Tanzania, among other African nations, adopted policies years ago to give local councils more authority to manage their resources. The thinking behind Tanzania’s Decentralization by Devolution program is that local councils – some of which serve hundreds of thousands of people – know their constituencies better than does the national government and can meet their needs appropriately.
But these decentralization policies were not being effectively implemented in Tanzania because many council officials lacked the necessary skills and tools to do so. The call for greater accountability was championed by many, but in some cases, distrust and misunderstandings hampered progress at the council level.
Enter the Wajibika project, led by Abt Associates and funded by USAID, which began in 2009 and ends in December 2013. Wajibika, which means “be accountable” in Kiswahili, has provided training and mentoring that has helped 38 of the country’s 161 councils to implement community-driven health services planning and improve their budgeting, procurement, and internal audit practices. Improved accountability translates into better use of resources, reduced waste, and more efficient systems to deliver services.
“Before it was our plan, now it is their [the community’s] plan. Now what they need is what they get,” said Laurent Kalindima, District Health Officer in Bagamoyo in eastern Tanzania.
The project greatly increased the capabilities of local government, according to Chairperson, Dr. Deo Mtasiwa, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office, Regional Administration and Local Governments and an advisor to Wajibika on its strategy in its early days.
“We believe you have showcased that it [decentralization] works,” Dr. Mtasiwa said. “With the innovation of Wajibika there is no need for people from the upper levels (of government) to tell the regions what they need to do.”
Community-Driven Planning Improves Health Care
Before Wajibika, local health care planning in Tanzania was conducted from the top-down. Input was not solicited from lower-level health care staff or community leadership, contrary to Tanzania’s decentralization policy.
An assessment by Wajibika in early 2010 found that none of the eight councils in central Tanzania’s Iringa region were using the government’s template for dispensary and health center planning.“That was in part because the planning template was in English, a second language for health center and dispensary workers,” said Peter Kilima, director of the Wajibika project for Abt Associates.
Wajibika staff, after receiving council feedback on the issue, translated the planning template from English into Kiswahili and developed a presentation that summarized the translated materials. Wajibika also began the practice of holding two-day community health planning meetings where participants work in breakout groups to draft health facility plans backed up with reliable data.
This locally-driven planning model helped many dispensaries and health centers – each of which provides care to several thousand people – to improve their services. To cite just one example, the health facility plan for Ifunda Dispensary, located in Iringa region, helped the facility establish reliable supplies of electricity and clean water.
Clean Audits Build Trust
Sub-standard financial management practices have been a persistent problem at the council level in Tanzania. A clean audit is a key sign that councils are accountable and qualify to manage government and donor funding, but less than half of the 27 Wajibika-supported councils received clean audits from the national controller and auditor general in 2010-11.
Each council has an internal auditor, who were sometimes treated with mistrust and misunderstanding of their role. Some internal auditors did not perform effectively and many on the council did not have the financial management knowledge needed for their jobs.
In response, Wajibika trained council staff in international public sector accounting standards, helped them implement the Epicor computerized financial management system – adopted by the national government – and trained council staff on procurement procedures.
“For fiscal year 2011-2012, 85 percent of Wajibika-assisted councils achieved clean audits, nearly double the previous year,” Kilima said. “Improved audit results enable councils to receive increased capital development grant funding, which can contribute to health care and other sector programs.”
Amina Mahmood, an internal auditor for Chamwino council in central Tanzania, credited Wajibika with increasing the respect her internal audit unit’s work received from other council staff.
“When I joined the council in 2010, staff was suspicious of internal auditors. But after the Wajibika advocacy meetings, we are cooperating very well and they seek out our advice,” Mahmood said. Her unit is sustaining the lessons providing on-the-job coaching for new internal auditors and institutionalizing tools such as risk-based auditing and planning.
Mentoring for Sustainability
Peer learning and on-the-job training are other key Wajibika strategies. Highly skilled mentors were trained by Wajibika and assigned to 27 councils for periods of up to two years. They ensured the sustainability of new policies and practices by expanding the skills of council staff while on the job.
Mentoring also led to improvements at the institution and systems level. For example, a mentor working with the Makete District Treasurer suggested a consolidation of the several office locations responsible for salaries, record keeping, and accounts. Doing so cut payment processing time by half.
Mentors trained by Wajibika valued the experience enough to form their own independent organization: The Tanzania Mentors Association (TMA), to provide mentoring assistance.
“The Wajibika approach should be embedded in overall development management,” said Paul Chikira, TMA chair. “The experience we gained would vanish after the project if we did not come together and form TMA.”
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