Can Sustainability Really be Achieved without “Government-led” Development?


Parallel Programming – “Speedier” but at What Long-Term Cost?

You have most likely heard the term “parallel programing” – but do you know what it really means? It is the process of implementing development programs outside (parallel to) the official government process. It means that government, whether national or local, is not the final decision maker and the program funds are not implemented through the government financial management system. This often takes place due to weak accountability and transparency mechanisms within the government (particularly local government), and the potential for speedier implementation of development activities and thus more immediate impact with targeted communities.

Long-Term Sustainability and Scalability

However, these same justifications for parallel programing are undermining the long-term sustainability and scalability of development initiatives. Why? Because it is government that is solely responsible for development in a country – government will remain while development partners come and go. The reasons for not implementing initiatives through a government system are the exact reasons why we should be. How will the transparency and accountability of government systems improve if development partners are not using those systems to demonstrate how they can be improved? Allowing civil servants to build their capacity within their own systems in a relevant context would allow capacities as well as processes to improve. Improved government capacities and processes also would mean speedier processes in the medium to long term. Governments would gain experience, with the technical support of development partners, in making decisions more quickly because they would have a better understanding of why those decisions need to be made, and how to make and implement them. Results and pilot initiatives could also be scaled up to have more impact and reach more people in the long-term. Scalability really only happens when the government plays a role.

Government-led Development to Achieve an “Infinite Life Span”

Take for example local economic development. Parallel projects generally release grants to communities or NGOs to undertake economic development activities such as building markets, or investing in small businesses or training in a specific livelihoods sector. Which is all fine and well – recipients see immediate results and impact – but they lack the support of their local governments to ensure the enabling environment, infrastructure, and long-term financing opportunities are present. In a parallel process, local governments are not in a position to help secure sustainable results, as they lack the capital for continuous investments in local economic development. They need support to plan and budget for local economic development strategies, with financing for the implementation of these strategies implemented through the local government financial management system. Local government can guarantee loans by local banks to small business, the repayment of which could then be used to finance further economic initiatives. The growing number of sustainable businesses could mean increased tax revenues to improve local infrastructure for the distribution of goods and services, improving access to major commercial centers, etc. The point is that funds for economic development that are channeled through the government system have an infinite life span – investments have the potential to generate income that can circle back and create more investments, income, and economic growth.

Development Economy Lies Outside Government

Funding for economic development that is implemented outside of the government system does not circle back for reinvestment and continuous future growth. The same goes for education – schools built with funds sourced from outside of the government system do not have long term sustainability because as the school is not a legal government asset there is no legal basis to provide a budget for the school’s operations and maintenance. The same goes for markets, health centers, and youth centers.

Government-led Development – Worth the Investment in Long-Term Sustainability

Working with and through government may take longer, and may initially pose greater financial risks given concerns about mismanagement, but it offers longer term impacts, and the potential to reduce the risk of corruption and mismanagement over time. This does not mean that NGOs don’t play an important role in development, through advocacy and awareness, promoting civic engagement, etc. But if you are looking for sustainability and scalability, investments in development initiatives will be most effective and their results longer lasting when the government is in the driver’s seat.

Kanava International