This article was originally published by ONE‘s Follow the Money Campaign.
By Ruba Ishak
Felicia is in her final year at the Okuapeman Senior High School in Akropong in Ghana’s Eastern Region. She is blind. Her mother works as a food vendor and was struggling to afford her daughter’s education. Felicia was frequently sent home as a result of her unpaid fees, affecting her academic performance.
In 2010, Felicia’s mother was able to access 800 Ghanaian Cedi – about $183 – from the district disability fund thanks to the work of Social Enterprise Development (SEND) in Ghana. The timely release of the previously mismanaged disability fund not only provided financial support to pay for Felicia’s school fees, but also contributed to improving her well-being. Upon receiving the funds, Felicia said, ‘I can now concentrate on my books and I have improved academically.’ But five years ago, her story might have been quite different.
In the 2000s, reports were circulating around Ghana that district assemblies might be abusing the government fund for persons with disabilities. The fund is allocated across local governments at the district budget level, with a mandatory provision for 2 percent of the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF) to be distributed and managed for persons with disabilities. The aim was to reduce poverty as well as enhance the social image of disabled people through dignified labour, and the DACF set out clear guidelines for the utilisation and implementation of the fund.
To uncover the facts, SEND coordinated a monitoring and advocacy campaign involving an extensive network of citizen monitoring committees spread across the country and which represented social interest groups such as women, farmers, youth and persons with disabilities. These citizens checked the notice boards at community town halls where the budgets are recorded for confirmation of the DACF budget. They asked district authorities for evidence that separate bank accounts had been opened for the disability fund, as required in the DACF’s guidelines. The results revealed that 70% of district assemblies had not opened separate bank accounts for the disability fund and that 87% had not even established District Fund Management Committees.
The lack of budgetary transparency within the disability fund made it difficult to put in place an accountability mechanism. This raised the question: if the assemblies did not have the required government structures and operating systems in place, on what basis were disbursements being made? Through its monitoring, SEND uncovered that, due to mismanagement, between 2005 and 2008 only about a third of persons with disabilities had access to the fund.
SEND believes that working collaboratively with government, particularly at district level, is most effective, and has helped local governments put in place accountability mechanisms to meet the guidelines for disbursement of the fund. Using evidence gathered from its monitoring, it has engaged with authorities at the district, regional and national levels of government. The media have provided regular coverage, which has helped to engage local communities in the process.
SEND’s findings led people to question how the disability fund was being managed and initiated calls for an inquest from stakeholders. In 2013, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection called for an investigation into the disbursement and management of the 2% common fund for persons with disabilities. In response to a number of calls to provide information, SEND published a report on how the fund was being mismanaged.
By SEND bringing these findings into the public domain, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development responded swiftly and issued directives to all district assemblies to immediately comply with the stipulated guidelines. Within a matter of days the districts had started putting their houses in order by opening separate bank accounts for the fund. Increased accountability resulted in an increase in the amount of funds being disbursed to people with disabilities and in the number of beneficiaries, meaning that people like Felicia can access the services they need, despite their disabilities.
• To uncover the facts, SEND organised an extensive network of citizen monitoring committees spread across the country.
• SEND believes that advocacy does not need to be adversarial; it can be a collaborative effort between civil society and government actors, particularly at the district level.
Ruba Ishak works on the Transparency and Accountability team for the ONE Campaign, an international advocacy organization taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease.