significant improvement — 86 percent of contracts were in the plans (32 out of 37 contracts analyzed). AFIC has added information on the contracts obtained via FOI request to the Budeshi monitoring platform.

Between the two monitoring periods, PPDA trained procurement officers in the districts and updated the planning template in the GPP to ensure a link between planned contracts and those being awarded and executed. Now, if a contract is not in the procurement plan, it cannot be entered in the GPP. And government has a better understanding of who in government buys what, from whom and when.

Next steps and embedding a change of culture

While the story so far shows the promise for open data and open contracting in Uganda’s public procurement, it’s also very volatile. The GPP was down for half of 2018 and a new e-procurement system is in development, which could derail some of the progress, as it’s unclear to what extent it will integrate open contracting and the work already invested in the GPP.

At the institutional level, major weaknesses in the enforcement of legislation and procurement processes continue to allow for corruption and impunity, according to representatives of both government and civil society.

“Government has made progress in disclosing contracting information,” said Sendugwa. “Several investigations and commissions of inquiry have been made in procurement-related scandals. However, these efforts are undermined by lack of action against the big fish when [they] are involved in corrupt practices.”

The PPDA’s Executive Director Benson Turamye has expressed similar concerns, noting in a statement for Uganda’s 2017 Anti-Corruption Week that despite procurement reforms having some success, “serious challenges persist including corruption, non-compliance with the procurement act and regulations, un-standardized procurement processes across procuring and disposal entities, continuous delays in delivery of supplies and services, and wastage of resources through uncompetitive and closed purchases.” He also mentioned a 2015 PPDA survey that found almost 60 percent of bidders said they had paid a public official to influence the outcome of a tender.

Uganda is working now on redesigning the GPP so that it can hold large amounts of data and remain stable. But where we really need the investment, according to Gilbert Sendugwa, is in promoting use of data by different stakeholders.

“[We want] those who are mandated for oversight to be able to use this data to empower their decision making, [along with] those who are involved in service monitoring…and those who implement contracts,” says Gilbert Sendugwa.

Citizens particularly need more information about what happens to the complaints made, as they develop more confidence in requesting contracting documents and dealing with officials.

What a lively schoolyard can look like. A primary school in Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

The persistence of Silas Okumu, who had been calling AFIC every day, is paying off for Kisenge primary school. Staff absenteeism was a problem because teachers lived far away, so the community asked to repurpose iron sheets from the school’s construction site to build teacher housing. AFIC informed the Ministry of Education who decided that iron sheets at all similar World Bank project sites should be given to the communities for teacher housing. Unaware that the community knew about this decision, contractors started removing iron sheets designated for Kisenge primary school staff accommodation. Okumu immediately called Gilbert Sendugwa, who contacted the district government. He asked them to stop the contractors since they had a letter from the Ministry of Education explaining that the materials were for the community. They didn’t cooperate, so Sendugwa called the local police commissioner. When the contractors continued to take the materials, Sendugwa told the commissioner that he was reporting the situation to the Inspectorate of Government and would inform them that the commissioner was following up to help. After about an hour after the call, Chairman Okumu said the iron sheets had been returned to the school.

“I found it very interesting, but also humbling — the power of information by the community,” said Sendugwa. Open contracting in Uganda is still a work in progress but thanks to the efforts of AFIC, the PPDC and committed local activists, the journey has begun.

This article was originally published by Open Contracting here

 

Additional resources:

Making public contracts work for people: Experiences from Uganda

Enhancing performance and accountability of social service contracts in Uganda Project: Monitoring contracts on health and education works in Uganda

Eyes on contracts: Citizens’ voice in improving the performance of public contracts in Uganda

Uganda open contracting and procurement data use scoping study report

Making Budgets work for Gender Equality in Ethiopia

This article was originally published on the GPSA Knowledge Platform by Lucia Nass

Despite strong legal frameworks for gender equality, Ethiopian women still have a lot of catching up to do. They occupy a low status in society and their developmental outcomes are still well below those of men. Ethiopia has started to support Gender Responsive Budging (GRB), but is this creating the desired effect on gender equality?

