Working with the Ministry or Not?
August 20, 2009 - 1:30 p.m.
|Presenters: ||Cristina Olive, USAID Peru|
Brian Levey, USAID Cambodia
|Moderator: ||Yolande Miller-Grandvaux, USAID Office of Education|
This session discussed the advantages and disadvantages of having USAID work closely with, or even embedded within, the Ministry of Education to implement its programs. While there are definite advantages to working closely with the Ministry, there are countries in which political instability, bureaucracy, or a lack of technical expertise can be a hindrance to effective program delivery.
Brian Levey of USAID Cambodia suggested that the USAID’s mission is to build in-country capacity, and one way to accomplish that is to work with the Ministry on a day-to-day basis and interact with officials both from a technical and management standpoint. Working within the Ministry is an opportunity to know what other donors are doing to avoid duplication of efforts, and ensures USAID efforts are in line with host country goals. On the flip-side, working with the Ministry can reduce accountability, especially if the government is implementing the activity and USAID is simply providing the funding. Also, donors with a larger budget will get the attention of the government and Ministry more easily, which can be a problem for smaller USAID education programs.
Cristina Olive of USAID Peru noted that working within the Ministry makes it easier to interact regularly with key decision-makers; it is a useful reminder to country officials of USAID’s presence and assistance. One can also learn the intricacies and workings of the Ministry itself; where fragmentation is evident, understanding country politics is very important. A disadvantage, however, is the extra layer of bureaucracy and approvals that can slow down implementation; USAID’s independence can also be lessened in the process.
Other points brought up in the discussion were that in some cases Ministers change frequently and entire Ministries are re-structured, or the goals change. Marisol Pérez of USAID Malawi and Inez Andrews of USAID Sudan mentioned how they often work with lower-level officials who may not have as much decision-making power, but who are less likely to be replaced and thus provide some continuity to the programs. Also, differences in salaries paid by the Ministry and salaries paid by USAID can create conflicts locally and make implementation more difficult. Finally, some implementers are doing the technical and managerial work themselves, instead of training Ministry officials. While this ensures the work is done, it does not achieve the goal of building capacity and technical know-how.
Key take away points from this session included the pros and cons of USAID Missions working with, or within, the Ministry of Education. Both presenters and the audience agreed that while it is important to know the country’s priorities for education and ensure there are common goals, each Mission should assess how closely to work with the Ministry and strike a balance between collaboration and independence.