A new report compiled from workshops organised by Jubilee South, Focus on the Global South and other southern civil society groups claims structural adjustment logic and policies essentially remain unchanged in PRSPs. Other reports prepared for the World Bank and IMF‘s PRSP review have been more positive.
The Southern civil society study points out that the PRSP process limits national ownership. “When advising governments on PRSP preparation, Bank-Fund missions come prepared with their perspectives on the country’s poverty situation, their analysis of the country’s obstacles to economic growth, their menu of policy options, and their views on how to mobilise resources for the PRSP, including external donor assistance,” the report argues.
The workshops, on which the report is based, also concluded that:
- focusing on poverty reduction and the PRSP has narrowed space for discussing broader development issues and alternative models;
- the IMF–WB growth-oriented development model could be in conflict with poverty reduction goals and in some cases “reproduce” poverty;
- debt relief and poverty alleviation (HIPC and PRSPs) should be delinked as linking the two causes unnecessary time pressures and greater leverage for the IFIs.
The report also argues that participation has not included the poorest and has been largely a process of consultation to legitimise pre-existing plans. In some cases, the report points out, civil society organisations may have been better off focusing their scarce resources on more pressing matters.
Another concern is that “PRSPs and IFI involvement at the level of civil society appears to be feeding a gradual, but growing segregation of societies into those who can, and those who cannot participate in negotiations over poverty and development planning.” This in turn erodes local political capacities for representation.
In contrast, a review by the IMF of PRSPs in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Mozambique, Mali and the Gambia, found “increasing commitment to poverty reduction amongst government and donors, and encouraging broad participation in the policy dialogue”. It also found diversity amongst PRSPs, attributed to differences in “country starting points; political, economic and social contexts; donor support; and country capacity” indicating that “a blueprint approach has been avoided.”
However, it also admits that “in most of the sample cases the macroeconomic framework and three-year policy matrix has drawn at least partly from the current Fund-supported PRGF [Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility] program”. The paper finds that civil society engagement in policy dialogue on the macro framework has been impeded by a lack of capacity. It also notes that the linkages between macro policies, structural weaknesses, social policy, good governance and poverty impacts were not clear.
The IMF review also notes that poverty analysis has typically focussed on income poverty and access to health and education although in some countries there has been an effort to assess security, vulnerability and powerlessness. It admits poverty monitoring remains weak but civil society has been involved in selecting criteria in the completed PRSPs. Assessment of the resource implications for funding a PRSP also remains very weak. Citizen involvement in budget processes can help to prioritise expenditures and increase transparency.
The IMF report further notes greater government ownership with key government officials managing the process (although sometimes limited to a small number of ministries). They see this as an indicator of “a greater commitment to broader participation in policymaking and a more diverse dialogue on poverty issues through direct consultations with stakeholders, including poor communities.”