The second and final phase of Kalondololondo Programme winds up in March after four years of implementation. Our reporter FATSANI GUNYA finds out from Kalondolondo acting programme manager RUTH NKHWAZI if it has lived to objective of promoting social accountability and governance in public service delivery.
Why was Kalondolondo Programme established?
It was established after a government pilot project tested and proved beyond doubt that social accountability mechanisms such as community scorecards can help planners and policy makers acquire useful information for making evidence based plans, budgets and policies that would be reflective of the real needs of the citizens especially the grassroots. This is when ActionAid, Council for Non-governmental Organisations in Malawi (Congoma) and Plan Malawi came together as a consortium to implement the project following concerns of conflict of interest if this kind of assessment were to be led by the government. Plan UK and DFID came in to provide some funding and have been funding it all along. The first phase of the programme—then simply called Community Based Monitoring Project—was implemented between 2008 and 2011; the second phase followed in 2012 until 2015. Currently, we are on a five month extension which ends this March. UKAid pumped in a further £2.5 million to help the Programme Implementation Unit wind up everything before we finally close shop. The programme uses social accountability mechanisms to engage citizens in rural areas to monitor the delivery of services in health, education, water and sanitation, agriculture and other decentralised funding mechanisms. Through a platform that the programme creates for interfacing, communities are given a chance to participate in budgeting by voicing out their appreciation on how they perceive the delivery of public services.
Not many public officers were receptive to the programme; why do you think this was the case?
Indeed, the programme met a lot of resistance in the early days especially during the first phase. Basically, this was a misconception of the whole initiative. In all fairness, public officers, just as every citizen should be, need to be patriotic to their country in all endeavours Because of the culture of secrecy and failure to inculcate a culture of performance appraisal in the public service, it was expected of the programme like Kalondolondo to receive such resistance. But it didn’t take long for the concepts of the programme to be embraced by many, particularly rural communities who, for first time, were given a true chance to participate in local governance. Another support came from inside public service where some few honest, development-conscious officers welcomed the programme and advocated within the system for the significance of having such a programme. I remember towards the end of the first phase, the programme started gaining ground establishing the social accountability spirit in the public service; the kind of thing that eluded many in the service.
How unique was the implementation of the programme as compared to others?
The programme tried hard to remain independent;, told the service stories as it is; brought a lot of evidence; brought out pertinent issue affecting service delivery; that is all. The passion of civil society partners and staff about the programme, their dedication to facilitate dialogue between citizens and service providers to improve service delivery also separated the programme from the rest. As such, the programme gained visibility at both local and international levels. It won an award of best advocacy campaign in Plan International East and Southern Africa Region in 2013 and is recognized by the British Independent Commission for Aid Effectiveness (ICAI) as a viable Governance Model that brings potent results especially at district and sub-district levels. It is also the ICAI’s preferred governance model following its assessment of governance models in Malawi and Ghana in 2013.
Was the programme in line with the Decentralisation Act, which was put in place to create democratic institutions and environment at the local level with the aim of facilitating the participation of grassroots in decision-making?
The programme deliberately targeted communities from hard to reach areas to give a chance to those citizens to give their experience about the way services are being delivered in their areas. For example, the programme reached Ighamba area in Karonga and Tchalo in Rumphi; among others. These areas are like foreign islands in their own country. Imagine in such areas, key services are compromised to the extent of risking people’s lives. At Ighamba, even immunisation for under-five children is a dream that is far from being realised, but Kalondolondo went that far to get the voice of these people heard. Voiceless citizens were being given a platform to give feedback on service provision from their respective areas to service providers and duty bearers at all levels.
How did the programme empower the grassroots towards active participation in the various democratic practices in the country?
Just by the facilitation of service assessment by the users themselves; I think this was key to it. Service users were being given the guidelines for the implementation of projects under microscope; service standards and entitlements empowered the citizens with information to demand for services, transparency and accountability from service providers. By bringing the issues to the attention of duty bearers and service providers in interface meetings, citizens removed the spirit of fear and could stand boldly to demand their rights; thereby participated in local governance. Through this approach, the programme managed to promote voice, initiative and action for improved service delivery from communities and also led to the formation of action committees to monitor key services such as water and farm input subsidies. The programme even prompted the formation of action committees to protect under-privileged and voiceless groups like girls in self-boarding schools; children subjected to child labour in schools, communities and farms.
What can you outline as the positive impacts the Programme have made during the years it was being implemented?
The programme achieved many results, thanks to the responsiveness of service providers and decision-makers at local to national levels. The greatest impact is that the programme has managed to contribute a lot to the country’s governance landscape. Today, social accountability is integrated in most organisations’ programming. It has also contributed towards debate and actions for accelerated fiscal decentralisation to avoid pilling up of resources at central government. In 2013, for instance, the programme started advocating for the allocation of K1 billion per district council in the national budget. As such, the now called Development Budget in councils could be the supposed answer to such cries. Again, the culture of secrecy in public service has greatly decreased. Above all, the programme enhanced the empowerment of communities, who are the main beneficiaries of the programme, to demand improved services along with the transparency their implementation deserves in a democratic set-up. Kalondolondo has also contributed to improvement in information sharing between service providers and service users by promoting distribution of information on standards and entitlements; sharing actions taken to improve availability, apart from access and quality of services. This was noted especially in the just-ended piped water assessment that the programme conducted where the main service providers were the water boards operating in the country.
Every rose flower comes with thorns. What can you highlight as major challenges the programme faced?
To some extent, the uncooperativeness of some service providers, the misconception of the programme by some public officers affected the programme. Some service providers had a negative attitude to the assessments as they thought they are above the grassroots. What they forget was that there are in public service and are supposed to be answerable to the people. Some public officers misconceived the aim of the programme as witch-hunting. Most of the times ruling party zealots would suspect it as a ploy to ‘strip-off the government of the day’; which was like taking off some political marks.
How will the end of the programme impact on public service delivery?
There are a number of organisations in the sector (social accountability) now compared to the early days of the progarmme and this has made the job easy lately. Despite this being the case, with the coming of the development budget to the councils this year, there’s need for more governance and social accountability programmes for checks and balances. As a programme, Kalondolondo exits the field walking tall having achieved a lot in changing the governance landscape in the country. With the number of civil society partners (34 in total) who were implementing the programme at grassroots, there are more watchdogs than ever.
Any lessons or areas of opportunity that the country’s governance structures can buy from the programme to help improve the quality of public service delivery and good governance?
The programme has proved beyond doubt to be a more efficient way of promoting local governance and achieving improvements in service delivery. If the country is to hang on, improve on what Kalondolondo has already built!