Although African economies have performed better in the past 10 years, the continent is yet to achieve meaningful progress in critical areas such as the health-related Millennium Development Goals. Africa still struggles with a high burden of disease, in addition to rising income inequality and social exclusion. This means that economic growth has not always resulted in increased access to healthcare by poor and disadvantaged populations.
African governments spend on average 40-60% of their public expenditure on social services (education, health, social protection).
How can African governments get the best returns on their investments in social services?
Data indicates that some countries achieve better results than others at comparable levels of spending on health and education. This suggests that performance in service delivery is hampered by substantial inefficiencies, which have a negative impact on human capital and drastic consequences for inclusive economic growth.
In his opening address, Stephen Sianga, Director, Human and Social Development and Special Programmes, Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat, noted that while substantial progress in health and education has been achieved in the SADC region, a number of challenges remain, especially regarding quality and value for money in service delivery.
“The challenges bedeviling the SADC region requires a concerted transformative agenda,” said Sianga. “Increased spending for health and education per se will not necessarily translate to positive outcomes. Understanding the issues that affect the transformation of inputs into development outcomes and implementing strategies that reverse this situation is central to efforts for improving the use of public and aid funds for better value for money.”
Sixty senior officials from Ministries of Finance, Education and Health, as well as representatives of civil society organisations from SADC countries gathered in Pretoria, South Africa, to attend a training session on how to achieve better value for money in social service delivery. The training was organized by the African Development Bank, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the GAVI Alliance, Health and Finance Governance, and Harmonization for Health in Africa.
“The [post MDG agenda] will be adopted at a time when the global economy is not doing well and many commodity-dependent countries are experiencing budget deficits,” said Mmakgoshi Phetla-Lekhethe, Deputy Director General for International Relations and Economic Policy at the National Treasury of the Republic of South Africa. “This could translate into the reversal of developmental gains we achieved over the past decade. We have to learn to do more with less which is why value for money is of strategic importance to all governments.”
The capacity building workshop forms part of a larger initiative by the AfDB to expand collaboration with other regional governments, institutions and NGOs, in order to promote public service delivery and accountability. The foundation for the capacity-building event for SADC countries lies in the Tunis Declaration on Value for Money, Sustainability and Accountability adopted by a Conference of Ministers of Finance and Health hosted by the AfDB in July 2012.
It is hoped that the discussions will assist participants to use the knowledge sharing to help inform their country’s strategies and develop frameworks to ensure investment efficiencies and value for money which can be expanded to other sectors.