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Background paper on the status of the implementation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in Southern Africa:
Key successes and challenges

Barbara Kalima-Phiri

20-21 November 2006

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Introduction and Background

This paper highlights the status of the implementation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in Southern Africa. It also presents some of the key successes, challenges and emerging issues around the design and implementation of such policies. It provides some pointers towards the need for governments to promote a policy mix of the "rights-based approach" (i.e. a needs-driven, social justice, and supply-side focus) to ensure social equity and a "sustainable livelihoods approach" (i.e. an assets-driven, market development, and demand-side focus) to create new wealth. The paper concludes that as countries move towards the next stage in the PRSP process; issues of ownership, financing, participation, and policy targeting become crucial to the success of the implementation of poverty reduction strategies.

According to the World Bank and IMF, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) describe a country's macroeconomic, structural and social policies and programs to promote growth and reduce poverty, as well as associated external financing needs. PRSPs are prepared by governments through a participatory process involving civil society and development partners, for them to be classified as country driven. They are also supposed to be medium-to long-term in perspective, comprehensive and results-based and contain a development framework that is partnership-oriented.

The strong pursuance of such policy frameworks by the World Bank and IMF date back from the early 1990s following strong campaigns and criticisms by global Civil Society Orgainisations (CSOs) known as Jubilee 2000, of the failure of these institutions policies around poverty and debt relief for developing countries. These campaigners also demanded that debts should be cancelled unconditionally and that any proceeds from debt relief should be channeled towards poverty reduction.

During this same period, there were also a lot of discussions going on within the IMF and World Bank on how they could improve their consessional lending to Less Developed Countries (LDCs). These efforts were later intensified when James Wolfenson took over as President of the World Bank in 1995, as he pushed for a change in mindset among the Staff of the Bank around issues of debt relief. This put forward a new conceptual framework within the World Bank, which incorporated four principles for aid flows: (i) long term and holistic; (ii) country ownership and participation; (iii) results orientation; and (iv) country led partnership. The Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF) conceptual framework provided the immediate backdrop for the emergence of the PRSPs.

The two main influences it had on the PRSP were: (i) an impact on its substance; and (ii) laying the foundations which significantly contributed to the speed and widespread acceptance of the PRSP approach. This is illustrated by the fact that the CDF's four principles are in large part subsumed within the principles of the PRSP approach. The additional conceptual element that the PRSP incorporated was the explicit aim of poverty reduction, which gave operational form to the work that was being undertaken in Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM, World Bank) on poverty analysis, leading up to the World Development Report 2000/01.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the old policy frameworks pursed by most LDCs had serious flaws especially the World Bank/IMF's Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), which showed very little levels of citizen participation in their formulation and implementation. Thus, in 1997 following the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) evaluation, there was a strong recommendation on the need for greater participation and discussion in-country of any reform process associated with poverty reduction efforts. This idea was later reinforced in 1999 when the principles of transparency, ownership, and broad based participation were agreed at the G-8 Summit in Cologne, as key elements that would drive the poverty reduction agenda.

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