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But to deal with the structural causes of poverty,they have to be comprehensive—much more than a fewprojects “targeted” at the poor. And to be effective, theyneed adequate funding and coordination by a governmentdepartment or committee with genuine influence. Mostcritical, they should be nationally owned and determined—not donor driven.For this second Poverty Report 23 national anti-poverty plans were assessed—to identify the obstacles andto highlight successful actions (table 2.1; for the assess-ments see the country profiles). In most cases UNDPcommissioned special assessments. In a few cases UNDPheadquarters staff participated in evaluations organized by UNDP country offices with governments and othermultilateral donors. In a third set of cases staff memberswent to countries to do rapid reviews.The assessments covered a range of topics: the plan’snature, its funding, its management, targeting, inequalities,social expenditures, shocks encountered, the degree ofparticipation, monitoring and evaluation, the connectionbetween the plan and macroeconomic policies and the link between poverty and the environment. Based on theassessments, this report places special emphasis on the link between governance and poverty reduction.

THE RANGE OF POVERTY PLANSA quick review reveals that the term anti-poverty plancovers a wide range of instruments. Many countries are stillat the rudimentary stage of charting out a general strategy—a “strategic framework” to organize activities. Usually thisframework is no more than a conceptual document.Another group of countries has progressed toelaborating programme components that give the strategyconcrete content—such as public works or basic socialservices. These components are not necessarily well inte-grated. Often individual projects are launched primarilybecause of external financing.A few countries have progressed to adopting an actionplan. To get off the ground, national poverty programmesneed targets, timetables, budgets and organizations.Though obvious, these requirements are not alwaysfulfilled. The issue of “affordable time-bound goals andtargets” is especially important. What good is a plan if ithas no achievable and measurable goals? Often the targetsseem ambitious in view of the limited budgets available.Realistic, affordable targets are one of the hallmarks of a well-conceived plan. Whatever the goal, if it isformulated as a target, there is a basis for meaningfulmonitoring and evaluation of progress.

WHY A PLAN?“Why have a plan at all?” some might ask. Isn’t planningold-fashioned in market-driven economies? Perhaps, butmarkets don’t promote social justice. That takes organizedpublic action. And that implies a need for an anti-povertyplan—the evidence of a national commitment to eradi-cating poverty. The plan is a means to build a constituencyfor change. It is also evidence of an explicit allocation of resources to the task—and the means to mobilizeadditional, external resources.But haven’t some countries made notable progresswithout ever having had a poverty programme?

Yes, thereare some exceptions.Take China and its spectacular progressin the early 1980s before instituting an anti-poverty plan.Thailand made noticeable inroads against poverty until itplunged into financial crisis in the 1990s. Tunisia also madesteady progress over three decades without an explicitnational plan.Sustained growth has no doubt been an essential factor.But closer examination reveals that the growth has beenpro-poor or that other means—such as social policies, jobcreation or regional development—have supplementedgrowth-inducing economic policies. China’s growth in theearly 1980s was driven by an expanding rural economy.Tunisia maintained high spending on human developmentthroughout its period of growth.In most cases some political stability is a preconditionfor success—and minimal conditions of peace and securityare an obvious requirement. Uganda, though apparentlystrongly committed to reducing poverty, has been hamperedby instability and conflict in some of its poorer regions.Mozambique’s development has been held back byinternal conflict. Now peaceful, it is poised to start a newpoverty reduction plan (see the country profile).Why do most countries keep economic policies andpoverty programmes separate? Why not make policies tofoster pro-poor growth part of a national plan? Aren’t agovernment’s general tax, spending and investment policies

Developing National Anti-poverty PlansT
also likely to have a big impact on poverty? MakingChina’s tax system more progressive, for example, mightnow do as much for the poor as many of its explicitpoverty programmes.BEYOND TARGETED INTERVENTIONSPart of the problem is that many people tend to regardpoverty programmes as a set of targeted interventions—a conception that is too narrow. Macroeconomic andnational governance policies have as much impact onpoverty as targeted interventions—if not more.The narrow conception has to do with how povertyprogrammes have emerged. Many have arisen from somebreakdown—a financial crisis, a prolonged recession, awrenching adjustment to external shocks—and continueto bear the birthmarks of that origin. Many have emergedin the wake of structural adjustment programmes—set upas “social safety nets” to cushion the fall in employmentand incomes. Those in the Dominican Republic, Ghana,Mozambique, Yemen and Zimbabwe are examples. TheDominican Republic’s new poverty programme has toovercome people’s low opinion of the earlier poverty-mitigating efforts mounted in response to the fallout fromstructural adjustment.Other programmes have been created to address theadverse effects of financial crisis. Thailand’s new, morepoverty-focused development strategy is an illustration.A third set has responded to the fallout from transitionfrom a centrally planned economy to a more market-basedone. The new programme in Kyrgyzstan is an example.All these programmes are dealing with poverty “afterthe fact”, holding the line against further deterioration.They have not been designed, at least originally, to eradi-cate the roots of poverty, which can persist even underconditions of general prosperity.Often poverty programmes are implemented for com-pelling political reasons: mass unrest threatens stability.Many of those hurt by economic reforms are newly poor—from the middle strata, more vocal and organized thanthe chronically poor. With recovery, a major reason for apoverty programme might fade, along with the popularcoalition supporting it.

