government

Propaganda of the Deed

The children of Marinaleda have the pleasure to tell you about the situation in Andalusia and specifically, Marinaleda. A few days ago, our parents, in an open assembly, agreed to go on hunger strike. We are in solidarity with them. We have been on hunger strike for several days.

Why are we on hunger strike? We are on hunger strike because our parents have already spent six months living on the alms of community employment. In our village people earn not even two hundred pesetas a day, because sometimes they only work two days a month. We live in such poverty that some families have to borrow money from their neighbours, because the shops no longer give them credit. Put yourself in our place and think: is it fair that while some children are on holiday with their parents and families, others don’t know if they will eat that night? Is it fair that while some children have private tutors, others can’t even attend state schools? Is it fair that while some waste large amounts of money on toys and luxuries, others have no shoes to wear and must go barefoot?

We don’t think it is, and that is why we are on hunger strike. That is why we have gone several days without food, and we won’t stop until a solution arrives, because this situation is unbearable. It is even more unbearable in a land as rich as Andalusia.

Friend: the problem in our land is serious, and so we are going to continue fighting alongside out parents. W will continue fighting because the problem is also ours; so please consider and answer these questions. What will become of us? What is our future? Your future, we imagine, is already resolve, but what of ours? Who will resolve ours?

This is not a fairy tale, but a real situation which you will never know . . . We ask you with all our hearts to stop and think, and perhaps you’ll feel anger or pity and you or your parents will us some solution.

Sorry if these words are strong, but our hunger is stronger. Greetings from your friends. Marinaleda.

The children of the small Andalusian village of Marinaleda wrote the above letter to Prince Felipe, son of King Juan Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, and, at the time, twelve years old.

25spain-mapIt was August 1980, five years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, when 700 residents – men, women and children – of Marinaleda decided to host the ‘hunger strike against hunger’ (una huelga de hambre contra el hambre) for nine days. As one newspaper cartoon put it at the time: “700 on hunger strike in Marinaleda; the rest, just hungry.”

The village initial demand upon launching the hunger strike was for an increase in ‘community employment funds’ (essentially, paid public-works projects for the unemployed). The village was is a truly desperate state by the summer of 1980. In the first seven months of the year they had received an equivalent of 200 pesetas per family per day – less than two euros. Ultimately, the people needed a more radial solution: land redistribution. Their fight had just begun.

This moment in history transformed the village of Marinaleda and frames Dan Hancox’s book The Village Against the World. Since the 1980s, the villagers of Marinaleda, led by the radiacl mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, have rebelled against the triple repression of the state, the monarchy and the church.

village_against_the_world_pb_cmyk-f8442eed8e2828cd6089edd67ff574b5In 1985, labourers from Marinaleda and the nearby pueblos of Gilena and Utrera started to occupy the lands of the Duke of Infantado, owner of 17,000 hectares in Andalusia. At the time, unemployment was 65 percent in Marinaleda, while 50 percent of land in Andalusia was owned by just 2 percent of families. The people wanted land reform to change this injustice.

They were requested the state redistribute 1,200 hectares. On this 1,200-hectare estate the only things growing, for mile in every direction, were wheat and sunflowers – it required only three or four caretakers to tend to it. The people were idle and the land was idle: the resolution was obvious.

Eventually in 1991, they were granted the 1,200 hectares and the Duke of Infantado was quietly paid off by the regional government. The people of Marinaleda finally became landlords.

They didn’t rest on their laurels, but continued la lucha throughout the 1990s, campaigning for funds for cultural projects, for housing, or for their brethren across Andalusia: occupying the Bank of Spain, blocking the high-speed AVE trains, breaking into the international airports at Malaga and Seville, occupying the Palace of San Telmo, Canal Sur Radio, and launching yet more hunger strikes, demonstrations and blockades, in the Sierra Sur and in Seville.

These historic victories showcase Marinaleda as an example for fellow communities in Spain and beyond. Villagers of Marinaleda build their own homes with materials supplied by the government, paying a ‘mortgage’ of 15 euros per months. Their is nearly full employment in Marinaleda, as unemployment is less than 5 percent, versus 36 percent in the rest of Andalusia. This is thanks to the olive oil cooperative and vegetable canning factory in the village, both of which pay higher than the national minimum wage.