The Ethiopia Social Accountability Program phase 2 (ESAP2) introduced GRB tool in almost a quarter of Ethiopia’s 1000 districts across five public services: education, health, water, agriculture, and rural roads. We guided over 110 local organizations to help communities assess the standards and budgets of basic services they received, prioritize necessary improvement, engage in dialogue with service providers and local government, and realize the agreed reforms.

Initially, very few CSOs chose to work with the GRB tool because it provided limited implementation guidelines and also gender expertise was not well developed among the CSOs. The ESAP team invited an Ethiopian gender consultant and engaged with CSOs, communities, and government gender experts in an action research process to make a new GRB tool that would work for social accountability at local government level.

CSOs start with identifying and mobilizing local gender and budget expertise, which can support the social accountability process. In Ethiopia, this usually involves the Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office; the Financial Transparency and Accountability expert; and experts from the sector offices. They also timed social accountability activities to the budget cycle, so that citizens can influence budget decisions and review. Before conducting gender analysis, awareness is raised among service providers on the government’s gender policies for service delivery. Then gender analysis of service access and benefits is facilitated where community members are involved in comparing the impact of basic services on women to that of men. Citizens and service providers are then brought together to discuss local budgets and set priorities for gender equitable spending on public services. This leads to prioritization of spending on improvements that promote gender equality. Citizens subsequently monitor that service improvements indeed benefit women and men as agreed during the budget discussions.

Interestingly, the CSOs had already completed a full cycle of the SA process before the new GRB tool was introduced. Focusing on the same services, the communities’ priorities changed. All six pilots show that new issues were prioritised. In Debre Markos town, GRB highlighted sexual harassment of school girls. The community had already identified the need of a fence to protect students from residents who could wander into the school yard at any time. The gender analysis highlighted the negative impact of drinking houses in terms of the harassment of school girls by their customers. The issue was raised during the interface meeting, and local authorities subsequently moved the drinking houses to the other end of town.

Pilots encountered secondary schools with no separate toilets for boys and girls, and agricultural extension services that focus solely on crops grown by men. Ethiopia’s basic services may on paper appear gender neutral, but in practice they are not. Gender analysis can demonstrate how service delivery that is seemingly “gender neutral” does in fact perpetuate gender bias. We learned how to integrate gender analysis with each step of a social accountability process at local government level. Our GRB tool brings abstract gender policies to life for men and women, service providers and district officials.

We hope that our work will inspire SA practitioners to develop GRB for local government budgets. This publication explains how we developed the tool and gives more detail to the results achieved for gender equality in basic service access and benefits.

Concerns in the Eastern Cape education budget

PSAM education researcher, Siyabulela Fobosi, has released his budget analysis for the Eastern Cape Education department 2018. Here he outlines some of the key concerns in the province’s budget for education.

What is of concern is that the planning and budgeting of R57 billion for fee-free higher education comes with the baseline reduction to the basic education budget. For example, Programme 6 (Infrastructure Development) of the ECDoE decreased by 10%, in nominal terms, from R1.7 billion in 2017/18 to R1.5 billion in 2018/19. In real terms, the allocation to this Programme decreased by 13% to R1.4 billion.  The reason for this decline is due to the reduction in the funding for two conditional grants, namely Education Infrastructure Grant and Maths Science and Technology Grant. This reduction will delay the completion of currently existing infrastructure projects such as hostels, special schools and Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres.

The reduction in budget for infrastructure is concerning, considering the interdependence of the basic and higher education sectors. One would expect government to ensure massive investment in basic education, so that learners progress well to the higher education. The high fees in universities are not the only reason why many of the learners from the poor schools cannot access higher education. It is also due to the inequalities in the early years of schooling. It remains a challenge for most learners in South Africa, to pass matric well and obtain a qualification in higher education, especially in the context where learners are repeating Grade 3 and 4.

