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What’s coming up next: abstracts of working papers-in-progress

The working paper series on public finance and service delivery seeks to present practical, policy-relevant research and analysis that contribute to a more inclusive and interdisciplinary agenda on public finance and service delivery with greater learning across professions, specialisms and sectors.

The following summaries offer some insight into upcoming papers in this series. You can find all published papers here.

Like many countries, Malawi has committed to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, Malawi faces major challenges in this respect, one of which is achieving adequate and sustainable financing levels for the health sector. Given limited resources, it is imperative that budgets are realistic and technically appropriate to achieve intended short- to medium-term targets and UHC in the longer term. Studies have shown that weak procurement systems for health commodities, including for vaccines and nutrition supplies, are an important budget-execution issue. This study hence aims to assess the credibility of the health budget and its factors including the state of health procurement systems. It will provide policy recommendations for strengthening health budget credibility towards UHC in Malawi.

Mixed research methods will be used. Quantitative analysis will be used for health budget credibility at the national and district levels, while qualitative methods will be used to examine factors driving health budget credibility problems and the performance of the procurement system. Qualitative methods will also be used to further understand the interrelationship between budget execution and procurement performance.

In Kenya, intergovernmental transfers are unpredictable and often delayed. This is a subject of political discord between the two levels of governments (national and county). Timely transfers and budget implementation are the minimum required for wider and better service delivery. Much of the scholarly literature on intergovernmental transfers focuses on errant behaviour at the county level and designing fiscal rules to constrain this. The literature is scant on improper behaviour by the national governments and how this affects subnational governments and their behaviour in terms of planning and budgeting, and budget execution in the faces of such challenges.

This paper will report on delayed intergovernmental transfers to counties and how county officials plan and execute budgets under such constraints based on key informant interviews with county officials in eight of the 47 counties in Kenya. The paper will also highlight how certain modifications in institutional rules may help county governments better manage its resources and execute budgets more effectively in the face of such delays. Additionally, this analysis will be useful to policy-makers and practitioners involved in designing the utility and disutility of procedures for requesting and obtaining approvals for the county transfers.

Kenya has implemented a devolved system of government since 2013, under which financing for immunisation services is a shared function between the national government and the 47 county governments. The county governments are responsible for funding human resources, equipment provision and maintenance, immunisation outreach initiatives, and monitoring, evaluation and reporting. The national government is responsible for funding the procurement and delivery of vaccines to the regional depots and the provision of operational funds for the national and regional vaccine depots. In recent years, Kenya has faced notable gaps in funding for immunisation services under this devolved system, resulting in a drop in immunisation coverage. These challenges have been exacerbated by the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines through the existing immunisation service delivery mechanisms.

This paper seeks to provide empirical evidence on how public finance management structures, systems and processes can support efficient, effective and equitable public spending for the improved delivery of immunisation services amongst the backdrop of devolution in Kenya, with particular focus on Kilifi and Narok counties. It will use a mixed methods approach consisting of qualitative and quantitative data, desktop research and key informant interviews. During the desk research phase, the researchers will undertake in-depth analysis of immunisation financing policy and budget documents for the period 2013/14–2021/22 for detailed information on intergovernmental cooperation in immunisation financing, prioritisation of immunisation at county level, and how the counties are adapting to Covid-19 vaccination roll-out.

What difference do organisational leaders make for the quality of public financial management and service delivery outcomes? Much of the applied literature on public finance has focused on the procedures and institutions that guide resource allocation and service delivery. The influence of organisational leaders on public financial governance has received less attention. Yet examples and case studies suggest that administrative and political leaders can have tremendous influence on organisations, both positive and negative. A small portion of literature has estimated the impact of leadership changes or traits on economic or organisational performance, but not in relation to public financial management outcomes. This paper will examine the role of individuals in determining audit outcomes. We will draw on the annual audits produced by the Auditor General of South Africa as well as information on the political and administrative heads of government units. Our study aims to quantify leadership effects on public financial governance and to explore underpinning mechanisms.

Since the 1980s over half a trillion dollars has been directed towards aid to education in lower-income countries with much external assistance focused on sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Despite this, public education in SSA and across lower-income countries remains desperately underfunded. This slows development, diminishes social wellbeing, adversely affects employability, and fundamentally contributes to inter- and intra-national inequalities.

Achieving the outcomes anticipated for Sustainable Development Goal 4 for education in SSA requires at least $40 billion in additional recurrent expenditure. This is far more than any imaginable grant aid or prudent lending. Many countries in SSA have experienced a low financing trap with stagnant levels of educational funding as a proportion of government budgets and as a proportion of GDP for over two decades. There is scope for enhanced efficiency and effectiveness to increase the rate of progress but this will not be enough to support sustainable educational development. Additional financing will have to be generated through reforms that increase domestic revenues and accelerate the development of fiscal states that are not aid-dependent.

There are four main research questions:

  • How has financing of education systems evolved since 1990?
  • What new demands does Sustainable Development Goal 4 place on financing and how does this compare with revenue and expenditure?
  • Are there performance differences in efficiency and effectiveness across countries and do these suggest useful points of comparison?
  • Which options exist to enhance educational efficiency and effectiveness in financially and environmentally sustainable ways?

The research will analyse international data sets and make use of key informant interviews to arrive at policy-relevant conclusions.

Decentralisation has been one of the most prominent public reforms of the last decades. It is set forward as a means of ensuring political stability, enhancing public accountability, and ultimately reducing poverty via better targeting and equitable access to public goods and services. Endorsed by international and policy institutions, a decentralisation process has been initiated in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, few studies propose ex-post evaluation of its effectiveness in reducing poverty or improving household living standards. This paper will attempt to fill the gap by exploiting the opportunities offered by the gradual implementation of the decentralisation agenda across the different municipalities of Burkina Faso from 1995 onwards. The communes that were decentralised first can be compared to the others after the reform relative to the pre-reform situation. Satellite information on night lighting density is used as a proxy for local development levels and combined with quasi-experimental techniques to derive reliable estimates of the impact of decentralisation. This paper will also highlight differences in the benefits of decentralisation between communes, depending on their ability to raise local resources and attract central government funding.

Over the past decade, the role and influence of finance ministries have been altered by the creation of new coordinating agencies at the centre of government and a renewed interest in long-term national planning. This paper will look at how the resurgence of national planning impacts the relationship between budgets and service delivery. The focus is on the role of plans and planning agencies in terms of how they operate within government, and to look at the relationship between planning and budgeting and how they fit together at the centre of government.

We will do this through the lens of education and health care in South Africa. South Africa developed its first long-term national plan in 2012. Budgets and departmental plans produced since then have been expected to align with this long-term plan. This research will look at the different approaches taken to achieve this alignment across departments and provinces, and consider the implications for both the budgeting process and service delivery.