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Building Public Finance Capabilities in Africa 2023/2024: Where praxis meets capability

3 April 2024
BPFC Blog Q4 newsletter

“There is so much more capability in our institutions than we think”. This was one of the key messages from Professor Matt Andrews[1] of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Message of Goodwill, delivered at the Progress Review Workshop (PRW) of the Building Public Finance Capabilities Programme (BPFC).

Over the past 12 months, country-teams from Benin, Guinea, Lesotho and Nigeria have participated in the BPFC programme to tackle locally nominated public finance problems using the Problem Driven Iterative Adaption (PDIA). PDIA is a step-by-step approach that facilitates local ownership, experimental learning and the emergence of local solutions to local problems.

From the 6-8 March 2024, the country-teams gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, to attend a Progress Review Workshop, which gave them a space to report back on progress made in tackling their locally identified public finance problems, unpack new learnings, present solutions they are envisaging and experimenting with, and set to out new objectives for the upcoming months. The main achievements of their work over the past 10 months is set out in the table below.

The workshop also allowed for country-teams to reflect on a transition phase to carry the work forward, by embedding a culture of critical reflection of what works and what doesn’t and an iterative adaptive approach to solving complex public policy and finance problems.

While many of these problems are not going to be resolved through a 12-month programme, the PDIA approach has allowed teams to pursue their own solutions in a way that considers their local context and to build capability in the process.


Public finance problem

Key achievements (after 10 months of action-learning)


Low execution levels of productive infrastructure projects in the agriculture sector financed through own resources

  • The team held various consultations and surveyed key stakeholders to determine the causes of delays in operationalizing the budget, namely with regards to the approval of annual workplans well as execution challenges in procurement and cash availability.
  • The team uncovered that delays often occur in the procurement stage as a result of non-adherence to turnaround times. They investigated specific procurement projects within the agriculture sector and identified that these delays often occur as a result of the complexity of documents/requirements of service providers – which they are reviewing. Given the low number of available suppliers, the team is also ascertaining how they can better support other/smaller companies in accessing these tenders.
  • The team is reviewing mechanisms for engagement between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Analysis and Investigative Office to ensure the timely approval of annual workplans.


Significant accumulation of internal arrears, which impact the implementation of public policies, penalizes service providers and taints the credibility of the State

  • The team held several consultations with relevant stakeholders to determine the extent of arrears and identified the priority sectors for particularly within the energy sector who holds most of these arrears (state owned energy company). They aim to continue these engagement further with the view of finding tailored solutions for this sector.
  • The team is putting forward solutions to improve budget forecasting techniques in order to ensure greater credibility and reliability of revenue forecasts (observers for board of directors in State Owned companies, integrate specific tax baselines in the forecasting models of the Ministry, etc)
  • The team proposed to implement an early warning system embedded in their financial information system, which will alert of impeding payment deadlines – and confirmed its feasibility with their IT department


Low access to clean and potable water due to poor water infrastructure

  • The team consulted with the project cycle management unit to understand the various organizational structures that provide input into the project appraisal process and unpack the challenges.
  • They are providing inputs to the restructuring of the Office of the Planning Cadre to the Ministry Public service in terms of the roles and skills required at various stages of the project appraisal process.
  • The team is providing inputs to the Public Investment Management section to potentially include as part of the revision of the Public Financial Management Act (PFMA).


Despite incessant government borrowing and increased spending in social sectors, capital expenditures have not met the expected outcomes

  • The team engaged relevant ministries to gather relevant data related to the implementation of projects in health and education and identified key challenges with delayed procurement processes and data availability
  • The team will be monitoring the implementation of a new OAGF circular issued in January 2024, that compels MDA to provide evidence of the completion of procurement processes before cash is released for these projects, to assess whether procurement timelines improve – and potential corrective/other measures than need to be introduced.

[1] Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and Faculty Director of the Building State Capability at Harvard, where he developed, with a team, the Problem Driven Iterative Adaption (PDIA) approach.

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