Performance based financing for improving security?

From May till November 2014 I did a number of missions for VNG-International (International Cooperation Agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities) to DR Congo and to Burundi as part of a team of (local) experts. One of the aims was to prepare a security plan together with local actors as the municipal administrator, local civil society, the prosecutor, a judge, police and others in the selected municipalities – 6 in Burundi and 4 in DRC. These missions were implemented in the framework of the programme ‘Restoring the Contract’, which is financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and implemented by Cordaid, VNG International and CILC. The strategy of this programme is to intervene in the domain of security and justice at different levels and, as such, to contribute to restoring (or strengthening) the social contract between the citizens and the government in DRC and Burundi. For a description of the programme and an impression of my November mission (to DRC) I refer to the website of VNG International.

A novel element in the programme is the application of Performance Based Financing (PBF) to the domain of security and justice – before it was mainly used in the health sector -. A characteristic of PBF is – as the name already indicates – that financial support is not given upfront but only rendered once the service (in security and justice) is delivered. Translated to the above mentioned security plans, this means that the PBF will monitor and financially stimulate the implementation of the local security plans by following certain performance indicators. Potentially a powerful tool!

It is a matter of debate whether PBF is an appropriate tool and whether it can be applied to the domain of security and justice in Burundi and DRC. There are those that criticize the introduction of PBF in the security and justice sector. They argue that one should not think that security and justice is just another service delivery sector. First, – they say – it is already difficult to introduce PBF in a stable setting as in the Europe, let alone in more fragile settings as in Burundi or DRC. Secondly, the collection of data to monitor whether the performance is achieved is difficult, if possible at all. In the same vein, inevitably one becomes biased – they say – towards what can be measured at the expense of what is really of importance. Finally, on an ethical note, the critics say that it is not acceptable to influence a local decision making process with your own priorities.

Security committee in DRC/Kabare












Personally, I think these reactions demonstrate a degree of cold feet towards the approach. PBF in security and justice is a promising approach, but – and there I agree with some elements of the criticism – should be applied with prudence, building on other approaches for peace building and being based on knowledge about local conflict dynamics. And it should be closely monitored for possible harmful effects. In the case of this project, PBF focusses firstly on correct internal procedures and functioning of the selected organisations; only later, using a careful approach the project embarks on strategic issues and outcome.

Surely, one should be careful not to apply PBF in any mechanistic sense. It should be used as a strategic instrument based on a well thought-over theory of change. It should be embedded in the local context, based on an inside view in local circumstances and local power dynamics. Do-no-harm is a crucial concept in the politically volatile environment of the Great Lakes. PBF should be used in coordination with and complementary to other interventions.

In terms of the criticism towards influencing local decisions making processes, I think that peace building and development aid is all about doing this. It is not only about service delivery but also about empowerment and changing a mentality. Put in another way, if the programme would not influence local decisions e.g. by making the less powerful voices heard, we would not have any impact. It only would become unethical when one uses the PBF-instrument in the wrong way, as with any approach. For instance it is a no-brainer not to reward civil servants individually for accomplishments of the local government or influence juridical decisions and priorities by financial incentives – indeed then it would undermine local decision making and do harm to (local) governance. Or PBF should not be used to influence the order in which a court manages its cases.

At the moment it is too early to judge the PBF-approach. But for now, based on the field experiences, I think PBF is a promising innovative approach.

Provided the PBF is contextualised locally, accompanied by a capacity building process and monitored properly, I consider it a positive addition to other approaches in post-conflict settings.


Security committee in the commune of Idjwi (DRC/South Kivu), photo Johan te Velde.