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Local Groups Uncover Corruption, Tackle Problems Of Governance Across The Developing World

June 23, 2010

New report highlights how groups spur governments into action: Students get books in Guatemala, teacher absenteeism addressed in Ghana, plus an embarrassment revealed in India’s clinics””drugs unavailable, pharmacists gone

Independent research by local groups in emerging democracies helped uncover corruption or abysmal government performance in 13 countries in last few years, forcing public officials to improve education and healthcare services, according to a global report released today by Results for Development Institute (R4D), a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes good governance around the world.

The report, From the Ground Up, which was published by the Brookings Institution Press, documents a growing phenomenon of watchdog groups in developing countries examining key issues in government performance, seizing a role that has long been delegated to Western institutions and a cadre of outside consultants. Experts say the indigenous groups have the potential to do a better job than the outsiders””and cost far less.

“What these organizations are showing is that there are people on the ground in these countries who know the context better, know the schools, know the health system, and with a little outside help, they can go in and make changes happen,” said Courtney Tolmie, a co-author of the report and a Senior Program Officer at R4D. Tolmie leads R4D’s Transparency and Accountability Project, which, with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supported the groups with $45,000 for each study””a small amount, Tolmie said, that nonetheless proved to be smart investments in sparking much-needed reforms.

The report, released today at the London School of Economics, documents 19 case studies and related reform advocacy by groups from 2006 to 2008. The investigations were done in 13 countries: Guatemala, Paraguay, Ghana, Kenya, India, Peru, Argentina, Russia, Romania, Albania, Moldova, Poland, and Indonesia.

The problem of mismanagement and corruption in young democracies has been a source of great concern among donors, governments, and obviously citizens in developing countries. Surveys have consistently shown that in many countries more than half the people have directly experienced instances of corruption””from local policemen demanding bribes to their family doctor asking for additional fees. And a Transparency International report this year found that endemic corruption in the schools of some African countries was denying many children even a primary school education; in some countries touting free education, for instance, administrators were tacking on illegal registration fees that kept many children out of school.

In the Results for Development report, some of the local investigations directly spurred reforms by the governments. Examples included:

    * An organization in Guatemala called Centro de Investigaciones Econ³micas Nacionales (CIEN) studied delays in the delivery of textbooks and supplies reaching classrooms””sometimes months late””and used that information to persuade the government to change the school calendar year so that students would have books on the first day of class, not the 100th.

    * The Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD) found that teacher absenteeism rose dramatically on Fridays in large part because training programs were scheduled on that day, often at locations hours from home. Both sides are now working toward a solution to reschedule the training programs so that they no longer disrupt class.

    * In Paraguay, Centro de Analisis y Difusion de la Economia Paraguaya (CADEP) documented a troubling lack of transparency among public school budgets and effectively made the case that parent organizations were the only independent group capable of being an outside monitor of the funds; the government reacted by starting a program in roughly two-thirds of the nation’s schools to train parents to be better overseers.

    * And in two districts in the state of Karnataka in India, which has a population of 53 million, the Indo-Dutch Project Management Society (IDPMS) found that 24 percent of all positions were vacant at public health centers, including half of the pharmacy jobs. They also found that common drugs were not available in health clinics for six to eight months at a time, and doctors were not available for 37 percent of the time during clinic hours. In some cases, the investigators said in interviews, unqualified people were disbursing drugs because no pharmacist was available.

One of the Paraguayan investigators, Cynthia Brizuela Speratti, said that the group’s work is helping instigate a transformation in the oversight of public schools by training parents to become more involved in schools’ financing.

“We are helping them get into networks. We never had networks in this country””the history of Paraguay is that we lived for 35 years in a dictatorship, and the main emphasis was never to get organized into groups. So how do you start building communities?” Speratti asked. “We’re doing it by helping parents ask the right questions on how the schools should work. Before they were viewed as passive fundraisers””they would pay the electrical bill, or buy school supplies. Now we are helping them get to know the schools, and to know the results they should be getting for their children. We are creating a new voice.”

This kind of result, said Dr. Stephen Kosack, a co-author of the report and a Lecturer in Development Management at the London School of Economics, is a good example of how small local groups can have an immediate impact with well-targeted probes.

“We in the West have resources and superb research techniques in abundance,” Kosack said. “Yet we can hardly ever determine the problems with a government’s performance, the feasible solutions to those problems, and how to get a government to implement those solutions better than the citizens themselves. This report shows the power of being humble about what we know, and instead offering our help to those in a real position to judge, and improve, their government.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank and a renowned government reformer who had served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Foreign Minister, said that the Transparency and Accountability Project showed conclusively the need to support local groups to help them fulfill their watchdog role over governments in low- and middle-income countries.

“There is no point sending organizations from the outside to go into countries and monitor governments,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “They will never do the same kind of job that indigenous civil society organizations will do. So it’s better to spend money training civil society organizations in the countries and getting them to do the monitoring. Or at least there should be partnerships in which outside groups work to support those civil society organizations inside countries.”

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