Improving Governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Like many countries in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is undergoing a radical transition from a centralized system of government to a decentralized one. After 14 years of civil war, a new constitution was passed in 2006 establishing the basis for decentralization, greater citizen participation, and civil rights.
Despite some progress, the challenges of implementing decentralization are many. There are strong vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Moreover, the cost and complexity of restructuring government, in an environment where there are often not even sufficient funds to pay salaries, is daunting. Many donors have invested substantial resources into supporting the process, but even now—six years after the constitution was adopted—much of the legislation required to implement decentralization has not been passed.
To support the transition, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding a 5-year program, the Programme de Bonne Gouvernance (Good Governance Program), to improve management capacity and accountability of select legislatures and local governments. Specifically, the program includes support for the following:
- More effective civil society in terms of engagement with government and managing their own affairs
- Strengthening the capacity of the national and selected provincial assemblies
- Decentralization activities at national, provincial, and local levels
As a subcontractor to DAI, RTI is responsible for the program's decentralization component, which operates in 4 of the country's 11 provinces.
Identifying the Most Pressing Needs
With USAID's support, it was decided early in the program that the majority of resources should be concentrated on local government—the one level of government that other donors omitted from their projects. As a result, 12 diverse local governments were selected, ranging from provincial headquarters to small chiefdoms.
RTI's initial studies, which included surveys of local and provincial government capacity and focus groups with users of government services showed inefficiencies at all levels. The budgets of the local governments were tiny—in some cases, no more than a few cents per head per year, and at the most about one dollar per head per year. The capacity to provide services was virtually nonexistent.
Further, in most cases, only a small fraction of the intergovernmental transfers required under the new constitution were being paid. Virtually all financial resources went to paying staff; there was no capital budget. Relations between civil society and local government were universally adversarial and strained, and corruption and financial mismanagement were viewed as normal by virtually all survey respondents and focus group participants.
Programming and Prioritizing Interventions
RTI tackled the DRC's most pressing issues on the following three fronts:
- Involve civil society in all engagements with the public sector.
- Establish transparent systems linked to sound financial management and find ways of increasing local revenues, soliciting support for doing so through linking increased revenues to improved services.
- Improve service delivery through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
Involving Civil Society
To increase the involvement of civil society, RTI organized action planning workshops. These four-day events allowed a variety of participants to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the status quo and guided them through planning small projects within their limited resources. During the workshops, the participants also elected a joint civil society/local government committee to monitor implementation of the recommendations of the workshop.
One of the small projects chosen was renovation of the Institut Bosembo. This public facility had fallen into disrepair due to decades of strife and dysfunctional government. The grant is being used to make the structure sound and waterproof. Implementation will be monitored by a joint committee of the parent-teacher association and the local government.
Improving Financial Management and Increasing Revenues
Workshops were held to inform citizens of the rights of civil society to monitor the public sector's performance and the need to restructure financial management, especially the value chain for receipts. RTI staff provided technical assistance to ensure that good accounting practices were being used and to put the books in order. Tax collectors, businesses, and others with a direct interest in paying and accounting for receipts are being helped to work together in a collaborative and transparent manner.
An administration official from the commune of Alunguli (city of Kindu, Maniema Province), said "When we started, the petty cash of the commune was often empty because cash expenditures were made at the source. After the training that taxpayers received, they know they should receive certain public services in return for paying taxes. They have become aware that the tax collectors must submit money to the petty cash account at the commune. In the month following the training, the receipts of the commune increased by 450%."
PPPs were a concept never attempted in the DRC before. The program started with training of local government officials about the mutual benefits of PPPs and involving business and civil society in project assessment and selection. The program also undertook detailed feasibility studies that demonstrated economic viability, which were shared with bidders.
Using a participatory approach, local stakeholders came up with a list of proposed small-scale projects that would be offered up for bid in a transparent way. The projects consist of repairs to, and management of facilities, such as markets and community centers, over 15 years. To date, four projects were offered up for bid; approximately 30 companies expressed interest in bidding.
Results Are Taking Shape
With the project in its third year, notable achievements are evident, including the following:
Public officials have embraced the concept of working with civil society to a surprising degree. Local development action plans are being developed and implemented jointly by local government and civil society, with local counterpart funding and labor inputs from both sides.
Women are increasingly participating in the decision-making process, whereas before, their voices were rarely heard. For example, the project supported the creation of a women's round table, Femmes Evoluant dans le Secteur Public, which has formed five provincial chapters. Each chapter has prepared a strategic plan and completed the development of a constitution that is in the process of being registered.
A framework for transparent financial management and a better structured book of accounts are in place, generating increased confidence among the public and reducing petty corruption and harassment by local government tax collectors.
Substantial increases in revenues have been achieved in many jurisdictions within a matter of months. Civil society and local government committees can program jointly to raise the standard of service for the people paying taxes (e.g., installing a roof in a market to protect the vendors from the sun and rain). Some local governments are initiating their own programs to make local taxes fairer and more transparent.
PPP guidelines have been written and templates prepared, greatly enhancing partners' understanding of the concept and how to apply it.
Information about the decentralization process is more widely accessible. The project established a website, operated by the Cellule d'Appui à la Décentralisation, where legislation, regulations, discussion documents, government reports, research papers, and geographical data concerning provinces and Entités Territoriales Décentralisées (decentralized territorial entities) in the DRC can be found.