It was 2016 and I was engaged to train Auditors-General in the Pacific area in how to approach infrastructure performance audits. Their audit offices, like their countries, were not well resourced and they could ill afford to waste time and resources. It was important that they focused on the key issues and got their messages across to decision makers. With my colleague, Kerry McGovern, I spent a week in Port Moresby. At the closing party I was honoured with the title ‘Mama’. I thought this was simply a recognition of my age, but no, “mama” meant a wise woman who leads a village. I was enchanted! Who would not want to be wise and lead a village? And is this not what councils do?
So when approached last week to help the UN who are preparing a manual to assist local governments in under-developed countries struggling to adopt AM, I was happy to oblige. I spoke with Kerry and we prepared out ‘top dozen’, as follows.
What needs to be added?
Build with your own labour and your own local materials. This will ensure you have the skills and ability to maintain what you build.
Learn to say ‘No’ when donors offer to build something for you with their labour, or to use imported materials when local alternatives are available. Always seek out alternative practices that use local. Welcome financial assistance if, and only if, it strengthens the ability of your own people in the construction, operation and maintenance of the new assets. That is necessary to ensure that the assets will remain functional.
Prioritise. Do not accept ‘nice to have’ assets, such as sports stadia or entertainment centres, even as donations, if you have more critical requirements in power, water, roads or communications.
There is no such thing as a ‘free asset’. Every asset costs you. Not only does it require continuous operational costs such as lighting/heating/cleaning, but it will distract the attention of high level decision makers away from other issues.
‘Best practice’ and ‘high tech’ can be deceptive. The real ‘best practice’ is the one that you have the skills and abilities to apply over the longer haul. The same for ‘high tech’. The more complicated the technology the more chances are that something will go wrong and that you will be unable to fix it without outside help. And that help may not be available when needed.
Give your Auditors-General responsibility for auditing the performance of all public infrastructure for both effectiveness and efficiency – and fund and train them in the ability to do so.
Be clear on what is to be achieved. Assist the Auditors-General by ensuring that all infrastructure proposals – whether with local or donated funds – state clearly the expected outcomes, in addition to cost and time.
Identify who is going to operate the asset, who is going to maintain the asset – both scheduled maintenance, and unscheduled maintenance and the costs of enabling the operation and maintenance over the entire life of the asset. Then, with that estimate to hand (and preferably arrived at with input from the people who are going to do it) identify the source of funds to pay for all this.
If using loan funds to pay for the asset, add interest and redemption payments to the operating and maintenance costs. Ensure you factor in the administrative costs of meeting lender requirements, including the cost of training staff to meet them.
You may need to train workers to operate and manage the asset. Negotiate with the education department to find out what is involved in ensuring a supply of skilled people, able to operate and maintain the asset and administer loans / grants for the asset.
Consider how the country is going to set up the support systems to enable the asset to function as intended. For example, if a road, what vehicles will be using the road? where will people obtain these vehicles? how will they be maintained and operated? Who will pay for that? What income streams will cover the costs of the asset PLUS using the asset in your country.
Plan for the safe treatment of waste generated by the asset (in both construction and use – eg. disposal of old cars, mitigation of petrol fumes, unused bitumen, water run off, etc.)