Sweden should make administrative assistance a profile issue

In order to reduce poverty and create sustainable welfare systems, functioning public institutions are required. Sweden should make administrative assistance a profile issue for a period ahead. It would be appreciated in the partner countries and give Sweden a good reputation, writes development assistance consultant Stefan Sjölander.

The need for well-functioning public institutions as a guarantor of long-term sustainable welfare development and poverty reduction has been known for a long time. It is also recognized in the private sector. When assessing the business climate for different countries and cities, they regularly include assessments of stability, efficiency and application of different regulations for and within the public sector.

The effects of poorly functioning administrations are clear, not least in developing countries. Some examples among many: Without functioning institutions, it is difficult to create incentives for investment. Building a welfare system presupposes a functioning tax system and a service-oriented bureaucracy that has the ability to realize the intentions behind, for example, good health care or a good education system.

In development assistance, therefore, well-functioning public institutions have been a current issue since they began working with program assistance, ie the type of assistance that works to improve the functional capacity of the partner country's own institutions. The whole idea of ​​program assistance is to support the partner countries' own capacity for long-term sustainable welfare development. It is not possible for ministries, authorities and local administrations to function.

A lot of knowledge within Sida

There is a lot of knowledge within Sida about public institutions, their functioning and not least the problems (and what can be done about them) within the public institutions in poor countries and in the slightly richer so-called transition countries.

Political understanding and a broad insight on Sida about the importance of public institutions for virtually all development assistance led to Sida taking a leading position in this area for a period during the 1990s. An absolute prerequisite for Sida's, for a period, successful work in the area, was the establishment of the Administrative Assistance Unit (Division for Public Administration) at Sida. The unit introduced administrative assistance projects, initiated method development based on field knowledge and used the results in new improved projects. Since then, unfortunately, the administrative base of administrative assistance has disappeared within Sida, and with it much of the knowledge about public institutions and their importance for welfare development.

New reports show the need

Two current reports from the Expert Group for Development Aid, EBA, once again point to the need for support for institutional development in developing countries.

One report, which deals with quality in governance, concludes that welfare development is best promoted by increasing the capacity of the public administration in the partner countries. The authors of the report also believe that it would be an advantage if Swedish development aid distinguished between democracy support in general and support for increasing the quality of governance.

The second report has a historical perspective and describes Sweden's rise and fall in the area. In the early 1990s, international interest in working with the administration, primarily the financial institutions, in development assistance increased. This was at the same time as program assistance became relevant and the donors needed control over the money to be transferred directly to the partner countries. The report also describes a contemporary, unclear why, sharply reduced interest in administrative assistance in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and within Sida from approximately 2005 onwards.

However, the need for efforts is as great now as then, in fact greater. Sida is needed more than ever as a counterweight to, above all, the World Bank's approach and implementation of both general administrative reforms and reforms of central government financial management. Efforts that just as often overthrow that help through their mastodon designs and lack of adaptation to the conditions in individual countries.

We can learn from the 1990s

Before a possible renewed Swedish involvement in administrative assistance, there are some things you can learn from Sida's most active period in the area in the 1990s and a bit further:

  1. There needs to be an organizational base within Sida, and preferably also within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which only works with administrative assistance.
  2. Administrative assistance projects must be allowed to last 10-15 years in developing countries and 5-10 years in so-called transition countries.
  3. The project organization is crucial. The projects are often led by some form of steering committee with policy responsibility. But the substance of the projects almost always concerns technical issues concerning regulations, processes and systems. There therefore also needs to be a meeting arena for the project's technicians on both sides where only these technical issues are discussed and where there is a decision-making procedure that gives the partner institution the last word.
  4. The project work needs to be conducted from below, problem-oriented, sometimes towards only a single problem area (for example salaries or budget management) that is linked to a real problem for the partner country.
  5. At least three different types of know-how and organizations need to collaborate from the donor side if they want to succeed: Sida with its development assistance expertise on how to work, Swedish authorities with their expertise and independent consultants / organizations / individuals who at the same time has assistance skills and management skills. Much can be said about ambitious collaborations between the corresponding authorities from the countries involved that have gone wrong (could have gone wrong) in the absence of knowledge about the administrative conditions in the individual partner country and what it requires in adaptation.
  6. Sida needs to strengthen its ability to take care of and use the experiences that, for example, this list is an example of. There needs to be a direct line from the projects and their final reports into seminars and discussions, own evaluations and feedback to new method development and project management. Over the decades, a great deal of knowledge from the field has been lost to Sida due to a lack of a process to take care of the enormous knowledge flow that exists.

A Swedish profile area

Sweden, the government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida, could, in the context of development assistance, use small funds, perhaps SEK 50 million, to utilize the extensive expertise that exists in Sweden and make administrative assistance a profile issue for a period ahead. In the same way that the previous government relatively successfully launched the private sector as a partner in development aid. Such a launch would be seen, give Sweden a good reputation and also much appreciated in the partner countries that would more than like to cooperate with someone who managed to support them in the fight against the World Bank and others' devastating implementation models in the administrative area.

Stefan Sjölander

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