New research on African PRSPs

6 February 2001

A study for the Strategic Partnership for Africa of eight countries provides a useful summary of experience to date with producing interim PRSPs.

The national context in which a PRSP is prepared is an obvious factor for determining the quality and ownership of a PRSP. Generally the new process has not been regarded as an imposition of new conditionality. Yet some governments have felt that it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the principle of “ownership” for the IFIs to insist on new processes, putting previous efforts to develop poverty strategies aside. This question will be looked at further in phase two of the research.

The report notes that staff who live in borrowing countries have a more consistent position on national ownership than staff on visiting missions. In other countries, staff have given “mixed signals…That is, the same institutions are perceived as talking national ownership on the one hand, while ‘talking turkey’ with orthodox conditionalities on the other.”

Donors have been slow to change their behaviour and “remain a cause for concern”. Possible reasons include doubts about the validity and sustainability of the process, continuing competition between donors, doubts about the merits of flexible budget support and a programme approach to poverty focussed aid.

The report finds it extremely hard to assess government commitment to the strategic prioritization of poverty reduction but notes that governments have assigned leadership to senior officials and institutions. Often PRSP/poverty reduction processes are now located in the finance ministry.

Government capacity has been usefully enhanced in some countries by tapping into independent consultancy and academic expertise. “In many cases, the capacity probably does exist to produce a PRSP using nationals of the country.”

In more advanced institutional reforms such as in national budget, public-expenditure management, sector programming and policy monitoring systems, the PRSP approach is “more easily accepted”. Phase two of the SPA study will examine what impact PRSP preparation is having on the pace and effectiveness of these complimentary reforms.

Participation in the Interim PRSPs has in some cases been less than in earlier efforts to formulate poverty reduction strategies. The paper hypothesizes “that the potential for institutionalization of more participatory and democratic forms arising from the PRSPs may lie more in the second-round effects, or spin-offs from the initial exercises, than in the immediate results of the consultations conducted.” The paper notes that further investigation is needed to ascertain why there is little parliamentary involvement in the processes.

The paper identifies four areas requiring further attention:

  • the importance of recognizing that PRSP processes are political;
  • the complexity of “national ownership”
  • issues around the question of the PRSP timetable; and
  • the overarching importance of moderating new policy thinking with realism.

Strategic Partnership for Africa

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