4 Mar 2011

Future DFID funding in Tanzania - a radically different approach?

The British government's aid department, DFID, announced earlier this week the results of a major review of how they spend their money. Described by the Minister, Andrew Mitchell, as a "radically different approach to aid" and considered "the most extensive shake-up of aid in recent history", these reviews have a tough job to live up to their billing. It's not for Daraja to assess the changes being brought in, as that has been very well done by others with far more experience and expertise to bring to the table, but we are in a position to ask what these changes mean for Britain's funding to Tanzania.

Let's start with the headline numbers. Tanzania is budgeted to get an average of £161m ($263m) per year between 2011/12 and 2014/15. This is equivalent to a 12% increase on the £150m budgeted by DFID for Tanzania in the current financial year, itself an increase from £143.6m in 2009/10. This makes Tanzania the 8th biggest recipient of UK aid money.

On the face of it, these changes don't look huge, certainly compared to the changes in countries like Somalia (up over 200%), Pakistan and Nigeria (up over 100% each) or the sixteen countries that will no longer receive any UK aid (see list). Steady as she goes, you could say.

But the devil is so often in the detail, and the changes to how the UK manages its aid money go a lot further than the headline numbers. So what do the details say about Tanzania?

Well, at the time of writing, not very much. The two reports published by DFID on the Bilateral Aid Review give only a little more detail than these headline figures.

The Country Summaries (pdf), which sounds like it should be the place to get more country-specific information, doesn't have much, only listing three pretty broad "top priorities" and two surprisingly precise "key results":
Top Priorities: Building on the progress made in education; improving reproductive and maternal health; and accelerating private sector development and job creation
Key Results: Help raise the income of 563,000 rural men and women so they can improve their lives and take better care of their families; Provide 443,000 women a year with a choice over pregnancy 
The more analytical Bilateral Aid Review Technical Report (pdf) focuses mostly on how decisions to increase and decrease funding we made, but does include an annex listing "expected country priorities". For Tanzania this lists 7 areas: wealth creation; education; governance and security; health; water and sanitation; poverty, hunger and vulnerability; and climate change. In other words, they list every possible category as a priority except humanitarian aid.

So these two reports hardly tell us a great deal. That's not really a surprise as the intended audience for most of this information and these reports is not really people here in Tanzania. As the Guardian (the UK paper with that name, not the Tanzanian one) has argued, these reviews and announcements are "designed to win over a sceptical public" in the UK. So it's worth reminding ourselves of the first of Owen Barder's eight lessons from three years working in transparency: that to make a difference, transparency needs to be targeted at the needs of citizens of developing countries.

I'm not saying that DFID isn't going to make more information public - in fact I'm very reliably informed that the Operational Plan for Tanzania will soon be available on DFID's website, probably in April, along with plans for other countries getting DFID funding. But this particular launch was clearly not designed to meet the information needs of citizens in developing countries - or indeed of NGOs in developing countries - and the detailed country-level plans are not yet available.

As an organisation with strong links to DFID - we receive funding through their Accountability in Tanzania (AcT) programme - Daraja has been kept informed by DFID Tanzania on progress with their proposed Operational Plan for 2011-2015. A month ago we were given a fairly detailed presentation that included a lot of very specific targets (but no budget figures), but which had not yet been agreed by DFID in London.

From that meeting, and from a brief email exchange with DFID Tanzania this week, I can add a little more on how DFID is going to spend it's money in Tanzania, though all of this is still unconfirmed.

  1. Wealth creation and governance and security look likely to be the two biggest areas of funding, though significant amounts will also go to health, education and water and sanitation. 
  2. DFID's contribution to General Budget Support to Tanzania is likely to continue but at a significantly lower level than before. 
  3. Instead, there's likely to be a shift towards supporting sector budgets - probably including support for the Water Sector Development Programme (warts and all) - and specific programmes in areas such as wealth creation. 
  4. There's also likely to be more use of civil society organisations for delivery of basic services in addition to the kind of monitoring and accountability work that DFID already supports from civil society. 
What's not in doubt is that there's a big emphasis on specific results and centralised, standard indicators. This is where the specific figures on wealth creation and family planning above come from, but the full list is much longer, with as many as 27 indicators. And there is some concern that these indicators are so specific and standardised that they don't give room to address the particular problems of the Tanzanian context, some of which we are very aware of.

In education, for example, the focus is on numbers: pupil enrollment and completion rates, teachers trained, latrines constructed, etc. But there is nothing on quality, which as Uwezo has so clearly shown, is a real weakness of the current system. "Building on the progress made in education", as DFID's Country Summaries report describes as one of three top priorities for Tanzania, should surely mean ensuring that the huge recent growth in school and student numbers is followed up by improvements in quality. In water and sanitation the focus is on new rural waterpoints rather than on keeping waterpoints functioning. And I'm sure similar points could be made about health, wealth creation, etc.

So in summary, Tanzania will get a little bit more money, to be spent on pretty similar things as before. There are some changes to how the money will be spent and internal changes about who makes which decisions (more centralisation), but it hardly comes across as the "radically different approach" the Minister claimed, at least as far as Tanzania is concerned.