In the past, the Government of Uganda implemented reforms, with varying degree of success, to address many development challenges such as macroeconomic instability, infrastructure deficits, poor governance and armed conflicts. The government is now responding to the challenge of limited coordination and cooperation in planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation among other problems.
The government’s response is based on evidence from evaluations and reviews of its interventions, which show that limited coordination and cooperation partly explains the slow progress in achieving development outcomes, impact and sustainability. The limited coordination and cooperation is partly attributed to overlapping roles and responsibilities, duplication of interventions/budgets, limited funding to implement interventions and “sector-egos” with some state agencies failing to cooperate on joint interventions.
In 2019, the government (National Planning Authority) embarked on the agenda of strengthening institutional coordination and cooperation through the programme-based approach (PBA), which reform is certainly worthwhile, but could be difficult, complex and time-consuming to implement in the short-run as the government reorganises its institutional frameworks. The PBA is a process that enables the government to formulate and realise national priority development objectives through corresponding national programmes formulated and implemented in a coherent, coordinated and participatory manner to ensure sustainability and development impact.
The PBA has been adopted in countries such as South Africa, Ethiopia and Ghana. These countries realised benefits such as: better management of programme interventions, more flexibility and efficiency in budgeting, better coordination and cooperation among stakeholders, improvements in the alignment of planning and budgeting frameworks and reductions in the cost of monitoring and evaluating programmes. However, common obstacles to successful implementation of the PBA include: designing of broad programmes, inadequate coordination and implementation capacities of stakeholders, inadequate institutional frameworks for programmes, weak joint monitoring and evaluation systems and overemphasis of the PBA concept and not its operationalisation.
Therefore, to implement the programme-based approach successfully, the following measures would be worthwhile.
First, promote behavioural change (norms, attitudes, beliefs and values) among all actors. This is important for demonstrating stronger commitment and acceptability to apply the PBA effectively. Evidence elsewhere indicates that institutional change reforms are more effective if they are supported by appropriate social and public sector norms i.e. an appreciation of teamwork, cooperation and stakeholder consultation, mutual respect among stakeholders, trust and intolerance of egotism, corruption and opportunism.
Second, ensure continuous assessment and capacity building. The government surveyed Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and Local Governments (LGs) to assess their capacity building needs in planning, budgeting, monitoring, evaluation and the finalisation of the strategic plans so that they are consistent with the Programme Implementation and Action Plans. To guarantee sustained and effective implementation of the PBA, the government should develop continuous assessment and capacity-building plans for key stakeholders especially MDAs and LGs. These efforts could be complemented by staff motivation through incentives (such as continued recognition of exceptional staff), appointing substantive heads of department (especially at the LG level) and ensuring staff retention to minimise the training costs for new staff.
Third, the eighteen (18) programmes of the third National Development Plan (NDP III) should be adequately focused. It would be unwise to design complex programmes that are multisectoral and all-embracing but not focused enough to instil a sense of ownership, partnership and purpose among both state (MDAs and LGs) and non-state actors (development partners, civil society organisations, citizens, private sector organisations and academia). In other words, different stakeholders will effectively embrace the PBA if they realise and acknowledge their specific contribution to a particular programme. Further, roles and responsibilities for each stakeholder should be well-articulated to realise the maximum benefits of greater coordination and cooperation and eliminate conflict in execution and implementation.
Fourth, emphasise both the understanding and operationalisation of the programme-based approach. Importantly, the government should ensure that all stakeholders (public, private sector and citizens) clearly understand the implementation details of the PBA. This can be done through targeted meetings with key actors, disseminating information through brief fact sheets, community baraza’s (community meetings) and the traditional media (radios and television) and social media. Past reforms such as privatisation did not result in the much-anticipated benefits partly because they were characterised by overly emphasizing the privatisation concept (i.e. the subject matter) and not the form (i.e. how it can be designed effectively and implemented). In other words, having a generally good understanding of the PBA with limited attention to getting the details of implementation right might result in less than optimal outcomes.
In conclusion, implementing the PBA could be more complex practically than conceptually, but the government’s willingness to change is demonstrating that it can effectively attain the objectives of this reform. Therefore, beyond the conceptual design of the PBA, the National Planning Authority needs to pay close attention to the relevant operational details during the implementation of the PBA to provide timely practical guidance to implementing agencies and/or stakeholders.