Understand the linkages between formal and informal institutions

Looking at domestic accountability systems from a sectoral perspective may allow for finer grain analysis of the key incentives and dynamics at play, and the linkages between formal and informal “rules of the game” and institutions. For example, informal agents such as traditional chiefs can be significant actors in the provision of basic services in some countries, with implications for accountability systems (Box 3.3). In addition, understanding the role of informal institutions is particularly crucial in supporting domestic accountability for gender-sensitive policy making because these tend to regulate the personal and family issues central to women’s lives. They can also be more accessible to women than formal alternatives, even though they may risk providing discriminatory outcomes (Castillejo, 2011; Chiongson et al, 2011; Swaine, 2003). However, informal institutions have often been ignored in accountability programmes focused only on formal institutions. Providing support directly to informal actors and institutions can be problematic for external actors: the examples from Mali show how a first step can be to integrate into programme design and implementation recognition of the role these actors play in practice.

Box 3.3. The role of traditional chiefs in service delivery and taxation in Mali

At the time of this study (2011), development partners in Mali’s education sector had started to apply some lessons learned about the importance of engaging with informal, traditional accountability systems, such as traditional chiefs. Working through local NGOs, customary authorities were to be consulted early in the process of setting up new school committees so as to foster their buy- in and support. Pilot projects on taxation were also reaching out to customary authorities, which formerly had the power to raise taxes and which may consider government taxation efforts as a threat to their status. In some cases, hybrid arrangements emerged, such as local councils working with customary authorities to help collect government taxes. These adaptations accommodated the fact that the chieftaincy system can have a significant impact on tax compliance at the local level - and that any attempts at reform which conflict with traditional authorities are unlikely to be successful.

Source: OECD (forthcoming), Donor Support to Domestic Accountability: Budget Processes and Service Delivery in Mali, OECD, Paris.

Understanding the linkages between formal institutions and informal practices can also ensure more feasible approaches to accountability reform. The Mali case study highlights that sound analysis of these relationships can be particularly crucial where women’s rights are concerned. In 2009 a decade of lobbying by women’s groups led to a draft family law which significantly extended women’s rights. Yet, despite having been a strong backer of the draft law and despite its adoption by Parliament, the President ended up not signing it. He was forced to admit that the population did not fully support the new code, following extended protests by tens of thousands of religious activists who were against provisions giving more rights to women. The President returned the draft law to legislators, explaining he did so for the sake of national unity. In this case, “best fit” or incremental approaches were needed in order to progressively realise rights commitments, particularly in the face of domestic opposition. This underscores the importance of understanding how religious, cultural and social values and norms may affect reform agendas.

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