‘Olympic games’ of governance – a case study

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Seating in an African Development Bank’s conference in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, bringing together civil society, think tanks and the Bank on the subject of Africa’s industrialisation, I have a feeling of a déjà-vu.

I feel, I have heard the questions being raised by CSOs and seen the answers being given by the bank. I wonder then, where we go from here; I wonder, what is the link that has been missing between such brilliant plans, and their implementation?

I feel Africa’s issues have been of operations.

With that in mind, allow me to share a small experience from Rwanda. For the last four years, the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) is contracted to assess the impact of policies implemented by the Government.

The think tank, to which I am affiliated, evaluates the Imihigo (performance contracts) signed annually between the Presidency of the Republic and local and central government institutions, on the improvement of social services, job creation, infrastructure, service delivery, etc.

Critical to the process is the tripartite inclusiveness of the performance contracts at district level, whereby civil society organisations and the Private Sector are encouraged to set annual targets alongside local governments, be part of Joint Action Forums and preside in district’s leadership council (board).

In this regard, the tags of ‘civil society’ or ‘private sector’ or ‘government’ have little or no importance, and the most successful mayors are those who best harness non-state actors’ contributions.

At the end of that sort of Olympic Games of Governance, the best performers receive medals from the Head of State. The last are warned, scorned by their constituencies or, in worst case scenarios could see a premature end to their administrative careers.

This is a rare exercise which puts public institutions in competition with the aim to best respond to citizen’s expectations. Our client, the Office of the Prime Minister, insists that we take into account the level of citizens’ satisfaction, and the sustainability of infrastructure constructed in previous budget exercises.

In April last year, IPAR was requested to evaluate the Seven-Year Government Programme, in other words, to assess the seven years of the second term of President Paul Kagame and his government, and make recommendations for the future.

In other countries, this type of audit would generally be conducted for political purposes by a freshly elected president, to reveal to the people in which terrible conditions his/her predecessor will have left the country, hoping to lower their expectations.

It is rare indeed that towards the end of his/her tenure a politician accepts to conduct such an evaluation and outsource it independently; that would be more like changing oil in a rental car before returning it…

What does this tell us? Clearly that Paul Kagame had no doubts on his performance during the two previous terms, and none on his chances to be reelected in August 2017.

Furthermore, such assessments are typically conducted by foreign firms, funded by donors, banks, typically looking at African countries with skewed foreign lenses.

Here it is important to note that IPAR is not paid to throw flowers at the Government, such would be an expensive bouquet… Its role is to identify challenges in the implementation of public policy.

In its previous reports, for instance, it did not hesitate to highlight dysfunctions in key sectors of agriculture and education; observed delays in central government’s funds transfers, regularly stressing local authorities, or even the discrepancy between massive expectations from the people and insufficient available funds.

These observations are primarily technical. It is up to the Government to investigate the causes of such failures (e.g. incompetence, corruption…)

The fact that our think-tank eschews activism and populism, gives confidence to government that the findings of IPAR will not feed polemics and politics.

As an institution, we seldom speak to the media and when we do, it is generally to share findings for information and pedagogical purposes; like doctors, our diagnosis as well as the subsequent prescriptions are protected by a kind of ‘Hippocratic Oath’ and it is up to the patient to reveal their own medical reports; and it is a prerogative of the public to demand our reports, based on a law of 2013 on access to information.

Naturally, the annual evaluation would be a waste of time, if the state only retained recommendations that suits them, score low hanging fruits and swept under the rug the most salient and compelling ones.

The fact that we spend little energy convincing government to implement our recommendations illustrate the ‘dispassion’ in delivering public good, which Rwanda has made its trademark.

Indeed for Africa to break the vicious circle of underdevelopment, we must not allow passions, be they political, tribal or ideological to consume our aspirations.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow, Governance, at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).

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