DFID Review of PTF: Innovative Support to Civil Society in Fighting Corruption

Download DFID’s Partnership for Transparency Fund “Citizens Against Corruption” Programme Mid-Term Review

Citizens Against Corruption (CAC) is a project of Partnership for Transparency Fund that provides grants and technical assistance to civil society groups in developing countries that are fighting corruption and promoting good governance in public services and institutions. PTF already has considerable experience in this field and is becoming seen as a leader in social accountability. DFID‘s Governance and Transparency Fund (GTF) gave PTF a £2 million grant to enable it to provide 70+ new grants during 2008-12, ensure these partners achieve demonstrable reductions in corruption, and disseminate widely the lessons of their experience.

PTF operates as a “virtual organization” without permanent offices, and its personnel are very largely volunteers. One of its key strengths is the advice to partners offered free by this team, which is highly valued by its grantees.

The Mid-Term Review (MTR) was conducted over a 6-month period and included interviews with PTF principals; field visits to Philippines, India and Cameroon to interview grantees and other stakeholders and see the CAC work on the ground; a survey of grantees conducted by internet; a review of PTF and grantee documents (including a sample of project proposals, completion reports and evaluations); and participation in the 2010 International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok for discussions with grantees, donors and others. In these ways, the MTR has been able to engage with over three-quarters of the CAC grantees.

To date, CAC has been on track in identifying likely grantees and working with them to design small scale and often very local projects to tackle manifest examples of malpractice in the public sector. Many tackle the modes of corruption that most impact on the lives of poor people. It has provided grants and technical assistance so far to 44 CSOs and the evidence to date is that almost all of these are performing well. In other social accountability programmes progress is often described in terms of identifying poor performance or “raising awareness” of governance issues. CAC is able to go further and point to specific reforms triggered by the projects. This is partly due to the very specific problems targeted and the careful guidance offered, but partly also because PTF emphasizes “constructive engagement” – hence structured and non-confrontational dialogue with officials is integral to the approach. Through this, “reform champions” have emerged who have helped secure the beneficial changes.

The main MTR conclusion is its confidence that the CAC programme represents high value for money, impressive innovation, and valuable support to civil society in fighting corruption. It is difficult to envisage a programme that more closely fits the stated purpose of DFID‘s Governance and Transparency Fund. The MTR affirms that CAC is having a strongly positive impact, exceeding what can reasonably be expected given the scale of its funding. The substantial – often dramatic – benefit that can derive swiftly from its small grants is a success story worthy of wider telling.

Aggregating the impact of the many CAC beneficiaries is difficult, however, partly because the problems tackled and the country contexts vary so greatly, partly because impact is often intrinsically very hard to attribute and quantify, partly because the grantees‘ skills at documentation and analysis vary greatly and partly because of a paucity of baseline data. PTF is exploring a more common monitoring framework and giving clearer guidance to grantees on baseline preparation for the next cohort of projects. Nevertheless, just taking a few projects where direct savings can be listed, it is evident that the immediate financial savings alone are worth much more than the GTF grant. On top of this there are other benefits such as community empowerment, new structures for citizen vigilance, reformed bidding processes etc – all of which ensure that improvements will be sustained. And grantees are contributing significantly to changing the culture from one of grudging acceptance of corruption as a way of life to a public antipathy and a demand for change.

Combining citizen’s investigation and vigilance, community mobilization, constructive engagement with public bodies plus eliciting the support of “reform champions” provides a formula that is effective in addressing the problems of corruption that are experienced by ordinary people. PTF has a commendably efficient business approach, is ready to test new mechanisms to realize efficiency and other improvements. Its finance system is very sound in its emphasis of probity and cross-checking. PTF has kept its overheads costs to a minimum by its reliance on voluntary advisors, however we suggest it is now time to consider expansion of these costs, if possible, in order to more adequately finance networking, communications and field travel of advisors in order to give more hands-on support to grantees and to disseminate more effectively the lessons of experience.

