When results showing how districts across the country had fared in the implementation of performance contracts (Imihigo) during the fiscal year 2012/13 were released last month, some people doubted their authenticity.
The average performance mark, of 94 per cent, was way higher than 89 per cent recorded in the previous fiscal year, 81 per cent in 2010/11, and 66 per cent in 2009/2010.
Karongi (97 per cent), Kicukiro (97 per cent) and Kamonyi (96 per cent) emerged the best performing districts in the last fiscal year.
President Paul Kagame, who each year signs these contracts with mayors to help accelerate development, was himself skeptical of the scores awarded to the districts in the latest round of Imihigo evaluation, saying they looked too good to be true.
Speaking after the release of Imihigo results on September 13, the Head of State said he had reservations about the evaluation process.
He said he had tasked Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi to work with the various actors and come up with a new evaluation model that would be more “scientific” and rigorous for future exercises.
Some have also suggested that Imihigo evaluators might be awarding districts higher scores because they could end up indicting themselves, as well, if they were to award points that depict poor performance.
But the evaluators strongly defend the soundness of the results.
They say there are reasons that easily explain the high scores.
They cite enhanced coordination between central and local governments in planning and implementation, more financing, improved institutional and human capacities at the local level as well as enhanced citizen participation and ownership.
Members of the evaluation team are principally drawn from government institutions, while the private sector, development partners and the civil society have all aligned their interventions with the Imihigo framework.
This time round, evaluators were particularly drawn from the Office of the President, the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs.
A special attention was paid to three major development pillars; economic development, social welfare, and good governance.
The evaluators awarded marks based on Imihigo documents signed by the President and each district mayor for the financial year 2012-2013.
Districts say the scores awarded genuinely represent the reality on the ground.
And it looks they have only been motivated to go for even higher scores in the current fiscal year.
Kamonyi last week celebrated the outstanding performance over the last one year and rallied residents to aim even higher in the coming years.
“We feel even more motivated,” Kamonyi mayor Jacques Rutsinga told journalists at the district multi-purpose hall in Gihinga on Friday. “We actually fell short of 100 per cent only because we are human.”
“We value the contracts we sign with the Head of State and want to implement them to the letter; we have every reason to deliver on these contracts because it’s in the best interest of our people and country,” he added.
According to the Mayor of Muhanga, Yvonne Mutakwasuku, whose district was among the bottom five (with 93 per cent), the evaluators of the implementation of the previous Imihigo assessed districts based on their individual targets.
“It’s pretty much clear, you have either achieved the stated target or not,” she said.
Imihigo are specially popular among ordinary Rwandans; they say the performance contracts and the subsequent evaluation have resulted into better services at the grassroots.
“I’m one of the most vulnerable people in the district but I now have Mutuelle (free medical insurance), courtesy of Imihigo,” said Berancille Nyiradadari, 71, a resident of Kamonyi.
“Since I first heard that our leaders were signing contracts with the President, there have been evident efforts to develop our area,” she added.
These sentiments are shared by many people, including independent researchers.
According to Prof. Herman Musahara, an expert in development studies and lecturer at the National University of Rwanda, Imihigo are an important component in the country’s governance.
This home-grown initiative has turned out to be Rwanda’s “wheels of development”, he said.
But the academic says that Imihigo targets should be designed in such a way that they respond to the long-term needs of the people.
“There are no limits to improvement,” he told The New Times.
Each district, in consultation with specific central government units, sets its own targets. Development partners have also increasingly identified themselves with Imihigo.
Speaking at a function to celebrate the Imihigo trophy for Kamonyi, Didacienne Mukahabeshimana, a livelihood officer for Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), an international non-profit operating in the district, said the achievement was a motivation for them.
“We are happy to associate with this success story,” she said.
Yet government bureaucrats do not seem to have the ultimate measure of Imihigo performance levels. They say they are open to new ideas with a view to continuously improving service delivery in the public sector.
“Everything that can help us improve further is welcome, we want to listen to different stakeholders going forward,” said Fred Mufulukye, Director General for Territorial Administration and Good Governance at the Ministry of Local Government.
Mufulukye was on the team that assessed the previous Imihigo implementation, an exercise that spanned three weeks.
Local Government ministry permanent secretary Vincent Munyeshyaka led the supervisory team that assessed the work of the evaluators.
“It’s clear districts are making things happen. At some point we might want to look at the overall impact of particular projects delivered under Imihigo,” he said.
While debate about the right form of evaluating Imihigo may continue for years, the overwhelming public opinion is that these form of contracts, initiated in 2006, remains one of the most effective homegrown innovations to date.
“There is a growing culture of accountability being nurtured,” Prof. Musahara said.
But Imihigo have also spurred competition at the local government level.
“I am willing to step up my contribution so we can win again,” Jean Marie Vianney Rukundo, a resident of Kamonyi District, said. “We really take part in these projects in our daily work.”
Nyiradadari added; “It’s always good to hear good things about our area. I saw those who are young dancing upon hearing the news and felt moved.”