Thursday, December 18, 2008

Direct Budget Support and Building Parnership Capacity

For those of us who care about national security, it isn't enough to recognize that the US has underfunded our foreign assistance programs, we have to reassess the modalities. The DoD has a Building Partnership Capacity program to strengthen partner country militaries. It's difficult to take seriously State's "Governing Justly and Democratically" goal when almost all of our aid is delivered through entities paralleling the host nation's systems, without democratic accountability. We're undermining host nation capacity by stealing human capital from their bureaucracies instead of investing in them, and failing to establish an expectation in civil society that their government should be held accountable for what services reach them.

A helpful thought experiment is to think about developing host country procurement and service delivery capabilities the way we look at the development of host country military capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military and civil service are both bureaucracies. Developing capabilities requires materiel and human capital investments. Typically both institutions are weak (obviously since the military has means of violence they may become political dominant players more readily than the civil service). Either way you approach it in a crawl, walk, run methodology.

Direct Budget Support is an intriguing alternative to the construction of parallel systems. DBS clearly needs MCA-like criteria for implementation. Even the UK's DFID who talk up DBS always point to Tanzania because that’s their best example. They only do DBS in about a dozen countries and there are some countries where they’re only dipping their toes in the water. In Cambodia they just went from 0% DBS to 15% DBS on an experimental basis. Some countries are ready, some are not.

Initially gov doesn’t have capacity to either deliver or procure services because of a lack of resources and a lack of bureaucratic culture (the push of services from gov to society), as well as a lack of civil society capacity to oversee government service delivery and make demands (the pull for services from society on gov). Initially to develop human capital in civil society it absolutely makes sense to build parallel systems (in Iraq the Iraq Security Forces were useless at delivering security to the people of Iraq for a long time, and only now are getting to the point where there’s a reasonable expectation that they’ll successfully take over in the foreseeable future).

But the next step is building up the gov capacity to procure those services for their citizens. Not delivery yet, because service delivery requires larger infrastructure. We’re talking financial management capacity, beginning to build oversight mechanisms to ensure NGOs are actually executing projects. At this same point civil society begins to develop a reasonable expectation for their government to ensure the provision of services to their communities. If you chug along with strictly parallel systems civil society is actually undermined in a critical way vis a vis government- they never develop a the mechanisms for accountability in government because government is not responsible for anything. This is a critical point about developing civil society that the argument about DBS vs. civil society-centric aid misses. This is the beginning of a truly democratic political culture with responsive governance- elections are epiphenomenal to this. (Think about rentier states. The same logic drives the Accra EITI for aid.)

States getting to the point of service delivery only really happens after all this other work happens. Partial DBS is a component of that crawl, walk, run process. Parallel systems of service delivery and procurement make about as much sense in development as the US invading every country that Al Qaeda has a presence in- it just doesn’t. There’s a better way to skin the cat.

Regarding the security component- good walls make good neighbors, strong states make good walls. That’s the logic of DoD’s Building Partnership Capacity model. I have to believe there’s hope that we can convince Congress to stop stove-piping the two efforts conceptually. This coming from a guy who believe they largely should be stove-piped institutionally- i.e., a department-level USAID.

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