Below is an extended version of a previous post this week, which was published in The Citizen newspaper today in the longer version below.
Chambi Chachage and Azaveli Lwaitama have rightly pointed to a crisis in the Tanzanian education system. Both were prompted by this year’s pass rate for the Primary School Level Examination – more than 50 percent failed.
One of Chambi’s conclusions – that we need more Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys (PETS) – can be interrogated. There has been no dearth of PETS in education. The most recent, cited by Chambi, was this year. Previous PETS were carried out in 2004, 2003, 2001 and 1999. Their inspiration is the famous PETS of the mid nineties from Uganda, credited with ushering in a sea change in the management of public education funds.
More recently, local level Public Expenditure Tracking Systems have mushroomed throughout the country. Funded from overseas and implemented by Civil Society Organisations of various capacities, their scope, quality and findings are not easily determined.
The most recent survey, conducted this year by the Ministry of Education, indicates that 87 percent of the primary education budget earmarked for local governments was received by local governments. Good news, you would think (if we consider 13 percent going missing to be good news).
Of particular interest is the capitation grant. Primary schools are entitled to a grant equivalent to USD10 per student per year – USD6 to the schools and USD4 for local government to buy books. How much actually reaches the schools? According to the 2009 PETS, it’s TZS 4,470 or USD3.6. There is no mention of the USD10 commitment. But the headline figure is 87 percent reaching local governments: not that 40 percent targeted at the schools doesn’t reach the schools. And not that at least 24 percent of the capitation grant is still unaccounted for. And all of that assuming that the USD4 for books is arriving in full and being prudently expended.
These figures tally with financial records of rural schools I’ve visited recently. But the PETS doesn’t tell you of the total ignorance of what they are actually entitled to on the parts of parents and school management. None that I met were aware of the USD10 commitment, and how it is earmarked. None that I met realised they were being short changed. None that I met could predict in which month funding would arrive and in which month it wouldn’t. And none complained about it.
The key take away from REPOA’s 2004 PETS that was that 40 percent of the capitation grant went missing, and most of that from the book component. The 2004 PETS was long ago shelved, its findings not accepted by government. No copies are available to the public. The last organisation to make public reference to it – HakiElimu – was banned from official contact with public education officials. Its findings are only easily accessible through analysis conducted by U4, a project of Norway’s Christian Michelsen Institute.
So what improvements have there been? At the level of the primary school, it is indiscernible. The direct to school component of the capitation grant is still not reaching schools in any meaningful way. As for the rest of the capitation grant, the 2009 PETS does not much shed light. Most, though not all of it, may have reached Local Government Authorities.
Beyond that, it is hard to tell. PETS are technical exercises demanding high level skills in public financial management. They are also very political, demanding the support of the bureaucracy and agreed objectives between government, donor representatives and whoever are deemed to be the Civil Society representatives.
The geometry of these varied interests is not conducive to delivering analysis that is methodologically sound, comparable over time and that is freely and easily available to the public. This conflicting geometry is seen in the 2009 report, as it artfully tries to explain away the findings of the 2004 PETS, seemingly criticizing that earlier report for its focus on “what extent a grant intended for a specific use actually reached the school.” Is it any wonder that the Uganda PETS is the only one so far that is thought to have catalysed change?
So we are left with the other PETS implemented at local level by CSOs with considerable funding from overseas. Yet these too remain unproven. In this we can agree with the 2009 PETS which highlights the differences in the type of data tracked and the varying methodologies employed while concluding that there is “little substantive information that is publicly available from this type of activity.”
The top down technocratic PETS of 2009 and 2004 have had their day. What we probably know is that such one off exercises can be no replacement for a public service that is committed to good service delivery, a polity that accommodates varying means of oversight and informed parents and school management.