Social accountability as a stepping stone for the Priority Campaign—experiences from Malawi

Monday 7 December 2015

Sitting in the district council hall on that hot October morning and listening to members of the Mwanza District Nutrition Coordinating Committee (DNHA) taking turns to describe how late they receive their monthly funds from Central government and how the figure continues to decline month in, month out, one conclusion came to mind—fair financing goes beyond the figures that government publishes in the pink book—the national budget. Fair financing is about how timely that money is disbursed to district councils and how adequate it is to implement planned activities.

While most advocacy effort in Malawi and elsewhere is put into making sure that government allocates more funding to social services such as health and education—in compliance with global and regional commitments such as Abuja and Maputo Declarations—such effort will be in vain if communities don’t do their part in ensuring that their local governments are funded to deliver social services and improve social wellbeing including child survival and development.

National purse holders such as the Minister of Finance can yield to civil society pressure to increase budgetary allocations to essential services, but if the citizenry—the end user of the services does not engage their local governments to ensure that such services are indeed provided, such budgetary increases will remain a reality on paper and a far-fetched dream in reality. 

What I am saying is fair financing is about government providing enough resources in the national budget to essential services such as health and education, making sure that such resources are disbursed timely and adequately to district councils and that district councils spend those resources as planned and report back to both communities and central government in an accountable and transparent manner about how the resources were used.

In all this, communities in district councils have an important role of making sure that their councils plan properly and spend accordingly—the very concept of Social Accountability.

Communities through their local governance structures should claim a role in the district investment planning process, telling their councils what they expect of them and ensuring that district executive teams fulfil their mandates.   

Any Campaign therefore that truly aims at addressing financial barriers to exclusion must address the social accountability question in its entirety. This can be achieved by building robust sub national civil society movements that own the sub national development agenda and drive it forward consistently.

Sub national civil society movements should apply pressure to sub national administrative units to ensure that they develop plans that take care of ‘children left behind’, resource those plans adequately and implement them appropriately. 

Coupled with a national civil society agenda that pushes for more government allocations in social sectors, such sub national social accountability mechanisms have better chances of success in ensuring that not only are social services provided but they reach all groups including ‘children left behind’.

As Duncan Greensuggests, change will only happen where active citizenship comes into contact with a responsive state. Social accountability is the corner stone to build both the active citizenship and the responsive state and move communities on a trajectory to sustainable development.

Elvis Sukali—Senior Advocacy and Communications Manager