Tracking local governments expenditure on sanitation

Posted on 28/06/2017 by Goufrane Mansour

Tracking local governments expenditure on sanitation

Challenges and early findings

Aguaconsult, in partnership with Maple Consult, is investigating local expenditure on sanitation and hygiene services in four districts in Ghana. The consultancy was commissioned by the Environmental Health and Sanitation Department (EHSD) with support from UNICEF Ghana. Goufrane Mansour (Aguaconsult, project manager), Robert Van Ess (Maple Consult, national WASH expert) and Didier Allély-Fermé (Aguaconsult associate, technical lead) reflect on some of the challenges involved and the emerging picture on public financing for sanitation.

Ghana Tracking 2


Ghana is a country at a cross-road. As its fast-growing economy propelled it to the lower-middle-income status in 2010, the country is experiencing a shift in donor approaches to supporting the development of basic services. Where grant support has been the norm, including for water and sanitation, the trend is now towards a more diverse pool of sources and instruments, particularly drawing on domestic financing and lending instruments. 

However, looking specifically at sanitation, little is known about how much is effectively spent nationally, whether from domestic sources or from donor funding. The impact of a shift in donor policies in the sub-sector is therefore difficult to assess. This is in the context of the daunting challenges facing the country - only 15% of Ghana’s population has access to basic sanitation services, while faecal sludge management and sewerage services are limited and inadequate in most places.

The WHO-funded TrackFin initiative rolled out in Ghana in 2014 and 2016 has provided some indicative figures on national spending on sanitation for the period 2010 to 2014. It paints a rather bleak picture of public financing for sanitation, estimating that the central and local governments  allocated only GHS 49 million (USD 11.3 million) in 2014 to liquid waste sanitation representing 0.04% of its GDP.

Accurate data on public financing for liquid waste sanitation, particularly at local government level, remains crucially missing, however. Ghana is one of the highly decentralized countries in Africa. It has 216 local governments, known as Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), which have the mandate to ensure the delivery of sanitation services. Each receive annual transfers from the central government – the largest transfer usually comes from the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF) which pools 5% of annual national tax revenue and is shared among districts. MMDAs are also able to leverage local taxes and revenues, known as Internally Generated Funds. How much from these funds (and other potential sources of funds for sanitation) is effectively used for liquid waste sanitation is not clear. Currently, expenditure reporting to the central government does not allow disaggregating liquid waste sanitation expenditure from other types of sanitation expenditures (e.g. solid waste) . As a result, for TrackFin, the government has assumed that 15% of the DACF was being allocated to liquid waste sanitation.

Tracking local government expenditure appears therefore critical for several reasons: first, to identify actual amounts and assess how funding towards safe sanitation could be increased and better targeted; and second, to identify how reporting on sanitation expenditures could be better disaggregated, which would allow the central government and the civil society to monitor and hold districts accountable to their obligations. In January 2017, a pilot research on four MMDAs (Tamale, Shai Osudoku, North Dayi and Wa East District Assemblies) was launched by the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources, with support from UNICEF. The pilot, implemented by Aguaconsult (UK) and Maple Consult (Ghana), focuses on revenues and expenditures on liquid waste sanitation for the years 2015 and 2016.

As of June 2017, the research had been conducted in two districts. The team includes WASH experts as well as accountants specialised in local government auditing who can disaggregate recorded expenditure. However, challenges in data collection remain: for example, an expenditure receipt can be linked to services for liquid waste sanitation as well as other services at the same time; consultants therefore must refer to the original contracts to identify the allocation to liquid waste specifically. Some expenditures, such as fuel allowance (often the main expenditure for Environmental Health Unit staff - local government services - who carry out hygiene awareness campaigns) are recorded under “transport” expenditure and cannot be easily tracked. An additional challenge is that Ghana’s local governments use “sanitation” for both liquid waste and solid waste, which does not facilitate disaggregation.

Despite these difficulties, a picture of the levels of expenditure on liquid waste sanitation is starting to emerge. In terms of financing liquid waste sanitation activities, local governments fall behind expectations: in the districts visited, expenditure on sanitation was significantly less than 15% of the DACF and none had allocated any funds to liquid waste from their internal revenues (IGF). In some districts, as in Shai Osudoku, this means that sanitation infrastructure (especially in terms of faecal sludge disposal sites, emptying trucks) simply do not exist; in others, as in Tamale, a more urban setting, where the municipality operates a sludge disposal site, funds for maintenance are scarce, threatening the sustainability of investments that had been previously carried out. Districts appear very dependent on donor funding to conduct sanitation-related activities.

However, two other findings have emerged: on the one hand, donor funding for sanitation is difficult to track, as most donors do not use local government channels to finance sanitation, but more crucially, such funding appears disjointed.  A trend that was observed in Tamale, is for donors (or NGOs) to develop their own programmes, sometimes involving local governments, with the result that one district can have several sanitation development plans with overlaps between each other. On the other hand, when taking into account the staff deployed by the government to oversee sanitation activities at district level, national expenditures on so-called “support cost” for sanitation appear considerable, although most staff would not be able to perform their activities without donor funding.

Increasing the coordination of efforts among sector actors, including the government, donors and households (by far the largest contributors to the sector, according to TrackFin) is therefore critical for Ghana to respond to the multiple challenges facing its sanitation sector. What is clearly missing is a national strategy built on bottom-up planning, giving clear and specific guidance to MMDAs on the allocation of national funds for liquid waste sanitation, implemented in collaboration with all partners.

Note: the pilot also considers local expenditures on water supply in two districts (North Dayi and Wa East). Final reports are expected to be ready in November 2017. Niall Boot is the lead on this study from the commissioning agency, UNICEF Ghana. If you are interested in learning more about this initiative please contact Goufrane Mansour at Aguaconsult.