The village of Marinaleda is a shining light of the possibility of decentralized governance and social enterprise.

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Selling Off the UK Government to the Lowest Bidder

Government outsourcing–contracting private companies to provide public services–can produce amazing results. The process links government revenue with business tools. When a government’s own in-house capacity is limited, contracting private companies can be an essential solution, whether it’s providing stationary or building bridges.

Outsourcing can also be a stressful exercise, as John Glenn, American astronaut and the fifth person to go into space, responded when asked how he felt sitting in a space capsule getting ready to launch and listening to the countdown: “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”

Shadow State by Alan White XX, pp.

Shadow State: Inside the Secret Companies that Run Britain
by Alan White
Oneworld, 320 pp.

Following the free-market philosophy of Margaret Thatcher, successive UK governments (whether Conservative or Labour, under Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron cabinets) have increasingly relied on massive private companies to provide essential services, like health care and prisons, previously handled by government departments. Research suggests the market for public service outsourcing has an annual turnover of £72 billion: about 24 percent of the spend on public services in the UK. Four companies dominate this landscape: G4S, Serco, Atos and Capita.

They also pay little in taxes. In November 2013 the National Audit Office (NAO) found that, despite holding government contracts worth around £4.5 billion, Atos and G4S paid no corporation tax at all in the UK in 2012. Capita only paid between £50 million and £56 million, while Serco paid £25 million.

In chapter after chapter, example after example, Alan White’s book Shadow State shines a light on the murky, highly lucrative world of government outsourcing and privatization in the United Kingdom. In addition to revealing the inner workings of the largest companies that perform public services, White examines the government’s responsibility to the public who use these services.

As Mark Fox of the British Service Association notes: “when you outsource or privatize…you don’t outsource political responsibility for things” (pp. 215). On the difficulty of holding the UK’s highly centralized government accountability, White notes: “sometimes things go wrong because of contractors, sometimes it’s almost entirely the government department’s fault, and most of the time it’s a combination of the two. But what’s most important is that if blame for poor performance often seems difficult to disentangle between state and private contractor, that’s hardly helped by the mechanisms we have in place to assess such projects” (pp. 151).

The state and the private contractors it hires wield incredible power in pursuit of profits and reduced budgets. Decisions are often tailored to the benefit of businesses and not citizens. White’s book shows why the private sector isn’t democratic, accountable or transparent. It doesn’t give the people who use the services a say. As shown in the cases below, these flaws lead to wasteful spending, injury and even death.

Outsourced Immigration: Dangerous and Unaccountable

In October 2010 Jimmy Mubenga died “a very public death on the last row of seats on a full British Airways flight that was sitting on the runway at Heathrow airport” (pp. 16). The flight was waiting to go to Luanda, Angola.

Handcuffed behind his back, Mubenga was saying “I don’t want to go” and “I can’t breathe” while three guards restrained him: two were sitting either side and held him down, pressing his head between his legs, while a third leaned over the passenger seat from the row in front and occasionally did the same when he managed to pushed back up. The three guards worked for G4S, which at the time had been contracted to oversee Home Office deportations.

Mubenga, who had fled Angola with his family in 1994 after the government killed his father-in-law and threatened him, was now crying for help. The technique used to restrain Mubenga, which is strictly prohibited because it could result in a form of suffocation known as positional asphyxia, was nicknamed “carpet karaoke” by G4S guards. According to one witness, Mubenga called for help around 50 times as he slowly suffocated. He soon lost consciousness and died of cardiac arrest.

In 2014, the G4S guards were acquitted of manslaughter, despite evidence of racism and denying pushing him down; they claimed that he put himself into that position, bent over in his seat.

Jimmy Mubenga is not the only person to have been restrained to death by guards from outsourcing companies. The use of force during deportations is now commonplace, as are serious injuries sustained by asylum seekers and other deportees. The 2008 Medical Justice report, Outsourcing Abuse, documented the numerous injuries sustained by asylum seekers in detention and during forcible deportations. G4S came out as the worst ‘offender’.

