Challenges for Legislatures in enhancing Pro-Poor Macro-Policy Formulation
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
I very much anticipate that at the tail end of this piece, I would have presented the readership with some food for thought as regards the topic especially the need for us to recognise two very important things as (the fundamental role the Legislature in the whole scheme of things and (2) the absolute need for both the Executives and Legislatures to be hand-in-glove in the process with the understanding that the ultimate target is the constituent underscoring the need for and major challenges of participatory macro-policy formulation processes as well as in ensuring and facilitating pro-poor policy making and implementation.
Macro-policies represent overarching National Visions and embrace or encompass broad statements of intent of Goals, Priorities, Objectives and sets aspirations as well as defining the vectors and sub-systems for implementation to achieve targets set out in pre-determined goals. Invariably, each macro-policy has linkages and relates to several other (ante-cum-successor)key national documents such as the relationships between Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the PRSPs. Needless to iterate that legislatures can and must be seen to be playing more proactive roles in enhancing and ensuring greater accountability and transparency in issues of implementing national policies as this is in line with their functions – legislative, oversight and representative. Moreover, incorporating the input of legislatures in macro-policy formulation creates a sense of public ownership and thereby engendering the building of public consensus around very key development interventions and initiatives. Quite significantly and because legislatures are representative institutions the foundations of which are constituencies, the invariable participation in macro policy formulation processes and initiatives ensures that national and local development priorities are not only fully incorporated but dove-tailed. There are many good reasons for this. First, the imperative series of interrelated and reflexive actions to be undertaken in order to achieve an objective or objectives and several reasons may account for why there is the absolute need to go through the formulation processes as these days are witnesses to times in which the citizenry is ever demanding for inclusive and participatory good governance.
Major or macro-policy decisions are as time bound as are time constrained. Therefore, in order to arrive at desirable outcomes, the processes of participatory formulation, although imperative, cannot be deterrents to timeliness. This is because policy decisions once taken, consume considerable, if not long time to be reversed with cost implications. It may be important to introduce that Nation states in Africa, Asia and Latin America otherwise collectively dubbed as LDCs experienced macro policy initiatives such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers I and II (PRSPs). In addition, there is the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA), NEPAD at the regional level and the MDGs at the international level. Some if not most of us are witness to the impacts (negative, positive or unintended consequences) of these policies. An attempt is made to present these policies and their meaning for legislatures.
Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs)
SAPs were economic policies designed and implemented by the two Breton Woods Institutions – the IMF and World Bank. Designed outside or adrift of legislative interface, our countries had to and followed the bitter prescriptions in order to qualify for new loans. Presumably, it also helped them make debt repayments on older debts owed to commercial banks, governments and the WB. Although designed for individual countries, these policies had common guiding principles and features which included export-led growth, privatisation, liberalisation and the efficiency of the free market. The bitter strand of the exogenous macro-policy was that it dictated that countries needed to (if not must) devalue their currencies against the US$, lift import and export restrictions, balance their budgets and not overspend, remove price controls and state subsidies. However, resistance to the adverse nature of the policy on countries led to its demise after several losses of lives through rioting.
Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC):
First launched in 1996, again by the World Bank and IMF, HIPC was designed (ostensibly) to ensure that no poor country faced a debt burden it cannot manage. It entailed coordinated action by the international financial community, including multilateral organisations and governments to reduce to sustainable levels the external debt burdens of the most heavily indebted poor countries. Following the review in 1999, a number of modifications were approved of to provide for faster, deeper and broader debt relief and to strengthen the links between debt relief, poverty reduction and social policies culminating into what came to be referred to as the Enhanced-HIPC debt relief initiative. The HIPC Initiative had certain eligibility criteria which, inter-alia, included that a beneficiary country must be (1) International Development Association (IDA) and Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility eligible (PRGF-eligible), (2) face an unsustainable debt burden, beyond traditionally available debt-relief mechanisms, (3) establish a track record of reform and sound policies through IMF-and-IDA-supported programmes and (4) have developed a PRSP through a broad-based participatory process.
Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs)
PRSPs were enunciated for and described the macro-economic, structural and social policies and programmes that our countries had to pursue and pursued over several years to promote broad-based growth and reduce poverty as well as access external financing and the associated sources. The five core principles that underpinned the PRSP development approach were (1) Strategies should be country-driven promoting national ownership of strategies through broad-based participation of civil society (2) results-oriented and focused on outcomes that will benefit the poor (3) comprehensive in recognising the multi-dimensional nature of poverty (4) partnership-oriented, involving coordinated participation of development partners (government, domestic stakeholders and external donors), and (5) based on long-term perspective for poverty reduction.
