EDITORIAL: Government Must Focus More On Monitoring
NEWS this week that a monitoring team put together by Richard Anane has uncovered overpayments of 2.4 billion cedis to contractors on just three road projects in the Western Region must serve as a wake up call. Over the past two decades, several billions of dollars have gone into several social infrastructural projects. Yet, one can guestimate that less than 50% of this has gone into actual work. This begs the question: are we actually poor or just that we use our resources in a poor manner?
The Statesman has been happy with two things this year. One is the appointment of a minister in charge of public sector reform and the second, talk of putting the Senior Minister in charge of Government's Policy Monitoring Unit. These two areas deserve utmost responsibility.
But, while we spend money to undertake these major institutional changes, there are certain sub-areas that deserve urgent priority. One is the monitoring of projects undertaken with government funding. The second one is in making sure that punitive measures befall those who fall short in performing according to contractual terms.
What is absolutely clear is that, regardless of how much tax revenue Government sucks from Ghanaian workers; regardless of the worth of grants and loans the nation contracts, if Government doesn't put in institutional structures and personnel of integrity to ensure that at the delivery level value for money is given, then accelerated growth may just remain a pipe dream.
Government, we expect, through Nduom's outfit, aims to adopt a comprehensive policy reform programme to strengthen Ghana's weak institutional and governance capacity. There is, of course, a recognition at the outset that the task of strengthening Ghana's public administration capacity is monumental.
Institutional impacts can be expected to materialise slowly and fitfully, both because of the complexity of the causal factors affecting institutional performance and because many of those factors are not fully within the control of government authorities. At this pace, approaching Western European standards of institutional and governance capacity may require decades. However, certain short cut measures can be taken now. Here, we mean, for example, a freshly composed institutional pressure on Government to ensure efficient use of public funds during project implementation.
Monitoring is a process of watching or studying the progress of a project. It is a continuous process, which starts when the project begins and ends not when the project ends but when the warranty on such a project expires. Monitoring benefits both the people in charge of implementing the project and those the project is meant to help. Monitoring shows both the project managers and the communities for whom the project is intended early signs of progress or lack of progress in the achievement of a project's objectives. In other words, it shows them what works and what does not work. On the other hand, when factors that can help a project to succeed are identified, those factors can be strengthened even further.
Equally importantly, it helps to separate the shoddy contractors from the serious ones. Indeed, it can even have the general positive effect of compelling the otherwise bad contractor to embrace quality.
It is also possible through monitoring to determine whether or not a project is in line with the needs of the community. Government can enhance the monitoring of projects in two major ways: Having a strong, well-remunerated core team of monitors who travel across the country on sector-to-sector basis to undertake the task. Beyond that, at the district level, a system of grassroots monitors can be also encouraged. This will mean people who live in the communities where the projects are located and who, because of realising that their interests in the projects are at stake, decide to monitor them. These are the people whom the projects are intended to benefit. They may or may not be government officers or experts. But they know and live with the problems the projects are designed to solve.
Currently, it is difficult to argue that projects, such as road and building constructions, are undertaken with strong monitoring and oversight components. Contractors who perform shoddy jobs do it with such impunity which presupposes that there are no penalty clauses attached to such contracts or even if there are, then they are hardly ever implemented. How else can we expect quality to improve when cowboy contractors are guaranteed to get other contracts after a bad job done?
Government must build a monitoring capacity unit to supervise and assess contracts. And pragmatic measures, such as incentive packages, must be put in place to protect the integrity of the exercise. A good monitoring system can make savings several times over the system's budget, whilst improving the overall several delivery culture of the country.
Clearly, those assigned to monitor projects have been greatly compromised. Government cannot but find sustainable ways of doing this. It can mean paying the team so extremely well to insulate them from undue inducements.
This is one area, as shown by Dr Anane's efforts, which Government cannot fail to take decisive action upon. As Tony Blair perseveres to get his G7 colleagues to be more generous to poor African nations, one of his major problems is to convince himself and the others that their taxpayers' money would not go to waste. We have it within our power to better use the resources available to us.