This article was originally published by ONE‘s Follow the Money Campaign.
By Ruba Ishak
Ghana had a plan to tackle poverty: provide children in public primary schools and kindergartens in the poorest areas of the country with one hot, nutritious meal per day from locally grown food. This was the goal of the Ghana School Feeding Program (GSFP) that began in 2007. After the program launched, however, it soon became apparent that poor governance and accountability was enabling widespread misuse of funds by local officials. Ordinary citizens and civil society, coordinated by the Social Enterprise Development Foundation (SEND), Ghana, stepped in and worked to uncover what was happening in their local schools.
Between 2007 and 2010, SEND monitored the GSFP to ensure that it met its three social aims:
- Improving nutrition of school children
- Improving hygiene infrastructure for children
- Providing support to local farmers
The first step was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the GSFP National Secretariat to provide legitimacy at the ground level. SEND believes it is critical to create partnerships with local officials and schools, which helps them gain access to information and data that would not be easily obtained otherwise. Next, SEND coordinated monitoring activities, involving an extensive network of citizen monitoring committees. They visited beneficiary schools and interviewed stakeholders to gather data about the feeding program, such as, assessing the quality of meals served, whether a source of safe water was available, and whether funds were being managed transparently.
The findings revealed that a number of problems were plaguing the school feeding program. More than 50 percent of schools’ basic infrastructure, such as access to clean water and sanitation facilities, was found to be inadequate. Parents and local farmers were being excluded from the decision-making process, and accountability mechanisms and transparency were weak. There were also frequent violations of procurement procedures. One of the core problems identified was that schools simply could not afford to feed the children at their schools.
SEND presented its findings to authorities and schools at the district and regional level to encourage them to address the inefficiencies in the program. The findings were published in two independently reviewed reports to draw national attention to the failings of the GSFP. SEND partnered with local media on a public advocacy campaign, publishing newsletters, producing policy briefs targeted to Members of Parliament, and using evidence-based stories to profile the failings of the GSFP.
The Ghanaian government was initially critical of SEND’s budget monitoring work. After being pressured, however, it ultimately acted on it, changing the program’s leadership and establishing a GSFP review committee, which launched a review of the program, its management structures, and procurement procedures. SEND’s campaign led to improvements in the basic infrastructure that schools need to prepare meals for students, with schools that previously lacked clean water getting access to the district’s water tanker.
Food was sourced more locally. In two of the regions, purchases from local farmers increased to 80 percent of all food, a change that gave a much needed boost to the local economy. Improvements in health services were made, including de-worming services for children and the training of cooks in hygiene and nutrition. Education services were a focus, ensuring that there were sufficient textbooks, teachers, and support for parents. In at least six districts, formerly inactive focus groups began to meet regularly and improved their oversight of the GSFP. Several districts also began funding parts of their schools’ feeding program as a result of the local work.
SEND helped communities demand accountability from their government. One of the local committee members from Dodowa said, “we saw problems, but we didn’t know how to tackle them. […] SEND educated us and made us aware of our rights. They are the driving force behind this operation.”
- SEND believes that a memorandum of understanding is key to creating a partnership with local officials and schools and helps them get access to information and data that would not be easily obtained otherwise.
- It is important to build local capacity when collaborating with citizens on budget monitoring at the grassroots 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.
[Photo courtesy of Terry Schweitzer]