In September around 400 people gathered in Senegal to discuss Poverty Reduction Strategies. Representatives from government, civil society, the private sector and parliaments gathered to discuss their experiences. They were drawn from borrowing countries and also from lending agencies. Four main themes emerged: governance and accountability, pro-poor policies, effective monitoring and donor practices.
Weak governance and accountability were highlighted as one of the main obstacles to poverty reduction. It was agreed that increasing participation by the poor in the policy process is important and that decentralisation requires mechanisms to ensure local accountability.
The roles of local governments, civil society organisations (CSOs), parliamentarians and national governments have not been clear and local governments and CSOs have in several cases been bypassed by the PRSP consultations. Strong civic groups and networks at the local level need public access to information in local languages. Whilst the media also plays an important role in disseminating information and acting as a watchdog.
A declaration of parliamentarians attending the Forum noted that parliaments have a traditional approval and watchdog role, and should not be expected to act as a rubber stamp. It was suggested that special parliamentary poverty reduction committees could be established, to complement finance and budget committees, which should be well informed and their capacity increased, including through access to expert advice.
It was generally agreed that there needs to be better understanding of what policies work in practice for reducing poverty and how policies have to be adapted to specific contexts. Social services were recognised as important for addressing poverty (although these are failing to reach the poor and more emphasis needs to be put on the quality of investments) but pro-poor growth is also essential. This requires building productive assets for the poor and improving access to markets and attention to the agricultural sector.
It was agreed that user fees should be avoided in primary education but may be useful in higher education. In the health sector, it was argued that user fees avert over-consumption but that mechanisms should be available to ensure access for those not able to pay.
While data collection is improving, it was stressed that monitoring tools that can provide a quick feedback on processes and outcomes should be developed. The PRSP process has served to increase the incentives for effective use of available information about poverty and well-being. However there need to be closer links between technical work and decision making for the results to be useful. Monitoring and coordination roles should be anchored in permanent national institutions.
There was a general recognition that donor practices need to change in order to empower governments to take action, including through further harmonisation of policies and procedures.