Wednesday, July 05, 2006

An Asylum of Cashews, Part II

Amid cries of protest at continuing this project in light of the concerns, the deputy took it upon himself to explain the system - explain why they should still carry it out.
[1] It's a top-down system. They are given policy directorates from the people responsible for their salaries, and as government workers they have an obligation to carry out those projects. He specifically said that they need to justify why they are getting paid. And
[2] 55% donor funded, means that the funds are from donors for specific projects. To retain those sources of funding, they should comply.

After the explanation of needing to comply with policy directorates, I heard one of the AEAs express the greatest analogy to development that I've ever heard! With his arms clasped tightly around his body in emphasis, he expresses that knowing what to do, but being restrained by "policy directorates" is like being in a straightjacket! At this, the entire room of 24 AEAs erupted into spirited agreement. He went on to explain the inabilities of the AEAs to do their jobs with these policies. However, the deputy calmed the group and mentioned that the purpose of the reporting system is to bring to light these concerns! The AEAs report weekly/monthly and should include all the above issues. That way, those who decide on the programs can take into consideration the concerns of each individual district.

Which brings me to my next point: there is so much bureaucracy within GOs! A quick example: the Director went into town to purchase some supplies, including new whiteboard markers. The next day, I asked him if I could use one of the markers, and he said that they hadn't arrived yet. "I'm sorry, but I thought we brought them to the office yesterday?" "Yes, they are in the office. But the storekeeper isn't here, so we cannot use them." At this point, I was thoroughly confused and in need of some clarification. Which I promptly requested. Apparently, he pays for supplies, and then has to have the purchases approved and sent to the 'store' in the office - from which he has to requisition the supplies from the storekeeper before being able to use them. Not only was she not in that day, but we hadn't even received approval for the purchase yet! Which makes no sense to me, because once it's paid for, the store wasn't going to take them back if the purchase wasn't approved!!

But back to my previous topic. Bureaucracy: particularly concerning reporting, from the AEAs to the DAOs to the Director to the Regional Office to the National Office. I don't know exactly on what levels most of the activities are decided, but from every way the info is passed up in the district level, there is a lack of consistency with the Deputy's words. Many concerns in the AEAs reports don't make it into the presentations given to the regional office. If you want to have and efficient and effective top-down approach, you need a good system to carry info from the bottom up! How else to ascertain and meet the needs of the people who are the primary beneficiaries?? This bureaucracy/efficiency issue is also so different to what I've been hearing from fellow volunteers working with NGOs. For some of them, when activities are decided on, they are then somewhat easily implemented - and if not, at least ideas are discussed amongst people who can choose to implement them. However, I probably shouldn't be going on about NGOs and GOs as though every one is the same as the other - there is such a variety amongst them that it would be wrong to categorize in such a way. I suppose I'm just speaking specifically about my office and from experience of a few NGO volunteers.

So, the whole concept of report writing. Government organizations in Ghana are moving more and more towards decentralization, and thus policy keeps changing quite frequently. And as I've previously mentioned, the newest policy being adopted by MoFA is RBM: Results-Based Management. While the concept is fairly easy to grasp, the most difficult part of this system is implementing it: basically, changing the focus from ACTIVITIES to the RESULTS (the change you want to see). As of right now, everything done is activities based - including proposal and report writing, activity planning, etc. The organization will choose the activities they will do and only then pick outputs/outcomes/impact that could be a result of those activities. RBM, however, is the exact reverse.

Hopefully I didn't bore you with the brief RBM details above, but it's just to give an idea before tying it back into the whole reporting system, bureaucracy mess! The results of everything done by MoFA should benefit the farmers - and who better to know what they need than the frontline workers, the AEAs? And yet, they are given policy directorates from above. So if the AEAs can effectively convey to higher-up officials what it is that is truly needed and which activates do not work or are inappropriate for their particular districts, the farmers will eventually benefit. Even proper reports to the fenders could merge the donor-driven objectives with the needs of the beneficiaries.

So I suppose in a way I'm lucky that one of my tasks at MoFA this summer allows me to have an impact in this area, where I've noticed a definite need for change. My second workshop focuses on RBM, and I can choose to incorporate aspects of planning or report writing if they seem like important applications to focus on. While RBM isn’t perfect, using the system properly could do a world of good for the farmers. Aside: however, this still leaves the issue o MoFA and donors not following through with promises (resulting in a decrease in trust). Firstly, there is the example of the maize project that was previously mentioned. As well, there is another called Nerica Rice (New Rice for Africa) - it is a new upland, short-term variety of rice that is very conducive to the soil and climate in the Northern Region. It has better yields than most varieties currently used.

The project is to organize farmers into groups in order to receive the inputs (the seed) as a loan from the seed manufacturers. The cost of the loan is to be repaid after harvest. The AEAs were promised a certain amount of seed each, and then formed the groups and notified the DAOs about the number of groups, names, etc. After this was done, they were informed by the company supplying the seed that they could only provide a fraction of the promised amount. This left every AEA with too many groups for the given seed to support, and therefore disappointing quite a number of farmers. These farmers were told to maintain the groups for the following year. At least with this project, they were all informed early enough for the farmers to plant other crops in their field. However, it still will affect the trust relationship between the AEAs and their farmers. And yet, I don’t feel there’s much I can do to influence that particular issue. Perhaps add donor/upper-level accountability in my list of recommendations at the end of the placement, but once I’m back in Canada there’s no way to monitor that.

So that is a taste of what working with MoFA is like. Not all as frustrating as it may seem from this blog, but at times… I came in with the misconception that most government workers wouldn’t care at all for ‘development’ and only regard their work as a job. But I’ve seen such variation among the employees here! While for a few this is true, all the AEAs and most of the DAOs genuinely want to improve the situation in the Northern Region. However, even with the true concern for providing food security, it IS a job. And their work costs (i.e. fuel to travel to communities, money for visual aids, handouts, etc.) need to be thought about. Even if they understand what needs to be done to be effective and ensure the new ideas/skills/techniques are being adopted by the farmers, they are restrained once again by a straightjacket of insufficient funds. As I very soon came to learn in Ghana, every activity that fails and even some that succeed suffer from insufficient funding!


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