Transition Studies Review

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 737–745 | Cite as

PRSP Participatory Process in Armenian: Lessoned Learned

Eurasian Studies

Abstract

Once the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) was adopted by the Armenian Government, preconditions for institutionalization of the participatory process in Armenia were initiated. The clear mechanism of participatory process was created. Reluctance of the Government towards participatory mechanisms and insufficient public participation put in doubt effectiveness and transparency of public participation process in PRSP implementation. This article discusses the Armenian experience of the institutionalization of participatory process within PRSP framework presenting achievements, failures and obstacles of this process as well as attempts towards creating PRSP new Social Partnership Institute as an advanced step of institutionalization of the participatory process.

Keywords

PRSP Social Partnership Institute Poverty reduction Participation Participation process Civil society 

JEL Classification

I30 I38 

Introduction

No region in the world has suffered reversals similar to what the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has encountered in the 1990s. The number of poor in these countries has increased dramatically. Armenia as a former Soviet state could not escape from facing the challenge of poverty. On the top of adverse consequences of the break-up of the Soviet Union, collapse of the economy common for many other former Soviet countries, in 1988 a devastating earthquake hit the country causing tremendous calamities and leaving large parts of the country’s infrastructure in ruins. Poverty became a tangible problem in Armenia after it gained independence in 1991.

Decision No. 267 of the Prime Minister initiated the development of the PRSP on May 15, 2000. Based on this decision, a Steering Committee (SC) was founded, headed by the Finance and Economy Minister and consisting of the representatives from line ministries dealing with social and poverty issues, standing committees of the Armenian National Assembly, National Statistical Service, political parties, NGOs and the donor community. The main responsibility of the PRSP SC was to organize and to coordinate the development of the Interim and later, of the full-fledged PRSP (PRSP 2003).

The World Bank became the major contributor to the poverty reduction process, as one of the main players in helping the national government to cope with this phenomenon. As a result, in 2003 the Government of Armenia approved “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper” (PRSP). Initiating the PRSP was a start for creating a culture of participatory processes. The prerequisites for social partnership development were established. The efforts to set the participation on an institutional basis had been made, institutions were created and many parties were involved. However, although the Government presents serious achievements as results of PRSP implementation, a majority of the population looks at ongoing developments with distrust.

A Little History

In 2004, the Partnership Agreement for PRSP implementation was signed by interested parties that predetermined the institutionalization of the participatory process in Armenia. In accordance with this agreement, the parties realizing the necessity of poverty reduction in Armenia highlight the efficiency of participation process and give importance to the accomplishment of social partnership institute within the program, allege their readiness to participate in program implementation and its monitoring. The participation process becomes a premise and a guarantee for dissemination of democratic traditions in Armenia by creating strong and functioning democratic institutions.

Civil Society as a Key Actor of the Participation Process

Building an effective participation is a must if the approach is to succeed in its ambitious objectives. In general terms participation, being a crucial precondition for sustainable development, can be perceived as a process where beneficiaries exert and control the evolvement of priorities related to their lives, policy elaboration, distribution as well as accessibility of public goods and services (World Bank 2006). Since the early nineties, donors have become increasingly aware and enthusiastic about the potential role of civil society in democracy and development by means of active participation. According to Tikare et al. (2001) the participation of the civil society will increase the “ownership” of the development strategy, by stimulating reasoned debate, shared understanding, and a partial consensus in the society on some of the fundamental strategic choices. Participation of civil society will foster ‘government accountability’ and transparency (Howell and Pearce 2000) as well as increase the effectiveness of poverty reducing policies (Isham et al. 1995; Schusterman and Hardoy 1997).

Civil society emerged as a major force in efforts to improve governance. It should serve as a tool for overcoming social issues like corruption, inequality and so on (World Development Report 2003). However, Terry McKinley (2004), in his paper claimed that civil society representatives, in most cases, have often had little basic input into PRSPs and little chance of influencing program design. On the contrary Lawson (2003) states that civil society has a crucial and potentially pivotal role to play in financing gaps, anti-poor policies, and public expenditure monitoring.

Institutionalization Process: Poverty Reduction Partnership

The efficiency of the PRSP processes mainly depends on the institutionalization of participatory process and the realization of the latest. The institutionalized participation is a legitimate and rights-based process integrated into the country’s political sphere; it gathers capable participants who are competent enough to be deeply engaged in this process. The participatory process without aforementioned elements is doomed to be formal, experimental and non-stable.

Reasonable and productive partnerships among governments, civil society and the development community are based on trust, mutual accountability and a shared commitment to the goals, objectives and results to be achieved. They work most effectively when they are based on reciprocal relationships characterized by clear understandings about the role and responsibilities of each partner and where there is open, inclusive dialogue among them.

Formation of PRSP Social Partnership

Immediately after adoption of PRSP in Armenia in 2003, the formation of the partnership institute was initiated to institutionalize the participatory process. By PRSP Partnership Agreement PRSP medium-term priorities and principles of the civil participation system in decision-making were determined.

