Reaching the Poor or the ‘Well-connected’? The Politics of School Feeding in Ghana (2017)

The success of social policy interventions in education in depends on effective targeting and management. This paper examines the effectiveness of social policy targeting in developing countries, using the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) as a case. Ghana has implemented a school feeding programme since 2007, but just about 21% of the target population is reached over the years. The study investigated why this occurs, using semi-structured interviews with community leaders, teachers, headteachers, parents/guardians, pupils, programme donors and managers, local government officials and locally-elected representatives. The study participants were drawn from clusters of the poorest (Upper West), richest (Greater Accra) and mid-income (Central) regions of Ghana. Findings from interviews reveal that selection of schools and caterers to participate in the programme is very much linked to political affiliation and ability to lobby the government in power. Next, major decisions and activities regarding the GSFP are controlled by political appointees and affiliates, most apparently, by design rather than a situation that has occurred by default. Thus, the targeting of beneficiaries remains open to manipulation while reliable data that could improve the process may be ignored for political reasons. Findings also reveal that the GSFP has indeed increased enrolment in beneficiary schools; however, much of these could be transfers of pupils from non-beneficiary to beneficiary schools, especially at the kindergarten level. The paper therefore argues that valid beneficiaries of social policy programmes may be deliberately missed due to covert intentions of powerholders to service patronage networks. However, greater reliance on poverty profiles, publication of selection criteria and inclusion of non-state actors in selection, coordination and monitoring would help reverse this situation. In addition, a more stable statutory funding mechanism similar to that of the Ghana Education Trust Fund could be explored to cater for the programme. This would allow the state to universalise the GSFP to cover all children in basic education, and reduce the opportunities for political manipulation.

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