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ECDPM (2003) Building coherence between sector reforms and decentralisation: do SWAps provide the missing link?

Sector-wide approaches (SWAps) are seen as the new way to streamline development assistance. But how do they impact on centre-local relations? This study by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) examines the relationship between SWAps, sector programmes and decentralisation processes in Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Uganda.

SWAps emerged during the 1990s as a key strategy for focusing development assistance by improving donor coordination, reducing fragmentation of efforts and moving towards broader government-formulated policy frameworks and implementation mechanisms. SWAps were seen as a way of applying the principles of equitable partnership, dialogue and country-driven approaches to development cooperation. However, little research has been done on the influence of SWAps in situations where governments are in the process of transferring powers and responsibilities to the provincial and local levels. Furthermore, little is known about the role SWAps play in reconciling sometimes conflicting policy objectives relating to enhanced service delivery and the development of stronger democratic governance processes. The question is whether SWAps provide a mechanism for reconciling tensions in centre-local relations by achieving a balance between more effective service delivery and supporting the process of decentralisation.

 A SWAp is more than an instrument for managing external aid. It is an approach to the management of sectors that involves the legitimate participation of different state and non-state actors at national and local levels.

  • Decentralisation is driven by different policy agendas, which are susceptible to change over time. It is important to distinguish between its different forms.
  • Devolution requires top-level political commitment, supported by enabling legislation and policies. In all the countries reviewed, decentralisation is part and parcel of wider public service reform processes.
  • Decentralisation presents a complex political, technical and administrative challenge, demanding strong management capacity to guide the process.
  • As well as decentralising, many countries are simultaneously engaging in sector reform processes. A few countries have fully adopted SWAps; most have only taken the first steps towards adopting them.
  • SWAps favour centralised planning approaches and strict financial control. How much they provide a suitable framework for reorganising sectors varies.
  • Since SWAps are used for channelling external financial and technical assistance, they can have a significant influence on a country's system of public management and on centre-local relations.

Before engaging in SWAp processes in countries where decentralisation is taking place, and to ensure that SWAps can build coherence between sector programmes and decentralisation processes, development partners need to:

Clarify the goals and objectives of decentralisation; gauge the depth of political commitment to the decentralisation process; and consider the implications of decentralisation for the delivery of sector programmes.

  • Design SWAps in a way that builds coherence between sector programmes and decentralisation processes.
  • Request governments to clarify their respective policies and provide opportunities for local stakeholders to understand the implications.
  • Reconcile their internal policies and adapt these to the local reform process: using SWAps for improving the management capacity of single institutions risks undermining broader governance issues and decentralisation processes.
  • Treat existing institutions as legitimate entities and provide them with the space to make mistakes.
  • Design interventions on the basis of demand and self-assessment to avoid supply-driven approaches.

Source of abstract:

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Jorge Rodriguez Bilbao
20 July 2011

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