The PRSP Steering Committee was created for strategic decision-making, headed by the Prime Minister of Armenia. PRSP Steering Committee consists of 15 members: 3 representatives from RA Government (ministers), 2 representatives from the National Assembly (the Parliament), and 1 representative from Armenian Apostolic Church, scientific organizations, trade unions, local self-government bodies and each NGO group. It was initially foreseen that the representative of Armenian Diaspora should also be in the Steering Committee, but it never happened.

Another PRSP participatory body, a Working Group, was formed to organize PRSP proceedings. It is headed by the Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy and consists of 16 members. The Working Group was formed from the representatives of state bodies (7 deputy ministers), PRSP Partnership Agreement parties’ representatives (See Fig. 1). International donor representatives were included in both groups with the advisory status. The task of the PRSP Working Group was to coordinate the ongoing efforts of PRSP implementation, to mobilize the participation of the civil society and the donor community in the PRSP elaboration process, to incorporate their feedback in the PRSP, and to submit the final draft of the PRSP to the Steering Committee.
Fig. 1

Structure of negotiating groups in formation of PRSP partnership agreement

According to the Partnership Agreement, another institution, the Open Forum, aimed at assuring participatory process on PRSP implementation stage, was created. The Open Forum also aimed at raising public awareness on PRSP implementation process and achievements, and assurance of proper feedback and accountability. Head of the Open Forum was an ex-officio member of PRSP Working Group (See Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Institutional mechanism of PRSP participatory process

Thus control over program implementation has been put on the institutionalized basis. However, reality was different.

True Participation or Formality

The participatory and social accountability approaches and mechanisms still are not properly institutionalized (World Bank 2006). It is known that poor institutional mechanisms impede proper and productive participatory process. Many critics argue that though participation was approved on paper, in reality society’s participation was weak and mostly of a formal nature. Moreover, lack of transparency and accountability, clear mechanisms for dialogue between partners, resources and so on leads to poor participation. Thus, the attempt to provide healthy and strong participation that is a guarantee of democracy to some extent has failed in Armenia. Taking all of these, the most important factor was that the participatory processes were not an initiative of the country’s authorities or the result of civil society’s struggle, but it was a precondition set by the international donor community to provide further support.

The first challenge of the participation process was development of the PRSP itself. During the whole PRSP development process, by organizing different actions, the government with the assistance of the international donor community was trying to create preconditions for widening civil society participation and forming social partnership. At the outset, the PRSP formulation process was very encouraging for the development of the culture of participatory processes, because participating parties really intended to develop such an important project for the country and it was supposed to become a project which contains society’s voices.

The initial paper was developed and presented for discussions. But, arguing that the results need to be coordinated and harmonized with other projects of the donor community, the government passed the paper to a consulting company, specially hired for that purpose. As a result, a new paper was developed that was mainly acceptable for donors and government, which indeed was very different from the initial version. Thus PRSP became rather donor-driven, instead of nationally owned. That was the first failure of the participatory process.

According to its statute, the Steering Committee should hold its plenary meetings at least once every three months. But, during the two-year period of PRSP-1 implementation, only two plenary meetings were convened. Due to the above-mentioned fact, this body practically was not functioning. As the Steering Committee was supposed to coordinate the implementation, monitor and assess the PRSP, as well as coordinate cooperation with international organizations during the PRSP implementation process, it should be stated that the public participation mechanism in this part also failed.

Another PRSP participatory governing body, the Working Group, attempted to function effectively, but there have been some problems:
  • Since participatory processes initially were dictated to the government, the representatives of government bodies were mainly not ready to work jointly in partnership and the participation had a formal nature. Besides, in some cases even the formalities were not kept; e.g. during 2005, the representative of the Ministry of Health did not attend a single plenary meetings of PRSP Working Group.

  • The Government failed to ensure that PRSP implementation reports presented by the line ministries and other state governing agencies correspond to the PRSP monitoring indicators’ system elaborated by the Government itself. Moreover, these reports were not even prepared in accordance with PRSP reporting format approved by the Government. These factors did not allow to properly collect information on PRSP monitoring indicators (PRSP Progress Report 2006).

  • According to the Partnership Agreement, the civil society representatives had to be rotated in their respective bodies ensuring effectiveness of civil participation. But rotation principles were never exercised, civil participation in some way was very personalized and in some cases instead of representing interests of certain group of society, there was representation of the interest of the particular organizations and even particular persons.

This situation in PRSP governing bodies combined with a range of other factors produced a divergence from PRSP timetable in the first year of Program implementation. In particular, the only PRSP Progress Report was published in 2004 with delay and the 2005 PRSP Progress Report was not compiled.1

In case of de facto inefficiency of participatory bodies the responsibility for PRSP implementation was set mainly on the Ministry of Finance and Economy during the whole Program implementation process. Other participants failed to play their role in these developments, and remain observers.

Thus the first experience of the civil society participation in the PRSP was not successful and the formation of public ownership to the Program was not achieved. The PRSP implementation showed that the main parties involved in the PRSP do not demonstrate efforts to provide real participation in the PRSP.

Future Steps Towards Institutionalization of the Participatory Process: The Same Story?