New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
NEPAD is a pledge by African leaders, based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction, that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and place their countries, both individually and collectively, on a vector of sustainable growth and development while actively and simultaneously participating in the world economy, development and body politic. The objective of NEPAD is to provide for an enabling impetus to Africa’s development trajectory by bridging existing gaps in priority sectors to enable the continent catch up with developed parts of the world. The policy is envisaged as a long-term vision of an African-owned and African-led development programme. The long term objectives are to eradicate poverty in African countries and to place Africa (individually and collectively) on a path of sustainable growth and development and thus halt the marginilisation of Africa in the globalisation process as well as promote the role of women in all activities.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
A blueprint in development aimed at addressing the needs of the world’s poor particularly eradicating the incidence of extreme poverty and hunger by the Year 2015. There are eight (8) goals and eighteen targets. I herewith present only the former:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce child mortality.
5. Improve maternal health.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability, and
8. Develop a global partnership for development.
The success at achieving these goals requires sustained action by all stakeholders between now and the year 2015. Issues and concerns have been raised at the ability of poor countries achieving these goals judging from the slow progress that is being registered at some of the major targets. One of the most overriding concerns of policy initiatives in Africa has been how to alleviate poverty since it is one of the most important development issues that sets the progress of the continent back. The essential ingredients of poverty reduction inform pro-poor policies – namely expenditure on social services, human development and rural development.
Now that we have iterated, in very brief terms, the relevant macro-policies, we will turn our efforts at iterating the role of parliaments in macro policy formulation. It must be first, and fore mostly, be recognised that macro policies affect the life of people thus it is paramount that the people and their representatives are offered the opportunity to make inputs. This generally recognised internationally. In some countries, it is a constitutional requirement that major policy initiatives are subjected to debate by the legislature. Parliamentary involvement, by virtue of its work which involves and engages it with several organisations e.g. CSOs, the private sector, the media, and most importantly, their constituents means that parliamentarians gain access to diverse and useful information which can help shape policy. In addition, there are a whole host of reasons for legislature’s involvement such as (1) giving credibility (legitimacy) to policy initiatives and interventions (2) it is consistent with the much agitation for consensus building and ensuring participation through the development of effective harmonious linkages (3) it is an avenue for strengthening their representative function.
Since the national budget is the most important political statement of the executive and it represents government’s major blueprint for a nation’s socioeconomic policies for each FY, it fulfills a number of critical functions including, but not limited, to (1) allocation of resources to priority sectors (2) the distribution of wealth and incomes, and fulfilling and adhering to pre-determined macro-economic targets. At the core the parliamentary role in a functioning democracy, is the authority of the people’s representatives over the annual spending and revenue plans that make up the national budget. At the heart of this relationship is ensuring internal and external controls and authorisation, oversight and supervisory roles in the budget process. Thus parliament scrutinise and approve of budget proposals as well as in authorizing the expenditure necessary to respond to proposals thus ensuring transparency and accountability in governance. Parliament’s involvement with planning and making inputs into the budget process remains a very vexed and contentious issue given that separation of powers between the tripartite arms of governance also mandates it to debate, seek reviews and revisions where necessary.
It must however be explicitly stated that there are key challenges to macro-policy formulation and allied processes such as how to effectively manage a process whose outcome affects the lives of diverse group of people each with their respective expectations. This not only poses major challenges but also raises another set of issues which are too detailed for this piece to articulate. It is however important to advance that in macro policy formulation the key challenges are as applicable to parliaments as they are to other stakeholders among which are (1) participation (consultation, communication and dissemination), (2) monitoring and evaluation (M&E) (3) implementation (4) embedding macro policy in the broader development agenda (5) developing M&E Systems and (6) developing linkages (vertical and horizontal).
Several reasons have been advanced to explain the rationale behind the policy formulation process with particular emphasis in the African context. While the role of the legislature is very key as it relates to enacting pro-poor policies in the case of Africa its role particularly in the budget process is of utmost importance. The macro policy formulation process is saddled with several challenges among which are (a) the appropriate ways to build consensus (b) and gain broad participation in the consultation process (c) adequately monitoring and evaluating macro policies and (d) the lack of inadequacy of knowledge and information
Connecting the powerless, voiceless, poor and marginalised in the policy dialogue and implementation, management and evaluation processes is not only morally and legally obligatory, but imperative to legitimise governments and governance processes. The time is NOW!
Author: by Saihou T.M.F. Sanyang Bakau Kachikally