Physical harm, including death, has been reported in several sectors operated by outsourcing companies. Yarl’s Wood, an immigration removal detention centre operated by the outsourcing firm Serco, is a case in point. Located in Bedfordshire, this centre houses adult women and adult family groups awaiting immigration clearance. It also houses “a culture of abuse, racism and violence” according to a Daily Mirror undercover investigation. Women are subjected to sexual advances, abuse and assault by the male security guards, including a guard getting a woman pregnant. Guards use the threat of deportation to silence women forced to have inappropriate relations. One woman had been held for four years, which, when one considers the fact that none of these people have been charged with an offence, seems needlessly cruel. Despite these stories and investigations, Serco’s contract to run Yarl’s Wood was renewed in 2014 for eight more years, and it was paid £70 million for the job.

White notes that “there’s a clear need for our legal and political systems to improve the standards of accountability and it extends far beyond this case or other assaults.” As Clare Sambrook pointed out to White in 2013: “G4S [and other outsourcing companies] operate[s] in many countries where such matters don’t come to light” (pp.26).

The Guardian, which broke the story of Mubenga’s death, only realized there was something up because its reporters tracked posts from passengers on the plane who were using Twitter. Because private companies are accountable to their shareholders and not the taxpayers who fund their contracts, transparency is often lacking. In the aftermath of Mubenga’s death, shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan wrote to the four companies responsible for most of the outsourced work involving detaining and transporting suspects and criminals. He got mixed results (pp. 167):

“Serco responded in the most detail, closely followed by Sodexo. GEOAmey refused to divulge any information, instead directing my request to the Ministry of Justice. G4S did not provide any information directly, instead mentioning that the Ministry of Justice and Home Office would respond formally. Unfortunately, neither did.”

It needs to be said that government also has its role in these failures. As White notes, many problems are due to chaotic governance, not the agents of the state. An exchange from the “Atos Work Capability Assessments”, 17 January 2013, between Labour MP Kevan Jones and Conservative MP Robert Halfon is helpful in highlighting both the lack of accountability by government officials who sign outsourcing contracts and their inability to stop subsequent contracts to under-performing firms (pp. 54):

Mr. Jones: The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the first contract with Atos was introduced by the previous government, but why did the preset government renew and extend that contract even though they knew about all the problems that he and others have raised in the House?

Mr. Halfon: This is where I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was very disturbed when Atos got the contract for the personal independence payments.

Mr. Jones: That happened under this government.

Mr. Halfon: Yes, that is what I am saying. The reasons that were given included the fact that the infrastructure was already in place, and the cost of changing the contractor.

The current system is clearly in a dysfunctional state.

Criminal Justice For Sale: Making Things Worse

The private sector’s role in delivering detention services, for adults and children, is growing but not leading to improved conditions, as Chapter 4 shows. Once people leave detention, they face a probation system that is flawed and seems to be working against them.

In April 2012, HMP Oakwood, in Wolverhampton, opened at a cost of £180 million. The G4S-run prison would house more than 1,600 inmates. The jail was soon branded “Jokewood” due to repeated negative news headlines. There was stories of prison gangs running the institution and protests, where inmates accessed the roof for more than five hours. One prisoner told the Guardian (pp. 83):

“I’ve been in jails all over the country. But this was the worst. It’s a shit-hole staffed by kids who should be stacking shelves.” He added that it was easy to get drugs and alcohol: “It’s easy to get hooch, even easier to get Black Mamba [synthetic cannabis]. The parcels are chucked over the fence.”

Of the 13 private prisons in England Wales, “Oakwood and Thameside in London received a rating of one out of four (‘overall performance is of serious concern’), who two others had a two rating (‘overall performance is of concern’)” (pp. 84). This amounts to 30 percent of private prisons being of concern. What is the figure for publicly run prisons? Nine percent. Of the 121 publicly run prisons, only one received a ranking of one (0.8 percent), and only ten achieved a rating of two (8 percent). “Violence is four times higher at Serco-run HMP Doncaster that at a comparable-sized state-run prison” (pp. 85).

