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Regional themes > Poverty reduction frameworks and critiques Last update: 2020-11-27  

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PRSPs in Africa: Parliaments and economic policy performance

Rasheed Draman and Steven Langdon

State and Democracy Division - Project on Democracy and the Rule of Law, GTZ


SARPN acknowledges the Deutsche Gesellschaft fьr Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) website as the source of this document -
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Executive summary

PRSPs, the last-born in a long line of development efforts to reduce poverty have gained in recent years considerable support in Africa. The guiding principles of the PRSP include not only that they be country-led initiatives but also that they be developed in a participatory manner promoting involvement from the poor to parliamentarians. With that in mind, a rapid appraisal review was conducted in four PRSP countries (Ghana, Niger, Tanzania and Malawi) in order to examine the strengths as well as the emerging significant performance weaknesses so far in the implementation of national PRSPs. Moreover, another focus of the appraisal consisted of identifying the possible roles that parliaments can play to improve PRSP performance.

The findings presented in this report demonstrate common emerging challenges faced by the four African countries in regards to the PRSP process:

  • PRSP pro-poor spending is generally not performing as projected because of budgetary implementation weaknesses. The goal of moving toward operational MTEF budgets has also not yet been achieved.

  • To a significant degree there is also a failure in budgetmanagement to integrate HIPC resources into pro-poor spending frameworks consistent with PRSP plans.

  • A third major concern is that it has taken much time to develop effective monitoring systems for PRSP activity.

  • A fourth reality is that gender equality considerations seem to be massively underemphasized in these PRSP processes so far.

A) The Budget Cycle Process and Parliament

There is a widespread Parliamentary focus on the budget cycle process and its key linkage to the PRSP process in the four countries reviewed. But if this represents an element of strength in the PRSP role possible for Parliament, the actual practice of parliamentary budget work nevertheless seems to represent, on balance, a weakness to overcome. Main weakness of Parliaments is that they spend very little time and devote few financial resources to detailed budget scrutiny:

  • In Tanzania, MPs stressed how short the period was in Parliament for considering the budget;

  • Budget adoption is also done very rapidly in Niger;

  • Time limitations are a common complaint in the Ghana and Malawi's parliament;

  • Having input before the budget is presented is seen as a priority in Malawi, Tanzania and Ghana;

  • The Parliamentary Audits so far completed in Africa all show that Parliaments feel their influence in setting budget priorities is very low, and they are unable to have much input into budget planning;
What results, therefore, in these four parliaments is limited effectiveness in impacting the budget cycle process, despite the recognition of its importance. Executive control over budget planning, formulation and implementation is virtually absolute.

B) Connecting to the Poor and Relating to Civil Society:

An underlying principle of PRSP's refers to the commitment to engage more fully with those who actually are poor and as such emerged as a central concern in most of the countries involved in this review. Direct parliamentary outreach to and interaction with the poor was certainly not vibrant (and there were sometimes signs of alienation and antagonism.). But parliamentary relations with community-based civil society groups were solidly positive in most of the countries, even though such groups themselves were not always that strong. On balance, the evidence shows at least some signs of potential strength for a parliamentary PRSP role in this context.

C) PRSP Policy Measures and Parliaments

In the starting years of PRSP work, Parliaments in general played limited roles in shaping policy directions and priorities. But the dynamics of ongoing political change can influence such realities, and there is some evidence of this happening in several of the countries examined by this review. Tanzania provides a great example with the successful expansion of basic primary education and important increase in enrolment rates in which MP's played a significant role by making education a priority and by mobilizing efforts in their constituencies. In order to build such a policy focus, as was the case with Tanzania, strong committee chairs seem important as well as developing consensus-building styles that encourage committee MPs to work together to achieve results. So far PRSP oversight committees have not focused much on macroeconomics, but there is evidence that policy concerns can become important elements in parliamentary committee work and that there is a growing interest in macroeconomic dimensions of PRSPs and an increasing capacity to relate to the policy debates involved, leading to increasing potential for macroeconomic policy focus in the future.

D) Gender Equality and PRSPs

The assessment revealed the poor performance in practice of the national PRSPs with respect to gender equality concerns. One surprising finding with respect to all four parliaments was that the Parliamentary Caucus of Women MPs, which might have been expected to take some leadership on gender equality in PRSPs, did not seem to focus on this concern. Despite this gap, though, there was significant evidence in three of the countries of important parliamentary leadership on PRSPs and gender equality through the work of parliamentary committees. In Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania women-led committees were for instance most successful in strongly focussing on achieving PRSP gains for women and on taking on a leadership role on gender equality and the country's PRSP.

E) Monitoring and Evaluation of PRSPs

An important finding with respect to monitoring and evaluation reveals that the four parliaments reviewed have accepted their responsibility to work actively on this dimension of the PRSP process, and were pressing ahead to do so effectively. Among the actions identified by the different parliaments to ensure efficient monitoring and evaluation as well as better results of PRSP's are community-based hearings on the PRSP, the establishment of an independent "observatoire", working closely with ministries and developing a detailed PRSP monitoring framework for the country. Overall, this area is emerging as an element of strength for parliaments in the four countries examined.

Certainly one conclusion is that assessment of PRSPs so far must come to terms with the evidence that performance failures are widespread. However, findings from this review suggest that Parliaments can play a central role in helping correct PRSP performance:

  • These four parliaments show their greatest potential strength to contribute with respect to PRSP monitoring, particularly in cases (such as Niger, Malawi and Tanzania) where positive relations have been built between the parliaments and community civil society groups;

  • The findings of this appraisal suggest that what is needed in the present context is leadership by women MPs on key committees that can insert themselves effectively in the PRSP oversight framework; increasing the number of women MPs in Parliaments is a first needed step toward this goal

  • Parliaments are also showing some strength in picking up on key issues and pushing them ahead with extra determination and attention (as with education in Tanzania, and mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS action in Malawi).
On balance, the evidence of this review conveys two major areas of parliamentary weakness that have emerged. The first common problem is the lack of budget and financial control on the part of parliament. The second large challenge is building closer linkages between Parliaments and the poor. But the first of these challenges is one on which training, sharing lessons and working jointly may help. Certainly this area of budget work deserves to be a central focus for strengthening PRSP oversight committees. With the weaknesses of these Parliaments reduced regarding the budget cycle process, the potential to contribute to better PRSP performance will be even more significant in the future.

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