Evaluating RAP – 85S&T evaluated the Rural Anti-poverty Programme (RAP-85) – Jowie Mulaudzi summarises the findings:
Literature on rural development has focused in part on the wisdom of speeding up anti-poverty programme delivery, especially in rural areas. ‘Fast tracking’ sounds comfortingly ‘can-do’ – but may disguise fundamental contradictions between speed and sustainability.
Rural development researchers and practitioners argue that community participation and empowerment are vital components of effective and sustainable development. A cornerstone of this is the involvement of communities in defining, planning and managing the implementation of development programmes. ‘Ownership’ at community level is critical for post construction phase operation and maintenance. The problem is that generating and sustaining community participation is slow, uneven, rarely linear, and does not obey centrally determined (and budget-driven) timetables.
In November 1997, the Department of Finance announced an allocation of R85m to the National Department of Public Works (NDPW) from the Poverty Relief Fund. A directive from the department stated that the allocated monies should be spent by the 31st March 1998 – a four month window. The two imperatives – participatory development and budgetary timetables – were brought into sharp focus.
The NDPW designed the Rural Anti-Poverty Programme (RAP-85) as the delivery vehicle. RAP-85 was also the first phase of implementing the re-aligned Community Based Public Works Programme (CBPWP). The programme was implemented between 1997 and 1998.
In 2000, the NDPW commissioned S&T to undertake a summative evaluation of RAP-85. The evaluation was to focus on various issues, including the impact of ‘fast-track’ delivery on the and lessons to be learned from the whole exercise.
Methods S&T developed a research strategy in consultation the NDPW. The research strategy entailed: n A literature review of local and international material.n Case studies of one cluster from the Eastern Cape (Tsolo), KwaZulu-Natal (Shobashobane) and the Northern Province (Ga-Mamabolo). n A survey of workers in the three provinces. n An audit of all RAP-85 projects in all three provinces. The case studies were qualitative in nature, and included a review of available programme documents in the three clusters, in-depth interviews with role players, and site visits to review the assets in the clusters.
Institutional arrangementsInstead of using the provincial departments of public works as delivery agents (true of earlier phases of the CBPWP), delivery was devolved to municipalities through regional/district councils. Provincial Departments of Public Works (PDPW) were responsible for monitoring and evaluation.
Financial systemsAt the onset of the programme, problems were experienced with financial systems resulting in delays in the payment of claims. This hit emerging contractors hard, since they lacked financial reserves from which to pay workers, creating tensions between contractors and workers at site level.
Provincial programme management teamsThe national programme management team sub-contracted provincial programme managers to carry out programme management functions at local level. Provincial programme managers together with cluster and technical managers, social consultants as well as local players made up provincial programme management teams. At project level, community steering committees, social facilitators, cluster managers and local stakeholders made up the project team.
Community participationCommunity participation in the identification and selection of projects has been a hallmark of the CBPWP. RAP-85 struggled to fast-track community based development – and the inherent tensions were inevitably resolved by the need to spend rather than the requirements of community participation. When asked who decided on projects to be implemented, less than half (43%) of former RAP-85 workers mentioned community leaders, community committees or the community itself. A fifth indicated that local government and/or traditional leaders selected projects. Establishing national and provincial teams to manage the implementation of RAP-85 was a time consuming process, and it was not possible for communities to be adequately involved in identifying assets. As a result, the programme mainly provided assets from the ‘social cohesion’ category – predominantly educational facilities – and only a limited number of directly productive or labour saving assets. Time constraints forced programme managers to compromise on up-front community participation; this had a ripple effect throughout the rest of the programme.
Selection of workers
The programme aimed to target the poorest of the poor. Even here, however, corners were cut: one in ten project workers were in full time or part-time employment when they took up employment on RAP-85. Wage rates were uneven across the three provinces, but were clearly too high: RAP-85 pulled workers from existing jobs into a public works programme, precisely what such programmes are not meant to do.
Training Provision of training for workers has been a long-standing goal of the CBPWP, although one it has struggled to realise in practice. The overwhelming majority (93%) of RAP-85 workers received no training at all – not even ‘on-the-job’ training. But the programme did manage to transfer skills – even without offering training – and a number of former workers, who had managed to find casual work after the programme, felt they had learned skills that enhanced their employability.
Design, location and quality of assetsAlthough communities enjoyed limited involvement in determining the design and location of projects, survey respondents had positive attitudes regarding these issues. Two-thirds (67%) told us the design was appropriate, and over four-fifths (86%) believe the location of the assets was appropriate. Almost three-quarters (71%) of respondents told us the assets delievered to their communities were of good quality.
Community gains from the programmeA fifth (20%) of respondents stated that RAP-85 made no difference to their communities’ income levels; and nine out of ten felt that the employment situation had not changed. While counter-factual, it is fair to wonder whether these responses would have been different, had RAP-85 had the time to fully implement the goals of the re-aligned CBPWP, particularly the focus on economic assets.
Impact on objectives The lack of time for planning and consultation meant that the goals of the re-aligned CBPWP - to deliver clusters of assets that could kick-start or enhance local economic activity, with a secondary emphasis on improving social cohesion – were not achieved. But the evaluation shows that those goals could not have been achieved within the 4-month window period. Rather, RAP-85 provided assets that communities wanted, and achieved considerable success. ‘Fast tracking’ – coupled with the fear of monies being clawed back by Treasury and resultant media criticism - obliged the programme managers to do what was feasible, rather than what was desirable.
Conclusion Evaluating RAP-85 is complex. The evaluation was commissioned two years after the programme was completed, leading to methodological and logistical challenges. Moreover, the programme objectives were in direct conflict with the exceptionally tight timeframes attached to the Poverty Relief Fund grant. If RAP-85 is judged against the extent to which it achieved the objectives of the CBPWP, it would be regarded as a failure. If it is judged merely by the criterion of providing functional assets, the picture is more positive. But it can only be judged in context – and that context was determined and dominated by the timeframes. Future Poverty Relief Fund grants reflect a greater understanding of and sensitivity to the complexities of delivering community-based development. To insist on participatory development and provision of sustainable assets in a 4-month window period is to insist on the impossible.