Administration and Daniel Tarschys

Administration and administration are often devalued in Swedish development assistance, writes political scientist Daniel Tarschys. Photo: Piqsels and (CC BY-SA)

Guest chronicle

Aid bureaucracy - so much more than "administration"

Cutting back on aid administration has long been seen as a virtue. On the contrary, more expertise and analysis can be crucial for effective aid. It shows a new study by political scientist Daniel Tarschys for the Expert Group for Development Aid Analysis.

Sweden's development assistance, with Sida as the responsible authority, is today divided into factual appropriations and administrative appropriations. That is, funds weighted for efforts, and funds weighted for the management - or administration - of the efforts. In my EBA report Development assistance management costs. Too big? Or maybe too small? I note that this division is difficult to apply in practice. It even risks being detrimental to aid effectiveness.

The concept of "administration" is very broad and spans a number of different tasks. It's not, as the picture may be, about just turning over paper. Often, what is referred to as administration can in fact consist of experts and their analyzes and knowledge. They are necessary for development assistance to have good quality, good results and an impact.

Making a difference between factual appropriations (for the interventions) and administrative appropriations (for the administration of these) is not compatible with what the work looks like when aid is prepared and implemented. A better and simpler model would be to have a single development assistance grant, which the responsible authorities can control and have at their disposal. Of course, these must then be examined and evaluated at regular (or even more uneven) intervals.

In tax-financed activities, legitimacy must be safeguarded through vigilance, moderation and good judgment. Duplication of work should be counteracted, as should poorly designed control mechanisms. But in assessing the effectiveness of development assistance, it is the whole that should be at the forefront. Many waves of reform in the public sector have their origins in scandals, where one or the other routine attracts attention and drives decision-makers to manifest their power of action through rapid countermeasures. Dreaming against bureaucracy is a reliable number in such contexts, which provides at least short-term appreciation.

And of course, administrative resources can be misused. I'm not looking to excuse such forms. On the other hand, I emphasize in my report the importance of the authorities responsible for development assistance within a given framework being able to freely and rationally assess how the funds should be used for the best possible outcome.

The work with development assistance efforts should not be hampered by overly detailed regulations. Such provisions were common in the old state administration. For a long time, government agencies were hard hit. They had a certain number of posts in certain grades, and appointments were a matter for the government far down in the ranks. The tools and methods to be used were also carefully regulated. The State Treasury, for example, once had the task of examining the state authorities' requests to each acquire its own telephone.

A number of special destinations in the state budget did not disappear until the end of the 1900th century. The division of granted funds into non-profit appropriations and administrative appropriations applied in development assistance can be seen as a remnant of this older practice in central government. It derives its nourishment from outdated, but still quite widespread, notions that administrative tasks are a burden that should be minimized as much as possible.

It is easy for stinginess to deceive wisdom. By reducing capacities that are crucial for a good result - and for anti-substance abuse work within the state administration - the effectiveness of the efforts is in fact reduced. This also damages their legitimacy.

Sida has regularly sought to point out this problem, but without gaining much attention. The initiatives that fall under the heading “administration” make important contributions to the overall outcome of Swedish development assistance. The prejudices against administrative work at home contribute to large parts of the Swedish development assistance grants not being handled by our own development agencies but being outsourced to other actors, whose administrative costs are then instead booked within the framework of the factual grants.

Assistance is drawn with many problems and shortcomings, but an oversized supply of skills is not high on that list. At present, instead, there is much to suggest that the resource portfolio is unbalanced and undersupplied by specific types of expertise. They have been provided with the derogatory label "administration".

Webinar on June 16

At a webinar on June 16, Daniel Tarschys will present the conclusions of the report Development assistance management costs. Too big? Or maybe too small?. In addition, representatives from Sida, the Swedish Financial Management Authority and EBA will attend the seminar to discuss the management and administration of development assistance.

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This is a guest column. The writer is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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