Delivery units are becoming a common feature of many governments across the world as leaders grapple with the challenge of delivering on the promises they made to their citizens.
Those citizens expect promises to be honoured and leaders know that their record in delivering on significant development or policy projects can play a critical part in determining whether they are re-elected, as well as shaping their legacy after they have left office.
Once in office, governments often find that delivery – turning election promises into reality – can be a major challenge. Even leaders who start with detailed and well-intentioned development agendas can find themselves facing difficulties when it comes to implementation.
Competing financial priorities as well as unforeseen developments, shortfalls in projected revenue and rise in the cost of projects can all push projects past their original schedule. Such delays are problematic in terms of meeting citizens’ expectations and can cause political divisiveness.
The importance of delivering key pledges on time and on budget are contributing to the growing popularity across the world of delivery units at the heart of governments. There are at least 25 delivery units or their equivalents at the national level and many more at sub-national and sectoral levels across Africa alone. While the name given to the unit may differ from one country or jurisdiction to another, the rationale behind their formation and function is essentially the same.
Project delivery can also be slowed down by unnecessary bureaucracy, causing delays which can be costly both financially and reputationally.
Delivery units are relatively lean teams, comprising professionals with diverse skills to resolve issues that hinder key projects, by involving experts with the necessary skills and experience to break the logjam.
They also tend to have the backing of the president or the highest political authority within their jurisdiction. They therefore enjoy access to relevant official information on public-funded priority projects. This access to pertinent data and relevant information is critical in ensuring projects remain on course as delivery units can use then help formulate solutions to bottlenecks that hinder project implementation.
Having the trust and support of high political office allows for timely interventions to remove obstacles to the completion of government projects. This can often simply be a case of ensuring that officials fulfil their commitments and those of the institutions they represent, and act on their mandates given to the government at the ballot box.
In Kenya, the President’s Delivery Unit (PDU) has grown to become an important cog in the engine of development. Since its creation in 2015, the PDU has been instrumental in tracking over 2,000 projects and ensuring they are either completed on time or remain on course. This is achieved by tracking the progress, identifying ‘sticky’ issues which pose problems and, where necessary, bringing those issues to the attention of decision makers.
The committees formed under the Executive Order No. 1 of 2019 to coordinate development at various levels of government have also found PDU useful. It has a presence at the grassroots, as its officers are secretaries to regional and county development implementation and coordination committees (RDICCs and CDICCs). Combined with its capacity to escalate issues upwards, this helps to ensure that bottlenecks in projects are addressed as soon as possible.
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), which directly supports 15 governments across Africa in achieving their development goals, has had an in-country presence in Kenya since 2015. TBI helped to establish the President’s Delivery Unit, drawing on its experience of working with governments across the world in coordinating and supporting delivery efforts, and continues to support its work today
To a large extent, Governments and other elected authorities across Africa all face similar challenges in implementing their policies and delivering their projects, and several countries have established their own delivery units in the mould of Kenya’s PDU.
To address those challenges, in 2017, in partnership with Kenya’s PDU, TBI organised the first African Delivery Exchange (ADX), a platform to bring together senior government officials, delivery experts and development partners to exchange experiences and learn from each other about ensuring effective delivery in governments.
This week, delivery units from across the continent will converge again (virtually) in a meeting hosted by Nairobi for the ADX 2020. This year’s event is a collaboration between TBI, the PDU and the Africa Development Bank (AfDB). The AfDB has been providing technical support to PDU to enhance its capacity to track delivery and in the problem-solving of complex projects under the Big 4 Agenda. The bank has also funded major development projects across the continent.
They will discuss the importance of delivery, the problems they face and the solutions they have found – including those related to the Covid-19 pandemic, which, among other things, has provided a real-time lesson in the importance of delivery by governments for their citizens.
Eden Getachew, Centre of Government and Delivery Lead
Tony Blair Institute for Global Change