Follow the Money: Tracking Public Expenditure in Education

This blog post was written by Bernard Gauthier, Professor at the Institute of Applied Economics, HEC Montréal, Canada, with contributions by Apollinaire Mupiganyi, Executive Director of Transparency International Rwanda.

One of the most common tools to estimate public corruption is the method known as Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) pioneered by Ritva Reinikka and Jakob Svensson in the Ugandan education sector and since carried out in more than 50 countries in a variety of sectors and contexts.

This blog post is part of a series
drawing on articles from the forthcoming
Global Corruption Report: Education.

The strategy entails comparing officially intended resources from the central government (or donors) with the resources actually received by service providers (such as schools) to assess resource leakages and other inefficiencies in resource allocation and usage.

PETS results can feed into policy changes not just directly but indirectly as well, through the use of advocacy and dissemination methods to inform the population and encourage citizens to monitor flows of funds better, eventually feeding into policy changes by government.

Among recent PETS studies, UNICEF in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning and Investment of Vietnam, has examined the effectiveness of a cash transfer programme to poor ethnic minority school children in the Dien Bien Province. The small scale PETS study identified various bottlenecks and potential leakages in the monthly cash transfer aimed at ensuring that school children do not drop out of school. In particular, financial support reported by beneficiaries was significantly lower than the officially allocated and stipulated by the programme’s regulations.

Furthermore, payments of informal commissions to school officials were reported by a majority of beneficiaries and long delays were observed in cash disbursements undermining the conditional nature of the transfer and reducing student attendance incentives. Recommendations were formulated to improve transparency and accountability of the programme, through in particular the improvement of data management at the district and school levels, better identification of beneficiaries, timeliness and volume of support delivery, and improvement in achievement of the programme’s outcomes.

PETS studies have proved to be powerful tools at identifying shortcomings in service delivery systems, stressing the need to better understand the impact of public spending on public services and social development outcomes.

Transparency International Rwanda recently launched a PETS study to ensure transparent and accountable management of the government’s capitation grants (direct funding for schools).

Research carried out in 15 schools indicated there was no leakage between the amount requested by districts and the amount received at school level. This was explained by the Ministry of Finance’s policy of transferring the grants directly to the individual accounts of the schools without passing through the District’s account.

However, the study revealed a series of other problems. For example, it showed that some schools received the grants with a significant delay.  Moreover, the study also revealed that only one out of five schools complied with ministerial guidelines on grant usage.

This PETS also collected respondents’ perceptions on the level of transparency and related tendering processes. Overall, the level of transparency was perceived to be high (72 per cent). Nevertheless, the study exposed issues relating to weaknesses in payment, reporting and oversight procedures. This included, for example, an absence of regular quarterly inspections by district or sector authorities to confirm the numbers of pupils submitted to by heads of schools and inaccurate and incomplete recording of transactions.

For PETS studies to help bring about improvements in efficiency or equity, ultimately the information and recommendations they generate should feed into policy reform programmes or interventions. Such an integrated approach was successfully used in the education sector in Uganda starting in 1996. It involved an initial diagnostic PETS, innovative policy reform and the evaluation of the information campaign through repeated PETS studies.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tanzania presents an interesting case of a country in which, despite several PETS studies in the education sector since 1999, the non-integration of tracking survey results within the government reform agenda has led to reports of persistent inefficiencies and resource capture in the sector.

In Tanzania, as in other countries, inadequate dissemination of results, a lack of political will and incentives to put reforms in place have been factors behind weak institutional changes to reduce corruption and improve service delivery following PETS studies.

Government ownership, participation and commitment ex ante to a sector reform agenda could prove essential to increase the likelihood of the adoption of policy reforms intended to correct governance problems.


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