Researching the politics of development

Inside ESID


Why such a commitment to public sector reform in Rwanda?

Benjamin_150x150By Dr Benjamin Chemouni
17 February 2015
The case of public sector reforms in Rwanda is apparently exceptional. As mentioned already in the blog post presenting ESID’s Public Sector Reform project, Rwanda is an outlier in terms of state effectiveness compared to the other case studies, namely Uganda, Ghana and Malawi. Going into the details of the five core state functions identified by the project – coordination, public finance management (PFM), civil service management, auditing, and anti-corruption – Rwanda offers an interesting case, both empirically and theoretically.
First, regarding coordination and public finance management, the country has achieved visible progress. Whereas after genocide a private firm was in charge of the state’s accounting given the country’s lack of capacity, Rwanda introduced as soon as 2000 a medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) linking resources and planning for three years ahead. Its progress between the 2007 and 2010 evaluation of the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability Program, a standardised framework commonly used worldwide to evaluate PFM performance, is impressive. To what extent is such progress genuine? How to understand it in a quite technical area that often takes the backseat in state reforms?
Second, corruption is generally recognised as low in Rwanda. According to the last Transparency International Index, Rwanda is ranking 55th of 175 countries and territories. It is perceived as the fifth least corrupt country in Sub-Saharan Africa (after Botswana, Cap Verde, Seychelles, Mauritius, and tied with Lesotho and Namibia). Sanctions are harsh for crimes of corruption. Naming and shaming is used against offenders, for instance by publishing their name, and those of their parents, in a convict database. Yet debates exist regarding the level which the fight against corruption reaches. One observer argues that grand corruption might not be negligible and that party and military-owned companies may benefit from preferential treatments.
This calls for two questions. First, what does corruption actually look like in Rwanda? And, second, provided that corruption is low, what makes an elite disciplined enough not to engage in predatory practices? This is an especially relevant question, as low corruption seems to be accompanied by limited downward accountability in Rwanda, which should facilitate predatory practices.
Third, public service recruitment is under-researched in Rwanda. The point is often made that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) dominates the state apparatus. Whilst this is arguably true for political posts, no evidence of preferential recruitments exists for the vast majority of other state jobs. Powerful institutions such as the independent Public Sector Commission exist to curb clientelism and nepotism.
The peculiarity of the Rwandan case is very useful to shed a light on a dynamics central to ESID’s analyses on elite commitment. The RPF is very cohesive and dominates the political space. Downward accountability is limited. In those conditions, why would an elite bother disciplining itself not to embezzle money on a large scale, nor to engage in nepotism, while promoting demanding reforms such as PFM?
The answer to this and other questions will be provided at the end of the project.