The lack of adequate appropriate infrastructure in schools does adversely impacts on progress towards ensuring equitable access to education and resources. It is particularly disconcerting to note the reductions to important programmes such as the Infrastructure Development which will undoubtedly result in the delay of school infrastructure projects in a province already showing high rates of under-delivery. This reduction is unfavorable for the progressive realisation of the rights of learners to quality basic education. In order to ensure that the budget allocated for infrastructure delivery, the Department must improve the management and monitoring of expenditure. It is high time that the ECDoE, assisted by the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, addresses failures in school infrastructure provisioning.  Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.

Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.

Following the Money in Ghana: From the Grassroots to the Hallways of the IMF

Originally published on the Accountability Research Center website

Between 2011 and 2014, Ghana went from boasting the world’s fastest growing economy to requiring a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While a global downturn in commodity prices precipitated the fall, a lack of accountability in how public finances have been managed has been at the heart of the problem. Fiscal indiscipline, fueled by a lack of oversight and rampant corruption, left the government unable to mount an effective response during lean economic times.

Oxfam and its civil society partners in Ghana were worried that everyday Ghanaians would be left shouldering the burden of the economic crisis. Moreover, Ghanaians worried that their concerns and aspirations would not be represented in the high-level negotiations on the bailout between the Government of Ghana and the IMF. To address these concerns Oxfam and its partners coordinated a multi-level advocacy campaign. The campaign drew together a diverse coalition of civil society—from community activists to globally influential think tanks—able to represent and articulate local level concerns and project a united voice at the national and global levels.

This novel approach proved highly successful in driving important changes in policy and practice that have enhanced accountability, fiscal responsibility, and citizens’ participation. The campaign not only contributed to improving the laws governing how public finances are managed in Ghana, but also helped to increase pro-poor spending and protect crucial social services.

Three key lessons emerged on conducting multi-level campaigns:

  1. Establish accessible communication and sustained dialogue within a diverse coalition.
  2. Use global institutions as strategic levers for top-down accountability.
  3. Invest in citizens’ engagement in policies and implementation over the longer-term.

Download the full publication here

Using open aid data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania

This post was originally published on the Open Data Charter website, written by Elise Dufief, Research and Monitoring Manager at Publish What You Fund

The government of Tanzania announced in August that it was withdrawing from the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process. This was seen as a dramatic turn of events by some as the previous administration was regarded as a champion of transparency reforms. For others, it highlighted some of the challenges of international transparency initiatives and potentially offered an opportunity to reflect on how these initiatives could better respond to domestic issues and put citizens’ needs at their heart.

Earlier this year, I travelled to Tanzania and Benin and conducted interviews with representatives from government, donors and civil society organisations to investigate some of these issues. I looked into the opportunities and barriers for open aid data to be used as an accountability mechanism for partner country citizens. We at Publish What You Fund published a discussion paper earlier this month detailing the findings of our work.

Publish What You Fund, among other organisations, has argued that the public disclosure of information on development activities by major donors is an essential and necessary step to increase aid effectiveness. Substantial progress has been made at the international level through initiatives such as IATI and individual efforts of some major donors and governments to publish more and better quality development data. However, transparency alone is not sufficient as this information also needs to be used to promote accountability to local actors and respond to citizens’ needs.

We are also not the only ones reflecting on this. Organisations such as Oxfam and Open Contracting are also trying to find a constructive and collaborative way to move the transparency agenda forward and shed light on the necessary conditions for data to be used for accountability.

The new framework developed by Liz Carolan of the Open Data Charter, alongside the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, also helped shape our thinking on the matter. That study found 5 steps connecting open data and accountability: data production, sharing and processing, use and action. We proposed two additions to it: an initial step of identifying information needs and mapping potential users; and to also implement feedback mechanisms once data is made available to create a circular and iterative process from transparency to accountability.

Additionally, five key findings emerged from the interviews conducted in Benin and Tanzania:

1.There is a clear and repeated need for more high quality information on aid and development finance.

This was articulated clearly by donor country offices, government representatives and civil society organisations. Recent efforts to provide more information should be sustained and respond to these needs where possible.

