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How the Lake Victoria project came to be dead in the water

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President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya recently “issued a directive freezing all new government projects until ongoing ones are completed… the directive is aimed at stopping wastage of resources and the habit of government agencies abandoning incomplete projects and starting others” (Daily Nation, July 20).

Using the example of the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project Phase 2 (LVEMP2), this commentary suggests that projects not only need to be completed, but also need to be completed well. LVEMP2 did no baseline work and hardly any substantive monitoring.

Therefore, claims of satisfactory achievements in the five governments’ completion reports are not credible, given the limited factual basis.

Since international development loans must eventually be repaid, it would be in the countries’ best interest to make sure that there are good payoffs for the funds invested.

The Lake Victoria Programme started out in 1997 with good intentions. Phase 1 was assessed as marginally satisfactory, and in Phase 2, achievements were modest, considering the facts on the ground.

The project implementation performance between 2009 and 2012 was unsatisfactory as

(i) actions on pollution control, sustainable land management, and the fishery were marginal during the first three years,

(ii) none of the seven dated covenants were adhered to, and

(iii) fraud was committed in Uganda between 2010 and 2012, followed by a suspension of disbursements till September 2013.

There were also limited achievements between 2012 and 2017. During the 2012 restructuring, the results framework, along with its indicators, was revised and downgraded. Examples:

(i) The indicator for pollution was “hotspots addressed” but no measurements were taken on how much sewage was reduced or how water quality improved;
(ii) Another key indicator was “hectares of sustainable land management” but incremental productivity or environmental benefits were not monitored.

Also, with two extensions, this originally 4.5-year project became an 8.75-year project, implying low implementation efficiency. For Rwanda and Burundi – with a restructuring and a closing date extension – this was 6.5 years.

Progress on regional harmonisation work was unsatisfactory. Joint management of common resources would make sense. It would, however, require a common incentive framework so that individual countries would be persuaded to undertake jointly agreed work.

But such a framework was not agreed, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission was ineffective, and EAC procedures prevented acceptable progress, such as on adopting and implementing water and fisheries policies or a data-sharing protocol.

Other selected concerns include:

(a) The water hyacinth harvester costing around $1 million has been sitting unused in the harbour of Kisumu for three years now, representing a significant waste of funds;

(b) The combination of the World Bank emphasising disbursements, and the weak capacity of low-level teams in environment or water ministries to manage multi-sectoral work, has been a systemic issue under LVEMP2. One example of this is the purchase of goats in November 2017 and the associated goat disease outbreak in Burundi caused by the project, with losses of a large number of goats and sheep;

(c) The large Lake Victoria fishery was neglected and continues to decline; this may also be applicable for Lake Rweru;

(d) The Lake Victoria Programme is now in its 21st year, but there is limited clarity about which environmental issues should be addressed, how, and what specific productivity and environmental benefits can be expected;

(e) The emphasis on disbursements as compared with outputs, outcomes and estimated benefits to communities;

(f) Given the strain in relations, teams from Burundi and Rwanda are not collaborating or even communicating within the same WB project!;

(g) The negligible relevance of actions by upstream countries on Lake Victoria via the Kagera River. No measurements were taken, but even if these had been taken, one can hypothesise that specific project actions in the two upstream countries do not show up in terms of improved Kagera water quality; and

(h) Wastage of funds does not necessarily involve corruption since independent annual audits are undertaken.

But one can observe high travel and other operational costs by national and regional teams with limited results and little permanent institutional capacity built.

There are incentives at work in national teams for high-grading.

Therefore, aside from Rwanda’s action as good stewards of their International Development Assistance allocation, Kenya’s, Tanzania’s, Uganda’s, and Burundi’s ministries of finance should reconsider their preliminary commitments to Phase 3 in order to reduce inefficiency of IDA resources and invest these more effectively in single-sector projects where implementation capacities may be stronger and where better payoffs can be expected.

Ernst Lutz holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and is a former senior economist at the World Bank. E-mail: [email protected]

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