ISLAMABAD: Imagine a country with the seventh largest army and the third largest nuclear stockpile, yet 60% of its population earns less than $2 per day. Imagine a part of the world that has received more than $1 billion of annual aid in the last decade but spends little budget, if any, on improving maternal health and has over 5 million out-of-school children.
It is Pakistan – the fifth-largest democracy of the world that has failed to achieve all of its Millennium Development Goals except one.
The question of the hour is: why MDGs have badly failed in Pakistan while countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have made substantial progress under the same agenda?
Ineffective governance, poor performance and undermining ownership – centrally planned, top-down approaches to foreign technical assistance programmes in Pakistan often fail to build sustainable capacity as they remain donor-driven and not demand-driven. The fact that majority of technical assistance projects fail on at least one measure of success makes a case for conducting lessons learnt reviews to benefit others embarking on similar projects. A post-mortem of such technical assistance programmes yield several insights.
The primary reason why such technical assistance programmes do not bear desired results is lack of genuine interest on the part of provincial governments as stakeholder buy-in in general and government ownership in particular is absolutely crucial in building capacity of implementing agencies.
Agencies can identify institutional problems through its reconnaissance and fact-finding missions but it should be the government that should make a business case for such assistance. Moreover in negotiations with the government, officials should not only talk at the secretary-level but should also engage middle managers, as many secretaries leave in the middle of a project. In fact, middle managers should be the ‘change agents’ who champion these ideas to the upper ranks.
Inadequate project programming
Very often, the master schedule of a technical assistance does not account for certain well-known risks and events such as local government elections, rotation policy for DMG/PSP officers and delays in the issuance of visa for foreign consultants.
Technical assistance projects that face excessive delays should be monitored more closely and any additional use of funds to crash the project should be properly justified. Poor estimation and ineffective scope management could lead to scope creep in case of which, the business case should be reassessed and the performance of project manager should be questioned.
Donor agencies appoint foreign and national consultants with government concurrence and determine terms of references for their contracts including remuneration. Such a scenario leads to confusion as to who is their client and whose interests are to be served. Is it the government, the donor agency or people of Pakistan?
As expected, majority of consultants believe donor agency to be their client instead of the implementing agency and hence work towards pleasing donor officials for renewal of their contracts. They don’t challenge assumptions of the donor agency related to programme design and are primarily focused on producing planned outputs instead of outcomes. In case, when a complicated reforms agenda is on the table, these consultants fail to negotiate with all stakeholders and propose technical solutions to very political problems.
In brief, broad-based ownership of a development programme remains the main obstacle in its sustainability. This stakeholder engagement is a time-consuming exercise but most consultants look for a ‘quick fix’ instead of taking simultaneous bottom-up and top-down approaches. Turnover of government and project officials is indeed a problem but higher echelons of international donor agencies should focus more on enforcing effective project governance for achieving desired outcomes in the long run.
Courtesy : Express Tribune