This consultancy on the Poverty Observatory (PO) in Mozambique is one of the case-studies aiming at generating knowledge and extract lessons learned about citizen participation and social accountability processes in PRSP implementation and monitoring. The consultancy was carried out by two consultants, one international, Konrad Matter (PhD, Gerster Consulting) and a local Mozambican consultant, António A. da Silva Francisco (PhD, UEM).
The PO in Mozambique was formally set up by the Mozambican Government in April 2003, as a tool for both the Government and its international partners to follow-up the implementation of the PARPA monitoring, evaluation and consultation processes.
From the onset the PO has been defined as a consultative forum for monitoring the objectives, targets and actions specifically assigned to public and private sectors within the context of PARPA. Indeed, the consultative nature of the PO is its single most important feature for one to understand its merits, demerits and potentials.
Thus, the consultants identified and defined the research problem around the following key research question: What is the Poverty Observatory in Mozambique, and what is its role as far as citizen participation and social accountability processes in PRSP/PARPA implementation and monitoring are concerned?
Since the PO was launched in 2003 it has held five more plenary sessions at the national level. While the initial setting of the PO did not contemplate the replication of this initiative at the provincial level, since 2005 most of the provincial governors have responded positively to the demand from CSOs and some international cooperation agencies to stage Provincial
Poverty Observatories (PPOs) as well. As part of this consultancy, the consultants were able to focus their attention not only on the PO at the national level, but have also included the PPOs of Nampula and Beira cities.
Based on the evidence the consultants collected, the interviews conducted with key stakeholders and the consultants’ own considerations and evaluation, this study concludes that in spite of the weaknesses found in the existing PO in Mozambique, this initiative has the potential for a more participative implementation and monitoring of PARPA. The consultants found that the motivation and demand for CS-participation in PARPA implementation and monitoring are well supported by the secondary information gathered and the interviews/meetings conducted with key stakeholders.
The findings of this case study support the view that strengthening citizen participation in the implementation and monitoring of PRSP and other public policies and programmes can be highly positive, useful and relevant for the development of Mozambique. Positive, because public administration in general and Government in particular need to be made accountable to their constituencies, chiefly to those citizens who are supposed to benefit most from programmes like PARPA. Useful, provided that the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) instruments become effective and efficient mechanisms, producing the results desired or
intended with minimum use of time, money and effort. Relevant in the sense that they have the potential to counteract the widespread sense of exclusion and alienation from the political and economic decision-making processes the have-not citizens often experience. In the case of Mozambique, this is corroborated by the increasingly poor turnout of voters in national and municipal elections, and by the overwhelming number of informal entrepreneurs, mostly very poor, who are extralegal and excluded from the formal economic system.
A fair assessment of the PO in Mozambique – the way it has been conceived and run – comes to the conclusion that it is more an event than an effective and efficient M&E mechanism. This conclusion rests not only on the fact that the PO meets once a year, and for one day plenary session only, but chiefly because of what is done and not done in the period between the annual plenary sessions. Indeed, rather compelling evidence supporting this conclusion is the absence of operative and relevant outcomes produced by the six POs held so far. Overall, such outcomes generated no feedback and mutual commitments, which eventually should induce significant social reforms and enable citizens to share in the benefits of the affluent society.
In short, the answer to the key question set for this study is the following: The PO in Mozambique, though not legally established, is a legitimate first step and tool for citizen participation in PARPA implementation and monitoring. However, the PO has not evolved into an effective participatory mechanism, not so much because of being informal and depending on ad hoc procedures, but chiefly because it has been restricted to a consultative body with no channels for feedback, social accountability, checks and balances and other forms of citizens’ empowerment and participation.
As it is set up now, the PO provides no assurance that citizens’ concerns and ideas are seriously taken into account. The fact that the PO structure is led by the Government only, rather than by an independent or at least a partnership mechanism, converted it into a Government instrument for public hearing and uncommitted consultation, which in practice often turns into a window-dressing ritual, where people achieve nothing but “participating in participation”. In turn, what the two main power-holders, the Government and its international partners achieve, is the comfort that they have gone through the requirement of involving the so-called ultimate beneficiaries in their programmes and projects.
In these circumstances, the consultants recommend that the role and function of the PO in Mozambique should be deeply and comprehensively reviewed, starting from its very concept and goal. This seems to be the precondition to ensure that the PO becomes an operative mechanism for genuine social accountability of poverty reduction strategies. It should allow its members to enter into a true partnership, where issues are negotiated and agreements with mutual commitments are reached. The same cannot be said of a consultative body, the more so when such a body is not complemented and supported by mechanisms for feedback and accountability. For this very reason past POs have seldom and only sporadically been able to generate the data and M&E means for an adequate assessment of PARPA performance, its achievements as well as its bottlenecks.
One specific recommendation both the Government and international cooperation partners should consider is to share with the CSOs their past positive experience of partnership, through such mechanisms like the Joint Review between the Government and its
international cooperation partners. It is true that since 2005 the CSOs have been invited to attend the Joint Review meetings. However, so far CSOs have been there as mere observers and not as active partners. So, the process of sharing this particular experience needs to go further, and for that stakeholders need to build trust among each other.
The consultants raised this particular issue to the interviewees. While the overall reaction to the idea of creating more effective synergies between the PO and the Joint Review was very positive, some Government and donors’ representatives expressed reservations. Such reservations are not unfounded. Above all, they reflect the low trust the CSOs currently enjoy in the Mozambican society. This fact needs to be faced and tackled because it is something stakeholders can change and improve. A significant number of interviewees argued that the best contribution the Government as well as international cooperation partners can give to CSOs is to allow for their true empowerment and thus create conditions for them to become trustful.
The PO could set up a flexible but operative system of public feedback, where citizens, service beneficiaries and stakeholders at all levels were invited to submit feedback on any aspect of the service delivery and performance of the Government. But in order to avoid that such a system turns into the sort of discredited “complaints book” found in many public offices, the PO would have to establish creative channels for effective public accountability.
The consultants agree with Rasappan’s (2006: 7) recommendation to regularize and formalize the PO with the objective to transform it into a more formal mechanism/process with a specific purpose, processes and follow-through actions. But such a step cannot be seen as panacea or a substitute for the much needed rethinking of the concept of the PO itself, which in the end determines the quality and, in particular, the intention, integrity, suitability and outcomes of the PO.
Summing up, the consultants believe that PARPA should be treated as strategic public good. By public good is meant that its success can have multiplying benefits, not only for the havenots and most vulnerable people but across social borders, generations and population groups. As all public goods, PARPA tends to suffer from under provision, not so much in financial terms but for the simple fact that they are public. From the individual’s perspective, it is often the best and most rational strategy to let others provide the good and then to enjoy it, free of charge and without contributing to its value.
However, also in the case of PARPA/PRSP it is not enough just to appreciate citizen participation for meaningful participation to happen. Stakeholders need to make things work proactively. The drive or motivation to meaningful participation in the case of the PO must come from the stakeholders themselves. This attitude should also be encouraged by surrounding organizations. Finally, successful citizen participation needs investment in time, thinking energy, design effort and money.