The doubtable experience of creating a healthy and strong participatory mechanism that resulted in poor implementation PRSP is not a cause for violating main principles of democracy and depriving many from participation at PRSP implementation. Consequently the second attempt of institutionalization of participatory process was set up in terms of PRSP Social Partnership Institute (SPI).

As a result, PRSP Working Group during the 2007 meeting came to the decision of creating a task force that will be composed of independent experts, who will be able to draft a concept of SPI within PRSP framework. The UNDP and GTZ provided assistance to that group. The expert task force presented a draft of PRSP SPI development concept.

In accordance with the future Agreement, the PRSP SPI aims at combination and harmonization of joint efforts of public institutions, social groups and representatives of different strata of the society for the implementation and assessment of PRSP. It aims at providing equal opportunities for all parties to create policies on poverty reduction, decision-making, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation through public participation process for creating of preconditions of PRSP implementation, enhancement and favorable environment for establishment healthy civil society. PRSP SPI priorities are:
  • organization and formation of “bottom to up” SPI management system;

  • assurance of equal participatory opportunities;

  • transparent and accountable mechanisms;

  • involvement of the wide public, particularly applying the “voices of the poor” principle;

  • collaboration between government and civil society in PRSP implementation through mutual interests.

PRSP SPI parties are the Governmental bodies, National Assembly (Parliament), local governments, political parties, media, non-governmental organizations, trade unions, business community, Armenian Apostolic Church and other religious establishments, other formal and informal unions.

PRSP SPI intends to deal with the following issues:
  • extension of PRSP participatory process involvement and activities (creation of project measures, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation) via PRSP SPI;

  • provision of mechanisms to provide possibilities for PRSP SPI parties involved to advocate for their interests;

  • formation of public agreement on policies and implementation models aimed at poverty reduction basic principles;

  • PRSP SPI institutional enlargement.

In contrast to the previous experience, it is proposed to create Civil Partnership Network (CPN) that will ensure civil society’s equal and effective participation at the implementation of PRSP through mobilizing interested actors around specific issues. Accordingly CPN will be formed through reforming institutional framework of the PRSP, in particular by reconstructing PRSP Open Forum and Negotiating Groups. Moreover, the CPN governing body should be formed only by civil society representatives, on a rotation basis, with no inclusion of any state body representative. In order to coordinate activities and agreement between PSRP SPI and CPN, an expert group will be formed that will be composed of representatives of CNP, independent experts and representatives of various government departments.

However, there is no guarantee that the history of the first experience would not be repeated and civil society would be able to implement and reach its expectations. It is necessary that the main participant of the process—the Government—demonstrates willingness and streams the PRSP process towards real participation, avoiding imitation of participatory process. It is important that civil society representatives on their behalf, be consistent in incorporation of public suggestions. Being a strategically important for the country program, PRSP needs to be owned by the public.

Lessons Learned

The PRSP was the first experience of the civil participatory program formulation in Armenia. Being the first experience for government and civil society, PRSP allowed clarifying of the needs, demands and expectations of civil participation from both sides. This experience shows that in order to assure appropriate civil participation, it is necessary:
  • to clearly identify the role and functions of the PRSP governing bodies and enable such functioning,

  • to broaden participation from consultation level to the decision-making level,

  • to include international non-governmental organizations, as observers, in the works of the PRSP governing bodies, along with donors,

  • to assure realization of rotation principle for civil society representatives in the PRSP governing bodies,

  • to enhance capabilities of the main actors in the participatory process

It is evident that without creating a trustful environment in Armenia it is practically impossible to assure appropriate civil participation. A precondition for development of the trustful environment is trust in political institutes. In this regard, the key role of political framework in civil participatory processes should be mentioned. The timeframe of PRSP processes should be harmonized with the political timeframe, particularly elections.

Civil participation should lead to the effective functioning of the PRSP governing bodies. During the PRSP processes broad national agreement had not been achieved over the ongoing reforms. If till now in the framework of the PRSP real civil participation has not existed and the process has mainly been donor driven, in the case of the revised PRSP, the role of civil society should be crucial in order to let the public become the owner of the program. Only in this case will the PRSP become an effective mechanism, turning economic growth into poverty reduction, both at the regional and community levels. Otherwise, as economic growth, as well as the PRSP will continue to be perceived ambiguously by the public.

Conclusion

Armenia is yet to institutionalize the format and tools for a dialogue between society and public authorities. Society is still not ready to embark upon a dialogue to protect its rights and interests, while various public agencies, by virtue of the large number of day-to-day issues waiting for solution, simply do not have an interest in this dialogue.

Armenian civil society does not yet have enough institutions and organizations it needs to become actively engaged in the dialogue with government. In other words, the passive stance of civil society in the elaboration of the PRSP has been due to a number of factors, some of which will depend on its institutional capacities.

However, it should be underlined that civil society remains a vital link between public and government and if this link is broken than the whole process should be questioned.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    The Report for the activities during first half of 2005 was included into 2004 Report and presented only the public expenditures.

References

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Policy and Development CenterYerevanArmenia

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