Broader support would come from involving all sectorsof society in formulating a national poverty programme.Zambia recently used a participatory approach in devisingits poverty action plan. The Ministry of CommunityDevelopment and Social Services involved a wide, repre-sentative spectrum of participants in drafting the nationalplan as well as provincial and district plans. But suchefforts are just the start. Some governments have includedcivil society organizations in formulating a plan, but thenfailed to incorporate them in its implementation.Strengthening coalitions for poverty reduction can beparticularly important, perhaps ironically, when people’sincomes are rising. With healthy economic growth, manypeople believe (mistakenly) that poverty programmes needbe only isolated safety nets for the needy.But such misconceptions merely reinforce the case for a new generation of poverty programmes, more explicitlyconcerned with pro-poor growth and with overcominginequality as a source of impoverishment. In many devel-oping countries—as in industrial ones—there are deep-seated structural reasons for the persistence of poverty.Uganda is a good example of a country trying to shiftfrom stringing together social safety nets to attacking thefundamental causes of poverty.

Poverty is not a one-dimensional problem—a lack ofincome that can be solved sectorally. It is a multidimen-sional problem that calls for integrated, multisectoralsolutions. A big problem of most poverty programmes isthat they are disjointed sets of projects. And since manyactivities are donor driven, they can overlap and duplicateone another. The Gambia, to provide some coherence to its variety of poverty reduction activities, has set up aStrategy of Poverty Alleviation Coordinating Office (see the country profile).

WHERE IS NATIONAL OWNERSHIP? Still, donor funding powers many national programmes.Mozambique’s new poverty programme depends heavilyon external resources: official development assistanceaccounts for 38% of the country’s GDP. Moreover, inmany countries much of the external funding for povertyprogrammes is not channelled through the regulargovernment machinery.

Developing National Anti-poverty

Often separate poverty funds are set up. In Mongolia a $17 million Poverty Alleviation Fund was establishedoutside the structure of line ministries to administer a setof donor-financed projects. In such arrangements theactivities of the funds overlap with those of line ministries,which then have less motivation to become involved inpoverty reduction activities (see the country profile).The donor-sponsored projects financed by these semi-autonomous funds have demonstrated some advantagesover government-run projects, particularly in institutionalaspects. In some cases the funds have been more success-ful in decentralizing decision-making and resources and in fostering community participation. They also tend to be more immune to political influence and corruption.Transparency and accountability in resource allocation are more likely.But why neglect governments’ long-term capacity toadminister poverty programmes? Isn’t the price too highfor the short-term expedient of bypassing the slower,established government machinery? How can the advan-tages of such funds be combined with greater influencebeing wielded by governments?China has been willing to devote considerable nationalresources to combating poverty. Its programme, backed bya broad coalition of forces at different levels of govern-ment and in society, now commands more than $2 billiona year. Donors also contribute to the effort.

The LeadingGroup for Poverty Reduction coordinates the programmebut does not implement it. If China had set up a separatebureaucracy for the programme, it might have narrowedthe range of participants (see the country profile).South Africa finances most poverty reduction activitiesthrough its regular government budget. The Departmentof Finance has also set up a special Poverty Relief Fund,able to mobilize some external resources. Other govern-ment departments can obtain resources from the fundonly if they have already made their budgets more pro-poor. This arrangement can increase incentives for agreater focus on poverty in all government programmes.Many governments, even with the best of intentions,simply do not have the resources to overcome poverty orthe discretion to use them for that purpose. Like manyheavily indebted countries, Burkina Faso already uses asizeable part of its budget to pay off its debt (see thecountry profile). In other cases the government does notraise enough revenue from society: Nepal’s revenue-to-GDP ratio is only about 11%.