2. International donor-led initiatives are not yet meeting country-level needs.

Tanzania’s withdrawal from the OGP is a manifestation of this. More attention needs to be paid to the national context and dynamics at play between different actors. This would help to identify where and how transparency and open data can help to improve development outcomes and accountability to citizens.

3. Both the development and data landscapes are fragmented and this is increasing.

The international development landscape increasingly involves more actors, more diverse flows and varied interests and objectives. In the absence of effective coordination, this complexity is reflected on the governance of data at country-level, also impeding its potential users.

4. A lack of trust in open data and its applications impedes its use as an accountability tool.

Data accuracy issues aside, examples from Tanzania and Benin demonstrated that more openness and transparency is sometimes met with fear of criticism and misinterpretation of the data. These are serious concerns that should be addressed. Shrinking civil society space and legislative restrictions to the access and use of this information, however, do not appear as viable solutions; they rather contradict the stated aim of the open data agenda.

5. With publication comes responsibility.

All actors have a responsibility to go beyond mere publication to make data truly accessible, usable and used. This requires putting people at the heart of transparency initiatives. It is only by working towards the identification of their needs, understanding their concerns and actively seeking their feedback that adequate responses and meaningful change will be implemented at country level. Data alone does not bring change. People do.

You can read our discussion paper ‘With Publication Brings Responsibility: Using open data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania’ here.

Award-winning journalism hitting hard in social accountability

September 2017 – Malawian journalist Alick Ponje received the inaugural Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting during the Telkom-Highway Africa Awards Gala Dinner held yesterday evening at the 21st annual Highway Africa conference, the world’s largest gathering of African journalists, at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Presented by Highway Africa and the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance, the award recognises journalists from Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia whose investigative reporting on social accountability has contributed to improved services in public health and agriculture, particularly in the areas of HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and food security.

Ponje’s article ‘Private Hospitals Breach Government Pact’, published in the Malawi News, a newspaper of the Times Group, on 4 February 2017, documents how privately run clinics and mobile clinics are breaching their contracts with the Ministry of Health. The clinics order drugs from the district health office and also demand fees from patients for under-five and maternal health services, which are supposed to be free. The situation has reportedly contributed to the depletion of drugs for publically run health facilities.

“Ponje successfully draws upon and weaves together multiple sources of information, including documentation from the district council, input of officials during council proceedings, and interviews with the Ministry of Health,” stated Highway Africa’s Director Chris Kabwato. “His reporting provides insight into a critical issue of social accountability in the use of public resources, which has affected both health budgets as well as the provision of affordable services.”

 “The news media have a critical role to play in holding governments to account for the provision of quality public services,” said Rachel Gondo, Senior Programme Officer at Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). “Ponje has clearly shed the spotlight on the need for governments to closely monitor and regulate the services provided by privately-run but publically-funded health facilities, both in Malawi and across southern Africa.”

SAfAIDS’ Deputy Director Rouzeh Eghtessadi applauded Ponje for interrogating the provision of sexual and reproductive health services at local clinics. “We need more journalists who are willing to delve into the real-life challenges people face in accessing health services, in an unsensational and discriminatory manner. Without such reporting, mismanagement of scarce public resources goes undetected, resulting in a decline in the quality and effectiveness of healthcare services.”

Ponje, 28, now a special projects reporter at the Nation Publication Group, joined the mainstream media in 2014 after graduating as a teacher from the University of Malawi. “Receiving this award is going to motivate me. It shows that people are recognising the efforts we put into our work. I’m in the early years of my career and this will give me the confidence to work on these issues [of social accountability] going forward,” said Ponje.

Ponje applauded Highway Africa and PSA Alliance for initiating the award. “With awards like this, journalists will be more motivated to track how public funds are being utilised. And, at the end of the day, some of these problems might be history.”

Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance is led by ActionAid International together with Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Towards equality in school funding

By and
(Photo courtesy of Equal Education)

Apartheid’s legacy of skewed resource distribution continues to impede the realisation of the right to basic education. By the mid-1960s, the apartheid government was spending, on conservative estimates, ten times more on white learners than on black learners. Redressing this injustice is a moral, socio-economic and constitutional imperative.

