A Critical Review Of Two Years Of SPEFA
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development initiated the Social Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (SPEFA) process in 2013 as part of the Local Government Capacity Support Project (LGCSP). The SPEFA process provides on going capacity building to citizens and the roles and responsibilities of MMAs and provides platforms for structured engagement with local government authorities. The overall aim of the SPEFA process is to improve citizens’ perceptions of urban management and increase their engagement with the Metropolitan and Municipal Assemblies across the country.
Though the SPEFA process was designed to cover all 46 MMAs under the LGCSP, the implementation was phased to allow for lessons to be learned and incorporated along the way. Roll-out started in June 2013 with 11 MMAs while another 24 joined in June 2014, bringing the number to 35 MMAs at the end of May 2015. In all 35 MMAs, SPEFA groups were formed with support from CSOs to effectively engage with MMAs on local development issues. June 2015 marked the end of the first phase of implementation.
The Ministry of Local Government commissioned Tettey and Associates, a consulting firm, to assess the first 2 years of implementation to determine among others; progress against set objectives the efficiency of use of current resources, effectiveness and sustainability of the current approach. The assessment also measured changes that has occurred as a result of the SPEFA process and provided recommendation for improvements.
Sixteen MMAs were selected out of the 46 MMAs for the assessment. One Municipal Assembly in every region and all Metropolitan Assemblies were also selected. The assessment found that a number of key stakeholders played various roles to deliver a successful and functional program. Key stakeholders such as the World Bank, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development through the Social Accountability Unit, the Netherlands Development Organization through the National Coordinating Unit, the Metropolitan/Municipal Assemblies, Partner CSOs, Citizen Groups and Media Network have all played significant roles and lived up to their expected responsibility to make the project successful. There were broad consultations with several key stakeholders in the design and implementation of the project.
A major strength of the SPEFA project, is the platform it has created to bridge the communication gap between the citizens and local government officials. There are increased opportunities for citizens to meet face-to-face with local government officials to discuss and agree on key development issues. These platforms and opportunities have been used by some vulnerable groups like women and PWDs to demand better services and a response to their needs. Citizens have also taken advantage of these platforms and are participating in the meetings actively.
The review also assessed progress against agreed work plan and found that planned project activities have been achieved within the broad time frames. The number of forums and meetings to be held was achieved to a large extent. The Public Financial Management (PFM) template was found by both the MMAs and Citizen Groups to be very useful. It was user friendly and simple to be understood by the general public. Monitoring and evaluation was effectively done through tight reporting regime and monitoring field visits from the SAU and NCU. There was high and active participation of the various citizen groups such as the women, PWDs, youth groups, traditional authorities, and the aged as well as assembly staff.
Comparing achievements made so far with funds released it can be said that there was value for money. There was a fixed budget regime at project inception. Funds were released according to specific quarterly disbursement schedule. Direct transfers of funds were made to the Partner CSOs to carry out planned activities. These financial resources were channelled through SNV to the partner CSOs. The media network platform facilitated media reportage on the project outcomes without huge financial costs. The project used the municipal officials from the planning, budget and finance departments to facilitate the SPEFA Forums hence only little motivation was given as compared to what would have been given to external consultants.
Some of the most significant changes identified are highlighted as follows:
Platform for Capacity Building and Citizens Engagement
Through this process MMAs engaged citizens and civil society organisations without political tagging. It also created room for peace building. The platform provided opportunity for staff of the MMAs (from different departments) to learn from each other. There is significant evidence of personal improvement in
capacities and awareness of citizens, civil society organizations and media practitioners of the assembly processes. This contributed to improve the capacity of those that participated in the process.
Citizens Participation in MMA PFM Process
There is also evidence of increased citizen’s awareness of the public procurement process. This is seen through increased citizen’s participation in town hall meetings and fee fixing meetings. Many MMAs claim that inputs made by citizens at these meetings informs the development and setting of priorities for the Annual Action Plans of the MMA. This increased aware could explain the increased internally generated receipts some MMAs are experiencing.
Improved relations between MMAs, CSOs, and Media
An interesting finding is the changing power relations between key stakeholders in local governance, i.e. MMA, CSO, Media and traditional authorities. There is increasing trust and improvement in the relationship between MMAs, CSO and Media. MMAs are gradually opening up to CSOs and invite them to participate in key processes of the Assemblies.
The review also identified a number of challenges. These challenges could be classified into communication; funding; organisation and participation; and capacity related categories.
Communication between various stakeholders is weak. For instance, the CSOs do not share their individual reports with the MMAs where they work. Communication on SPEFA meetings for instance needs improvement to prevent frequent postponement of meetings. There is very little disclosure of financial resources between CSOs and MMAs.
Another challenge was time management for SPEFA and town hall meetings. There is constant rescheduling and delay of meetings. Citizens in all districts attend the meetings late, causing further delays in the start and close of meetings. The review also found that some of the meetings had to be rescheduled to allow for broader participation of MA staffs.
There is also inconsistency of participation by citizens. (i.e. rotation of membership at forums). Those who did not participate in any of the meetings had very little or no information on the SPEFA project.
The gains made could be sustained with the provision of adequate critical mass of resources with the right number of personnel. This requires that the Government of Ghana through the appropriate Ministries, Departments and agencies must put concrete measures in place plans for the complete ownership of the project upon the completion of the project.
There is the need to ensure that the capacity of the SAU is well built and resourced to continue with the process at the end of the project phase. It also imperative to give equal attention to the management of the MMAs position them to be willing and prepared to give adequate information on developmental and financial issues to the citizens.