Part of the solution for effective administration of povertyprogrammes can be to set up a good management structurewithin the government—an important condition forpromoting pro-poor governance. With a separate povertyfund, operating in parallel to the government, confusionoften reigns about the authority to run the programme.Kyrgyzstan has its Poverty Alleviation Fund, but it’s stillunclear whether the fund’s management unit or the Ministryof Labour and Social Protection has primary responsibilityfor programme activities (see the country profile).Morocco and Yemen have had their national capacitiesstretched thin in overseeing and coordinating their many different donor-financed programmes and funds—unnecessarily, since the activities duplicate one anotherand overlap with the programmes of line ministries. InGhana UNDP has supported a Poverty CoordinatingUnit within the planning commission to register and clear all projects so as to avoid duplication and fostercomplementarities. In addition, UNDP has favoured theConsultative Group process to reach consensus among thegovernment, civil society and donors on the direction forpoverty reduction (box 2.1). The Dominican Republic’snew poverty programme has tried to overcome the problemof past poverty policies, which had been the uncoordi-nated responses of different ministries. Since poverty wasnot the responsibility of any government office, it becamea hostage to sectoral policies (see the country profile).In many countries the ministries of labour and socialaffairs have been responsible for poverty reduction,because of the traditional view that poverty is primarily asocial issue. But the power and influence of such min-istries are usually exceeded by those of others, such as theministries for finance or planning. Since ministries ofsocial affairs generally carry little weight with other gov-ernment departments, poverty carries little importance asan overriding objective for all government programmes.Mauritania is trying to overcome this problem by givingthe chief executive of its semi-autonomous povertycommission the rank of minister. And as an indication of the importance Uganda attaches to poverty reduction,the Ministry of Finance, Planning and EconomicDevelopment manages its poverty programme.Another way to deal with the problems in assigningpoverty programmes to less influential ministries is to setup a central coordinating committee to oversee all povertyreduction activities. These committees, often reporting tothe president or prime minister, comprise representativesfrom a cross-section of government departments and evenfrom civil society. The committee’s authority is greater ifC h a p t e r 23 4Developing National Anti-poverty Plans

the prime minister chairs it, as in Mongolia. But thesecommittees generally meet too infrequently.The committees’ secretariats wield the real day-to-dayinfluence. The funding for these secretariats is a barometerof how seriously poverty is taken. The department run-ning the secretariat is another telling indicator. Too oftenthe government puts a ministry of labour or social affairsin charge, repeating the original mistake.It is far better for a much more influential ministrywith cross-cutting responsibilities—such as planning orfinance—to run the secretariat. That gives the secretariatenough clout to provide coordination across departments—and to provide leadership for the operation of povertyfunds set up separately to facilitate resource mobilization.

FUNDING FOR POVERTY PROGRAMMES Governments have great difficulty in reporting how much funding goes to poverty reduction. For most of theassessments of national poverty programmes, no reliablestatistics could be provided for such funding. One reasonis that poverty is by its nature cross-sectoral. Where doesone draw the line between activities that are relevant topoverty and those that are not?In place of estimates of funds directed to povertyreduction, some governments point to information onexpenditures allocated to such sectoral interventions asbasic social services. These types of interventions mightbenefit the poor, but they benefit almost everyone else aswell. By this standard, investments in agriculture or inrural roads could be counted too.Developing National Anti-poverty Plans3 5Until recently the ConsultativeGroup for Ghana primarilymobilized resources, providing asetting for government represen-tatives to meet with donors inParis. Now the process contributesto greater coordination of povertyreduction activities.Critical to the preparations for the next Consultative Group isthe formation of thematic groupsfor such areas as poverty. Whileeach thematic group is headed bythe appropriate ministry, a donortakes the lead in providingsupport for a particular theme.UNDP has responsibility for bothpoverty and governance. Thethematic groups have helpedintegrate donors into a nationallyled development process. The thematic groups meetregularly to exchange informationand to design sectoral investmentprogrammes, which affect theallocation of official developmentassistance and public expenditures.Civil society and community-basedorganizations participate in the discussions, and donors provideupdates on their projects anddisbursements. As the lead donor for poverty, UNDP organizes the meetings, makes sure that other donors are involved, maintainsdatabases on donor-assisted proj-ects and provides any necessarytechnical support. Although theprocess is still young, aid is farmore coordinated, and decision-making by the government anddonors far more transparent. Box 2.1 Using the Consultative Group for Greater Poverty Coordination in GhanaSuch a sectoral calculation confuses the targeting offunds to the poor with the type of intervention used to do so. Many different government programmes could beconsidered pro-poor if most of their benefits reach poorhouseholds. The standard is based on who benefits—not on the type of programme.It makes sense to channel funds through a specialpoverty reduction fund if the programmes it finances aredesigned to disproportionately benefit the poor. Allocatingmoney to such a fund would have several advantages. Butthe fund would need to be administered by a governmentbody that not only has authority and influence but also canensure accountability and transparency in the use of funds.One advantage of such a fund is that it can lead to a bettergeneral accounting of financing for poverty reduction.Different government departments or ministries couldapply to the fund for financing for programmes focusedon the poor. A stricter arrangement, such as that institutedfor South Africa’s Poverty Relief Fund, could also beestablished: government units could obtain funds only ifthey had already endeavoured to make their regularbudgets more pro-poor.A special poverty reduction fund would also be alogical depository for a significant share of the moneyreleased by debt relief, such as from the Enhanced HeavilyIndebted

Poor Countries Initiative. With such an arrange-ment, financing could be channelled more transparentlyinto poverty reduction activities. To avoid problems,however, two general features are desirable. One is thatthe fund should be nationally managed and controlled.External donors should not control the money or setconditions on its use. The country’s national povertyprogramme should determine the broad parameters forallocating the funds. The second condition—which couldfoster greater accountability and participation—is thatrepresentatives of civil society organizations representingthe poor should be active in overseeing the fund anddeciding how its money is allocated.

Source: undp.org  


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