Global debates about what it will take to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are often dominated by discussions around how to mobilise external financing, either in traditional aid terms (‘rich countries need to meet their UN commitments’) or in the ‘millions to trillions’ narrative at Davos around the role of private sector investment.
What is often overlooked is domestic public financing and the resources that governments in the Global South have at their disposal. Even then, the dominant discourse tends to focus on so-called ‘domestic resource mobilisation’ – how can countries raise more in revenue to fund basic services? Less attention is paid to what can be done to maximise the impact of public funds already being spent.
For the last few years Crown Agents has been working with the Government of Ghana to do just that – digging into the detail of large public infrastructure projects and providing an independent assessment of their value for money – before scarce public resources are committed. In the first six months of this year alone, our review of over $400m worth of public contracts to build hospitals, colleges and housing has generated over $20m in savings for the Ghanaian Ministry of Finance. From our recent involvement in the Ghana Complementary Basic Education programme, we know what $20m can buy – it’s a sum equivalent to providing quality education for more than 125,000 out-of-school children in northern Ghana for a year.
In over 10 years of partnership with Ghana’s Ministry of Finance, Crown Agents’ Value for Money Audit Service has identified over $1 billion of savings of public money – equivalent to more than the total aid Ghana received in 2017 from the World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank, Global Fund, US, UK and Germany combined.
Our rigorous professional approach, informed by Crown Agents’ world leading expertise in public procurement- and refined and improved over time through our partnership with the Ghanaian government, is one of those ‘unsung’ development innovations quietly supporting the country in its aspiration of ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’. It’s also a good example of how donors like DFID, who supported our work in the early years, can play a catalytic short-term role after which they step away to allow governments themselves to pick up the costs.
Now head west along the coast from Ghana to Sierra Leone where Crown Agents is working with the government there, recently elected on a platform of reform and committed to rebooting progress towards the SDGs following the reversals caused by the country’s devastating Ebola epidemic in 2014/15. The Government’s number one priority is education – and rightly so: more than 50% of children fail to complete primary school and more than 60% of the population are illiterate (UNESCO, 2017).
Crown Agents is strongly committed to supporting Sierra Leone’s education objectives – but rather than engage in discussions with the government around teacher education reform or classroom construction, we’ve shared our Ghana value for money experience and results with the Ministry of Finance in Sierra Leone. They have shown strong interest seeing what could be replicated across their own portfolio of public procurement contracting where similar challenges and opportunities to leverage real and significant savings exist – perhaps even more so than in Ghana.
Sierra Leone’s ambition to deliver education for all by 2030 will certainly need international financial commitments and support. But there is definite scope for the country’s own domestic resources to go further and make a greater contribution to this top political priority for the new administration.