The ratings come after private security companies G4S and Serco came under fire for overcharging the government by “tens of millions of pounds” for providing electronic tags for criminals. It triggered a government-wide review of all contracts held by the two firms.

Services within the courts have also been negatively affected by the injection of private companies. A 2013 statistical bulletin from the MoJ showed that courts weren’t being provided with interpreters nearly once every ten times. On each occasion this led to days being lost at crown court, it cost around £10,000–by December 2013 it had cost the Crown Prosecution Service around £17 million in total (pp. 93). These costs and delays were widespread following the government’s move away from the National Register for Public Service Interpreters, an independent voluntary regulator for the 2,200 qualified, largely self-employed, interpreters to private companies.

One such company was Applied Language Services (ALS), which was acquired by Capita before their £90 million, five-year contract was signed. ALS/Capita immediately started to cut pay to interpreters, resulting in a boycott. Staff shortages impaired the courts weekly: murder cases were delayed, friends had to interpret for each other and cases were adjourned due to lack of interpreter. The government eventually admitted its failure, as one Liberal Democrat MP said (pp. 92):

“The department did not have an adequate understanding of the needs of courts, it failed to heed warnings from the professionals concerned, and it did not put sufficient safeguards in place to prevent interruptions in the provision of quality interpreting services to courts. The MoJ’s handling of the outsourcing of court interpreting services has been nothing short of shambolic.”

In a similar vain, the Probation Service were being outsourced to a handful of private providers, without any meaningful piloting or testing, while also severing the working relationship with local authorities, the health service and the police. Shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan wrote about the dangers to public safety that privatization has brought to the Probation Service (pp. 105):

“I’ve heard some truly alarming reports on the chaos privatization is causing: staff shortages caused by rocketing sickness levels and dozens of unfilled vacancies are crippling the service.

“As a result, a backlog of cases is building up, including offenders who have committed serious, violent crimes like domestic violence. Oversight of sex offenders has been handed to staff without the right expertise. High-risk cases aren’t receiving sufficient supervision. Court reports are going unwritten. Senior management time has been sucked into restructuring, neglecting day-to-day duties rehabilitating offenders. New software designed to assess the risk that offenders pose to the public was rushed into service without adequate staff training. It is a shocking state of affairs, which could have catastrophic consequences for public safety.”

Regarding the justice system in the UK, White concludes (pp. 108):

“Whether it’s in the courts, prisons or probation, the Ministry of Justice has outsourced at a breakneck speed in recent years. In part, it’s been done to save money–but all three cases there’s an earnest belief that private companies can bring imagination and creativity to the sectors within which they operate. However, the problem is that the decisions to outsource appear not to have yielded any particularly impressive results yet, while the rush to impose this brave new vision has upset established workers within the justice sector.”

Private Health Care: Poor Value for Money

A final sector to examine is health care. Founded in 1948, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has seen a steady shift towards private firms in recent years, with a rise in the proportion of the NHS budget going to firms such as Virgin Care, Care UK and Bupa. Department of Health figures show that the amount of its funding that has gone to “independent sector providers” more than doubled from £4.1 billion in 2009-10 to £8.7 billion in 2015-16.

One rationale claimed by politicians for the privatization of essential services, like health care, is reducing cost. However, as White shows, private contractors use complicated accounting techniques, networks of corporate partnerships and debt-inducing loans to shift their financial risk from themselves onto taxpayers. Private contractors seek to maximize the number of transactions regardless of demand. Many NHS provider operate a loss-leader model where they take annual losses, surviving on funding secured from investors on the promise of more NHS work. “What would happens if this model failed before it succeeded?” White asks. And answers (pp. 124):

“In 2008 Circle took out a £42 million loan from Barclays to open a new independent sector treatment centre at Nottingham’s Queen’s Medical Centre. It was to be repaid through income from the local NHS buying its services. It seemed Circle couldn’t meet the five percent interest rate, so the NHS paid the bill in full, as apparently the firm had an ‘unconditional right’ to compel it to do so.”

