The “Numbers Game”: Strategic Reactions to Results-Based Development Assistance in Ghana


Current development assistance prioritizes results and evaluative schemes used to generate them as the most effective way of delivering aid by presenting these results as evidence of accomplishment. Aid recipients and donors respond with a crafty tactic, which we term the “numbers game.” They generate results to satisfy assessment expectations irrespective of actual service delivery or satisfaction of the local population. This tactic yields both external and internal legitimacy: recipient countries legitimize their access to external funds while external actors sustain the aid enterprise that is under persistent scrutiny. In-depth interviews, observation, and existing data on everyday life of municipal councils in Ghana lend support to the preeminence given to results-based aid (RBA) in the numbers game. Startlingly, the expected impact targeted by the scheme is strategically set aside so that more capacity gaps are created and hence the need for more RBA resources to address. A delicate balance between results and on-the-ground impact is required for such intervention to have effect.

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  1. 1.

    Different terminologies for RBA in the literature include payment-by-results (PbR), performance-based aid (PBA), cash-on-delivery (CoD), and aid-on-delivery (AoD). In this paper, we adopt RBA as the widely used concept.

  2. 2.

    A report on RBM progress at UNDP deplored the “weak culture of results” that should be improved with better leadership, more consistent reporting, and enhanced audit schemes (UNDP 2007: xi).

  3. 3.

    In total, there were 216 municipal councils in Ghana at the relevant point in time, which are generically called District Assemblies and, depending on size and extent of urbanization, designated as Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies. The number of municipal councils has increased to 260 since 2018.

  4. 4.

    Fieldwork was carried out as part of a larger study in nine municipalities by first-named author.

  5. 5.

    Namely Kumasi (81), Wa (34), and Nkwanta South (22).

  6. 6.

    These included municipal rate-fixing, social accountability and budget forums, and mid-year reviews of donor-funded projects.

  7. 7.

    While using the DLT to highlight apparent differences between RBA scores and “actual” performance, we are mindful of its narrow focus on a few indicators that present potential ranking biases.

  8. 8.

    Canada withdrew from the program in 2014 and was replaced by Switzerland with a commitment of nearly US$ 34 million for the remaining phase until 2017.

  9. 9.

    Figures were given in Ghana Cedis (GH¢); for uniformity, we adopt the 2013 exchange rate of US$ 1 = GH¢ 2.2.

  10. 10.

    Exact quotas for the various dimensions are set by the ministry prior to each assessment session.

  11. 11.

    Maple Consult (2012: 23).

  12. 12.

    The DLT evaluates municipalities’ actual performance in education, security, water and sanitation, health and governance. The RBA and DLT scores hardly correlate (r = .11, N = 216; p > .05).

  13. 13.

    Actual municipal councils evaluated were 170 in 2011. The 46 municipal councils created in 2011 received the same allocation as their parent councils.

  14. 14.

    See Donkor (2015) for a tussle between a local think-thank and a mayor over performance ranking of municipal councils.

  15. 15.

    This idea is enshrined in Ghana’s 1992 Constitution and the Local Government Act. At the same time, it remains dominant in national and international policy debates.

  16. 16.

    Regional planning official, Kumasi, 16.08.2013.

  17. 17.

    Finance official, Wa, 01.08.2013.

  18. 18.

    Senior official, Ministry of Local Government, Accra, 14.10.2013.

  19. 19.

    Planning official, Kumasi, 12.07.2013.

  20. 20.

    Senior local government official, Accra, 14.10.2013.

  21. 21.

    Quoted in KfW Development Bank, 07/2016.

  22. 22.

    Evaluation contracts were awarded to private consultants but their independence is suspect given emergent concerns over their recruitment (Braimah and Inkoom 2016: 12).

  23. 23.

    Administrative official, Kumasi, 09.09.2013.

  24. 24.

    Councilor, Nkwanta, 12.10.2017.

  25. 25.

    Councilor, Nkwanta 13.10.2017.

  26. 26.

    Councilor, Kumasi, 20.08.2013.

  27. 27.

    Jalulah, 21.01. 2014.

  28. 28.

    Ward X’s councilor was a high-ranking member on the Executive Committee.

  29. 29.

    Councilor, Kumasi, 18.09.2013.

  30. 30.

    Councilor, Wa, 31.07.2013.

  31. 31.

    Senior local government official, Accra, 14.10.2013.

  32. 32.

    Senior implementing agency official, Kumasi, 20.01.2016.

  33. 33.

    Senior implementing agency official, Kumasi, 20.01.2016.

  34. 34.

    The DDF would currently be funded through government remittance, DACF with an amount of US$ 20 million earmarked for 2018. Already in August 2018 consultants were training budget officials how to use the new evaluation tool.


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Part of the research for this article was generously funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation through research project number Az. on municipal councilors in Ghana.

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Sabbi, M., Stroh, A. The “Numbers Game”: Strategic Reactions to Results-Based Development Assistance in Ghana. St Comp Int Dev 55, 77–98 (2020).

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  • Numbers game
  • Results-based aid
  • Evidence
  • Municipal councils