Despite important efforts to reform the public sector, including the attainment of debt relief in 2012, the Republic of Guinea remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
With 55.2% of the population living under the international poverty line of 1.25 dollars per day/per capita, according to a study conducted in 2012 by the Guinean National Statistical Institute, the country also faces a high rate of out-of-school children. The UNDP Human Development Index estimated in 2011 that 60 per cent of children aged between 8 and 14 were out of school, particularly in rural areas.
Adding to those challenges was the emergence of the Ebola haemorrhagic fever that killed more than 3,000 people across the country over the past few years. The epidemic profoundly impacted and slowed down the country’s social and economic development, and rapidly led to a major crisis of public confidence due to the initial incapacity of the government to efficiently face the Ebola epidemic.
To address these issues, the government developed a Post-Ebola Priority Action Plan in 2015, and a National Economic and Social Development Plan to respond to citizens’ needs after the crisis and ensure economic recovery. In 2012, only around 2.7% of the national budget was allocated to the health sector; far below the 15% of the health budget objective set by the Abuja Declaration.
In this context, Search for Common Ground Guinea (SFCG), an international NGO specialised in conflict prevention and peace-building by promoting dialogue and collaboration, and the World Bank-led Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) are committed to improving the participation of the population in the decision-making processes, particularly in the health and education sectors. They are doing this through a project that aims to "Build Back Better: Building Civil Society to engage in State Reform Programs".
SFCG and the GPSA ‘s approach is to focus on supporting pre-existing democratic processes by improving stakeholders’ capacity to positively contribute to dialogue and promote constructive cooperation between relevant parties and the government, through various strategies including the development of a media community in areas considered as “fragile” or "hot spots.’’
SFCG's methodology – also called the Common Ground approach – has two main axes: cooperation with the media sector; and the implementation of community-based activities based on local capacity-building and networking activities. SFCG has been awarded a pluriannual grant by the GPSA to implement this project in Guinea.
The project aims to increase transparency and accountability in the use of post-Ebola recovery funds and consolidate district communities’ participation in the planning and monitoring of budget and expenses in the health and education sectors. It covers the prefectures of Kindia, Forécariah, Boké, Dubréka (Maritime Guinea); Nzérékoré, Lola, Macenta and Guéckédou (Forest Guinea) and is composed of four components that aim at:
Strengthening the government and civil society’s capacity in planning, implementing and monitoring budgets, expenditures, and the delivery of basic services;
Creating opportunities for the government and civil society’s actors to improve the quality of basic services delivery thanks to better monitoring and efficient use of government’s budgets;
Producing and disseminating credible and accurate information pertaining to the recovery process, in particular to those who were the most affected by the crisis;
Enabling the relevant parties to acquire accurate knowledge and learning methods to enhance project outcomes.
“Generally, dialogues were limited to CSOs that would then go as a block to the government, but rarely succeed to achieve their goal,” said M. Bassékou Drame, representing civil society at the Dubréka workshop in Maritime Guinea. “In my opinion, SFCG and the World Bank’s approach is much more effective as it gathers CSO and state representatives so that they can collaborate in the design and implementation of budgets and services. This will help develop a sense for social accountability within our communities, which will benefit all citizens.”
What the baseline says
Before the project activities’ launch, a baseline study was carried out in various prefectures. The baseline study measured several variables, from the level of community’s participation in budget planning to the level of community dissatisfaction about the lack of accountability of their local authorities and their health and education service providers.
The baseline study’s results pointed out to the challenges faced by both the government and the project’s partners. For example, 44.7 percent of those surveyed believe that local authorities as well as health and education services’ leaders are not accountable to communities; and 52.1 percent does not know whether their priorities are considered in local budgets.
The data also highlights a very low participation of the population in the decision-making process related to the use of post-Ebola funds and the elaboration of local budgets in health and education.
In the health sector, for example, the survey’s respondents mentioned the need to improve patients’ admission processes, to reduce treatments’ costs and improve medical fees coverage. And in the education sector, respondents stressed the need to build schools, recruit and train teachers and reinforce teachers’ presence in communities.
“I welcome this initiative, which I hope will enable better inclusiveness of populations in the decision-making process of public policies (…),” said a father who participated in the survey in Forecariah. “(…) Even though we have needs, we do not have the tools to communicate them to authorities. We also traditionally believe that we cannot demand accountability to authorities, which we deeply respect. We know that Ebola cost many lives and that large funds were used for the recovery process. However, we do not know how they are managed, how they should be managed and by whom”.
Social accountability structures
Following the baseline study’s results and the participants’ evaluation, two regional platforms for social accountability were set up last August in the regions of Lower Guinea and Forest Guinea. The platforms aim to establish a framework for dialogue between their members – CSOs and health and education state institutions – and to enhance social accountability.
The platforms include 70 participants, of which 10 were women. During the four years of the project, these platforms will promote social accountability through the implementation of activities for citizen monitoring in the different target zones. This approach encourages collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure not only budget monitoring but also the strengthening and improvement of service provision to these populations.
"(…) This initiative comforts me in many ways, especially as it includes people with disabilities,” said Daoro Zoumanigui, president of the Guinean Association for the Promotion of Disabled People of Macenta. “I believe the project promotes good governance and the respect of the concept of inclusion. (…) I therefore thank and strongly encourage SFCG and the World Bank for their support that will, without doubt, promote transparency and contribute to the sustainable development of the country for the profit of all Guinean citizens."
Story drafted by SFCG, and edited by Mauricio Rios, World Bank’s Governance team