Circle Health is owned by a parent company, Circle Holdings plc, which in turn is owned by a series of hedge funds. In just one year, their profits have gone up 160 percent (!), from £64.6 million in 2010/11 to £170.4 million in 2011/12. This type of corporate welfare has become commonplace. Private businesses profit when things go smooth and taxpayers pay the price when things fail.

Social care is another area the government has been outsourcing, with troubling results. There are around five thousand young people in residential care homes–and around three quarters of these homes are run by private companies. In 2011, the top five providers had turned a profit of £30 million. Companies, like Sovereign and 3i, make these high profits by buying up cheap housing stock around the country, to which vulnerable children can be shunted. By shifting childcare from charities to private equity firms, staffing has reduced and children have been abused. In a 2012 report, published by Social Enterprise UK, figures show “that children’s homes in England–caring for 3,040 boys and 1,800 girls–had reported 631 suspected cases of young residents being sold for sex in the past five years. These are just the reported cases: the true figure is likely to be far higher” (pp. 130). The private sector’s business model of moving vulnerable children around exacerbates some of the problems they’re already facing.

Final Thoughts

Beyond the normal discussions regarding conflicts of interest and inaccurate contract pricing, the public (in the UK and elsewhere) need to question the fundamental theory of government outsourcing and privatization. Unlike public infrastructure, essential services are a matter of life and death. Immigration, criminal justice and health care are fundamentally human endeavors. As Peter Holbrook, the CEO of Social Enterprise UK, notes: “most public services rely on human relationships, so upscaling leads to a huge degradation in the quality of service” (pp. 131).

The growing dominance of a few private contractors has lead the UK government to label them as “too big to fail”, meaning that their financial risk is ultimately held by taxpayers. As the world saw with the global financial crisis in 2008, companies were making record profits while the general public went unprotected from corporate greed. Ultimately, the outsourcing of a wide variety of public services to a few bodies is a risk we can not afford.

Increased accountability and transparency are fundamental to preventing the problems discussed above. One of the best ways to achieve these ends in by implementing local solutions on a smaller scale. The Paddington Development Trust (PDT) is a great example of this. The PDT runs youth services, health centres and academies, has refurbished community centres, and has been involved in many more projects, most of which are designed to create employment and business opportunities to residents. The fundamental decision for a government is whether to let money go to companies or inject it into local organizations.

Alan White closes by balancing the gloomy present with an optimistic future (pp. 249-250):

“The general public barely knows this industry exists. Yet it’s an industry that has been responsible for such poor quality service that lives have been lost, that the nation was embarrassed on a global stage in 2012, that the government has been defrauded, that vulnerable people, young and old, around the country, have been repeatedly let down by the state, and still it remains one of the things on which the political class pins its hope for the delivery of public services. Without true transparency, accountability and a market that allows a proper diversity of providers to flourish, the same horrifying stories will be generated, time and again. Until then, the shadow state continues to thrive.”

TOMS Shoes

When I walked into the Social Welfare office to give training on Microsoft Excel (as I usually attempted every week), I was confronted by a pile of boxes next to the door. These didn’t seem like anything special at first glance. They were stacked tightly, with the odd computer printer box mixed in for a splash of diversity. There are many departments that have things in there office, waiting to be handed out. Youth Employment has had bicycles and hair dryers. Community Development has had large bags of Ionized Salt. So, I went to take my seat, not thinking too much of them.

The boxes themselves were very plain. Crumbled and stamped with basic text. They read “Toms Not For Resale”. It took me a few glances and a more carefully reading to understand what the boxes were trying to say. They were Toms shoes and the were meant “Not For Resale”. These were indeed the end of the supply chain from all those American and European malls where people buy Toms shoes at retail price and expect that one pair will be delivered to someone in need. I was actually seeing the result of that business model.

Sadly, I would be returning to Steven’s office many times before experiencing the shoes being used. Steven is the department officer of Social Welfare. He has a few office staff and all of them have field duties in addition to what they must do in the officer, mainly involving reporting. It was about a month of me asking Steven for updates before he was able to start handing out shoes to children. 