In this article – the first in a series on public school funding – we outline the constitutional framework that must inform education spending and resource distribution in South Africa.

Right to basic education is immediately realisable

The right to basic education guaranteed in section 29 of the Constitution is different from other socio-economic rights. The state’s duty to realise rights such as housing, social security and health-care may be achieved progressively over time and within available resources.

By contrast, Justice Bess Nkabinde of the Constitutional Court, in a landmark judgment, explained:

“Unlike some of the other socio-economic rights, this right [to basic education] is immediately realisable. There is no internal limitation requiring that the right be ‘progressively realised’ within ‘available resources’ subject to ‘reasonable legislative measures’.”

This means that the Constitution recognises that education is a public good that must be made accessible to everyone immediately: to every learner, without exception. This shows the fundamental importance that the Constitution places on education, which must be given priority in the policies, plans and budgets of government. Education funding models must therefore be based on the target of immediately ensuring that all learners access the right to basic education.

Substantive equality and redress

Substantive equality is a fundamental constitutional value and right. Unlike merely formal equality, which requires treating everyone exactly the same, the Constitution recognises historical imbalances and the need to eradicate systemic discrimination against certain groups. Substantive equality requires that the state provide redress for past disadvantage so that everyone is in a position to equally enjoy all their rights, including education. This is key to to the transformative agenda of the Constitution.

Recently retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke explained in a 2004 judgement that “[a]bsent a positive commitment progressively to eradicate socially constructed barriers to equality and to root out systematic or institutionalised under-privilege, the constitutional promise of equality before the law and its equal protection and benefit must, in the context of our country, ring hollow.”

Section 29 has been specifically interpreted by our courts to impose an obligation on the State to not only provide education but to also simultaneously redress past imbalances caused by the racially discriminatory laws and practices of the colonial and apartheid eras.

Constitution guarantees access to quality education

The Constitutional Court has said that “education is the engine of any society”. It is the main way in which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.

The right to a basic education provides a way to realise the dignity, equality and freedom of every person. For this to happen, education must be of adequate quality.

A rights-based approach to public school funding

What are the implications of these constitutional principles and rights for funding public schools? At a minimum:

  • The state must prioritise education funding as basic education is an immediately accessible public good.
  • Access to education alone is not sufficient. Substantive equality requires that access to quality education is equalised: no person or group of people should receive a vastly inferior education to anyone else.
  • A progressive funding model is required that lifts the standards of disadvantaged schools up to the levels of resource expenditure (inputs) and quality of learning (outputs) of historically advantaged schools.

The South African Schools Act recognises the need to “provide an education of progressively high quality . . . [and] uphold the rights of all learners”.  It requires the state to “fund public schools from public revenue on an equitable basis in order to ensure the proper exercise of the rights of learners to education and the redress of past inequalities in education provision”.

However, while the legislation is laudable for its recognition of the constitutional goal, the mechanics of education funding are not achieving these aims.

In the next articles in this series, we analyse how basic education is funded in South Africa. Beginning with the distribution of funds among the provinces, and then looking at personnel and non-personnel spending, we will explore various shortcomings in the existing model while highlighting what opportunities there are for achieving greater quality and equality in our public schools.

What the Constitution requires How this impacts the budget process
Priority Basic education must be accessible to all immediately. Basic education must be treated as a priority in government budgeting processes.
Quality The right to basic education is a right to an education of adequate quality. Resources must be invested by the state into the basic education system that are sufficient to achieve adequate quality.
Equality Education of an adequate quality must be made available and accessible to all. Among others:

  • no-one may be denied access to education on the basis of their inability to pay fees;
  • all schools must have access to the resources necessary to provide a quality, basic education;
  • schools that were underfunded in the past must receive relatively more resources from the state than schools that were well funded during apartheid.

Nurina Ally is the Executive Director of the Equal Education Law Centre. Daniel McLaren is a Senior Researcher at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute.


Published originally on GroundUp .