The MTR also finds that there are significant hurdles to overcome in particular as PTF has expanded the number of projects it supports and countries it works in, possibly at the expense of focus. The tasks of management, quality control and coordination are clearly becoming more difficult, and PTF increasingly has to supplement the contributions of its volunteers with paid services. In particular, PTF is forming partnerships with major local NGOs to manage country or region-wide groups of grantees. This has been successful in India, home to one third of the CAC grants. This pattern should be further expanded. The MTR is confident that PTF has made good progress in strengthening CAC and other programmes and that its revised approaches and procedures (as set out in its Strategic Plan 2010-14) will yield further strengthening.

While there have been disruptions to some projects due to external factors and one project was cancelled due to doubtful performance (in Congo) the major external shock has been due to exchange rate movements. Most PTF expenses and grants are denominated in dollars and hence, with the decreased strength of sterling, the GTF grant has in effect lost $800,000 since the time PTF applied for the grant. Since many costs are fixed, PTF has had to reflect this loss largely by reducing its grants. The other unintended consequence, reported by some grantees, is that reform champions in public bodies are prone to being transferred elsewhere by their rent-seeking bosses.

The programme focus is highly pertinent, and it stands to benefit poor people in particular since they are most affected by the basic public services and safety nets probed. Reforming the governance of these services has emerged as a clear PTF comparative advantage. There are clear signs that the grassroots structures formed will also be durable after funding ceases and that promoting stronger local demand for good governance triggers a “virtuous circle” of enhanced vigilance and community confidence.

The business processes PTF uses (sometimes resulting from DFID and other donor instructions) can be quite daunting for smaller CSOs. Grant applications, reporting and other requirements could be made easier without loss of quality or probity, especially if greater use were made of country partners.

Although PTF accepts that projects seeking to change policies and attitudes are complex and require flexibility, its processes and relations with grantees sometimes give a different impression. It should more clearly indicate its readiness for flexibility and should emphasize to grantees the need to adapt to circumstances. Given that it is not realistic to expect significant change in corruption in a single year, the MTR asserts that it is timely, especially with tried and tested partners, to move to multi-year grants. It would also enhance impact if there were greater focus of CAC both in terms of the issues tackled and the countries worked in, with strategies articulated for the context and programme in key countries. Both the above points are in keeping with PTF‘s latest Strategic Plan, providing PTF‘s own funding is assured.

While progress so far demonstrates what small groups of committed citizens can do to clean up public bodies, the next stage is to use this experience more strategically to press for systemic change. While this happens to some extent in Philippines and specific projects with a national focus, elsewhere more could be done to foster networking amongst grantees and deepen their links with national reform actors. It could also do more itself to disseminate the experience of what works and hence contribute more fully to global best practice in social accountability. This calls for more attention to issues of communications, sharing experience and encouraging grantees to help strengthen each others‘ capacity in advocacy and other skills. This area has been PTF‘s weakest card to date. It should now make a strong effort to become a networking organization as well giving the support it does.

Other concerns voiced by grantees related to slow PTF decisions, disruptions in funding and sometimes a feeling of isolation. They would also like more chance to learn from experience of other grantees, more help in research and advocacy, and help in approaching other potential donors. By reviewing its volunteer strategy, making small changes in its processes, giving more attention to communications and networking and delegating more to country partners, PTF could readily address these issues.

Throughout the report the MTR makes various suggestions for strengthening the CAC programme and for addressing some of the deficiencies observed. These recommendations (including some to DFID) are précised in the Summary of Recommendations at the end of the report and are not repeated here, but one point – directed to DFID – deserves emphasis. Many of the improvements suggested will only be possible if funders (particularly DFID) are prepared to provide more resources for core operating costs, including travel, communications and networking so that more direct support to grantees and more effective dissemination is possible.

While we hope that PTF will carefully reflect on this report‘s recommendations and adopt many of them, the programme as it stands is impressive in terms of impact, efficiency, sustainability and value for money. Hence continued GTF funding should not be conditional on PTF‘s decisions in this regard.