There was the one week where it looked like we were going to go out to visit the schools, but the volunteer from Best Generation Community Foundation (the Ghana organization that was actually coordinating the distribution of shoes along with local government officers) was unable to make it up from Accra. So, again we waited. Luckily, Steven was able to make some progress working by himself. He visited the various schools and tabulated lists of needy children.

Then the next week there was an issue getting a vehicle. Like many smaller, newly decentralized departments, Social Welfare doesn’t actually have its own means of transportation. You can only imagine the frustration this causes when you need to visit a village an hours drive away. But I digress.

In the end, we were able to get a vehicle and all the volunteers were in town. Everything was in order. First stop, St Kizito A Primary School – one of the many primary schools found within Bole. Here, 24 children would be receiving a brand new pair of black Toms shoes. For some, it would be their first pair of new shoes. For others, it would be their first pair, period.

Only a few minutes drive from the District Assembly, we arrived at St Kizito during the perfect time – during class. The students about to receive their donation were already pulled out from class and could be interviewed without any interruption from fellow classmates. Although many were curious and watching from inside the school quarters.

Children fell into three general groups: those with new-ish footwear, mainly bathroom sandals and one or two with actually sneakers; those with bathroom sandals that were cracked or missing a piece; and those with nothing, bare footed.

The children provided their names and stood for some stereotypical “before” photos. Then the boxes were offloaded from the rear of our truck, ready for handout. Chooses sizes posed a difficult challenge, as most children had no idea what size of feet they had. So, round and round, the “try it on and see if they fits” attempts went. All in all, it went pretty smoothly. This was the first attempt for everyone involved, seemingly.

After the school visit, I was returned to the office. But the group of volunteers and government officers continued on to Sonyo Primary and one other school for more distributions. In the end, they handed over more than 300 pairs of shoes that day.

Here are some other children who received a bit of happiness that day.

During the short ride I had with the volunteer from Best Generation, he was able to provide a few additional facts. Not only was Bole District receiving 1,000 pairs of Toms shoes, but so were many other Districts. This was the first round of donations from Toms in Ghana. Although they would be returning in 6 months, and presumably, on a continuing basis, both me and Steven questioned whether the proposed plan of giving these same children another, slightly larger pair of shoes was the best tactic.

They might hand over their old pair to a sibling or friend, but from the visits Steven went on, there was an astounding need for shoes. How about the children that will receive nothing and continue to walk bare foot?

I encourage any readers to not just go out and buy a pair of Toms shoes because of this post, but to question the reasons why children across the world are unable to afford such basic necessities, like footwear.

Thank you.

On the Job Redux

After a lengthy discussion with my EWB coach one Friday, I was able to focus my energy into 2 impact projects: Data Analysis and Project Management. Both of these relate to things I’m more experienced in and, most importantly, have an interest in pursuing.

IMPACT #1: DATA ANALYSIS

For data analysis, I will be shifting my focus from just the 4 main departments – health, education, agriculture, and water & sanitation – to those departments most excited to delve into their data looking for answers. The steps I hope to work on in my time here are as follows.

  1. Determine Starting Point: perform a survey of all departments and catalogue resources and skill level.
  2. Get People on Board: present a group presentation to gauge excitement and willingness to learn.
  3. Work Together: perform 1-on-1 workshops to increase people’s capacity.
  4. Understand the Data: facilitate discussions to lead to deeper understanding of the information collected from the field.
  5. Share with Others: have partner department present findings in front of all departments in a meeting.

After my initial survey, I found that almost all officers had a computer, which is the starting point. Most had a very basic or no understanding of Microsoft Excel and how to use it. They had maybe opened it a year ago, but forgot what they learnt due to lack of use. From my results, the need was great, with 10 organizations available for workshops. These partner departments are:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Education
  3. Social Welfare
  4. Community Development
  5. Finance
  6. Human Rights
  7. Youth Employment
  8. Audit Services
  9. Rural Enterprises
  10. Environmental Health

After the survey of departments, I moved to performing a group presentation (step 2) to get everyone introduced to MS Excel. I went over how it looks, what can go in a worksheet, and then some basic math functions. 

I tried my best to have them involved throughout, so that it wasn’t just another presentation that would be forgotten. The highlight was the second half, when I gave them problems to solve. Luckily, one of the participants brought a laptop so along with mine, we had two to use.

I am now in the process of step 3 – creating and initiating workshops on a more personal basis. There is a lot of excitement in the department for this training, so I hope everything goes well. I am most excited to test out my teaching skills and see what results we create together.

IMPACT #2: PROJECT MANAGEMENT

It should be no surprise to anyone, who knows that I’ve been working in Project Management, what my second impact focus should be. There are many development projects occurring in the district: schools, dams, roads, health facilities, economic programs, and more.

After interviewing many government officers involved in the implementation of these projects, I received many ideas on improvement. The ideas span from before construction, during construction, and after construction. One example is to change the project handover from a dry, bureaucratic procedure to a more involved community gathering. This should help to get the community on board for the lifetime of the project.

Some ideas seem easy, while others are very lofty. Some with have a big impact, while others might not change anything. I will hope to implement some, or more realistically, one of these ideas.

On the Job

After a few weeks of work at the Bole District Assembly, I’m slowly finding my bearings. Here’s my office for the next few months. Specifically, Office 6 on the 3rd floor.

I am working in one of the Central Administrative departments – the District Planning and Coordinating Unit (DPCU). My main colleagues are the District Coordinating Director (DCD, or “Director”), District Planning Officer (DPO, or “Planner”), and the District Budget Officer (DBO, or “Budget”). One thing that’s different than at home is the use of job titles rather than names. You may be walking by and someone says “Good Morning, Environment,” rather than the District Environmental Officer’s real name: Peter.

The DPCU and I will soon be looking at the planning season and sorting through requests from the various departments: Health, Education, Food & Agriculture, Community Development, and others. My main focus lies in researching and assisting 3 areas: Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM), Department Collaboration, and Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E).

Before 2009, the various districts (there are about 212 within the country) were operating with different databases spread across different departments. The unit charged with planning did not have access to this information, or it was difficult to understand. Now after many years of work, there are a few districts (6) that EWB has helped to centralize. Information on everything from classroom sizes to the number of chickens in a particular town or area are gathered into one document. This can then be analyzed to determine if a department’s request is valid or could be adjusted.

From the graph I created below, you can clearly see that one area is not like the others. Using data collected in 2011, it shows the contrast between population and outpatient sizes at the various health facilities. There are a total of 6 areas within the Bole district. Three are considered urban: Bole, Bamboi, and Tinga. And the remaining three are considered rural: Mandari, Mankuma, and Jama. I’d be interested in getting your thoughts on why the Bole health facility is seeing many more outpatients that the population it serves. What do you think is causing this anomaly?

One of the areas that I’m still figuring out where I can help add value is in department collaboration. Ghana is still in the process of decentralization, whereby the local government will be given near complete control of the departments in their area. Previously, this work was coordinated from the national level, but has step-by-step given down to the districts. I hope that by the end of my placement, Bole’s Mission Statement will be just a little bit closer to perfection.

From my earlier post, you may be getting a hint of my last area of exploration: Monitoring and Evaluation, or M&E in most international development circles. My past experience in the project management sector has been a great help in understanding this area of work, as it mainly relates to the execution and follow-up of a project. The project may be a school, health facility, borehole, agro-processing center, or a road (as in the photos below).

Two weeks ago, I joined the DPCU and RPCU (their regional counterparts) for a field visit to a feeder road outside Dbogdda. There were men chopping down trees, with women and children clearing the bush, in preparation for the widening of the road. From the work that was already completed, there was a remarkable difference in the performance of the road and the smoothness of travel. The photos below are on the same road, before and after road construction.

I will be adding more stories from work and from home life in the upcoming days and nights. If you have any requests for stories, feel free to put them in the comments section and I will try my best to fulfill them.