The Department

6.3 AusAID Corporate Services

Table 38: Resources Summary for Sub-program 6.3

Figure 44: AusAID Corporate Services Program Structure as at 30 June 1998

Sub-program Objectives

In 1997-98, the objectives of sub-program 6.3 were to:

  • provide high quality advice to the Government on international development issues
  • ensure AusAID staff continue to perform as a highly professional, motivated and results-oriented team
  • follow contemporary best management practices, including equal employment opportunity, employee participation, occupational health and safety, and access and equity
  • utilise international best practices in delivering the development cooperation program
  • manage the development cooperation program in a financially responsible and ethical manner, and meet all prescribed standards of accountability.

Description

The Asia and Corporate Division and the Program Quality Group administer this sub-program. They support the delivery of country and global programs by reviewing the Agency’s performance, undertaking program evaluations and audits as well as effectively managing the Agency’s staff, corporate resources, budget and management information systems. PQG also is responsible for advising on sectoral and cross-sectoral issues in the aid program and on contracting issues. In addition, ACD is responsible for analysing and providing sound and timely advice to Government on emerging development issues and providing services to the Minister, Parliamentary Secretary and Parliament.

Performance Information

In 1997-98, the Agency indicated that it would evaluate its performance using:

  • advice to Government on an appropriate government response to Simons Review recommendations
  • formulation and acceptance of a new corporate strategy and corporate plan
  • successful promotion of performance management, including introducing a simplified performance appraisal system
  • conclusion of workplace agreements, incorporating new remuneration and staffing arrangements
  • continuation of effective personnel development programs, responding to major areas of identified skill needs, including a major training program in contract management
  • introduction of upgraded network and desktop IT operating systems
  • upgraded building security and secure communications
  • implementation of a full accrual accounting system, including integrating assets and purchasing management systems
  • degree to which assistance to the education and training sector has added emphasis to basic education, technical and vocational education and distance education in aid program activities
  • extent to which the quality of aid program activities improved through integrating cross-sectoral factors, such as gender and environment, into policy, planning and implementation processes
  • more efficient management of aid program activities through further developing and enhancing computerised Activity Management Systems, including clients using them to provide services to AusAID
  • extent to which AusAID’s audit, evaluation and review activities contributed to more efficient and accountable management and delivery of program activities, including through feedback to program managers about lessons learned
  • quality, relevance and timeliness of analysis and research on sectoral and cross-sectoral aspects of development to help develop or contribute to new policy proposals or directions for the aid program, including through promoting discussion and dissemination of information on current development trends and issues
  • quality and level of technical advice and training provided to AusAID staff and other clients on sectoral issues
  • extent to which timely and effective services are provided to meet ministerial and parliamentary requirements
  • extent to which the Corporate Services sub-program reflects the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Simons Review of the aid program.

Performance Outcomes

Policy Development and Advice

Developing and providing policy advice continues to be a core aspect of the aid program’s functions. High-quality, timely advice to the Minister, Parliamentary Secretary and program areas in the Agency contributes to the effective and efficient use of aid program funds.

AusAID assisted the Government in preparing Better Aid for a Better Future, its response to the review of the aid program, by:

  • coordinating a period of public comment on the Simons Review, including arranging seminars with key stakeholders and the Parliamentary Secretary on selected recommendations; seeking formal written comment from major stakeholders and people who made submissions to the review; conducting regional seminars on the report; and collating and synthesising public comment and forwarding this comment to the Government to consider
  • providing advice to the Government on each recommendation, including implications for implementing each recommendation
  • arranging for the production, launch and distribution of Better Aid for a Better Future.

Photo: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, addresses AusAID staff on Better Aid for a Better Future in May in Canberra.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs appointed an 11-member Aid Advisory Council on 8 May. The council’s establishment reflects the Government’s commitment in Better Aid for a Better Future to make the aid program more open and outward-looking. AusAID assisted the Government in establishing the mandate and membership of the council. Members, appointed for a term of three years, are representative of the broader Australian community, and drawn from academia, business and religious organisations and outside government (Appendix 13). The council’s first meeting was held on 27 May. AusAID provided policy papers and secretariat support to the council.

Sectoral Development

In Better Aid for a Better Future, the Government identified new priorities for Australian assistance, including five key sectors that have the largest development impact. These five priority sectors are health, education and training, agriculture and rural development, infrastructure and governance. AusAID’s new organisational structure will help ensure that policy and sectoral issues are fully integrated into development planning and implementing processes. The collocation of policy and technical advisers within the five sectoral groups also facilitates the shift to more effective policy-program integration.

AusAID’s sectoral areas provided significant technical and policy advice during the review period, including:

  • analyses of the contributing factors, impacts of the East Asian economic crisis and governance needs highlighted by the crisis
  • advice to activity managers in developing and implementing activities and programs
  • assistance with preparing and reviewing activity briefs, terms of reference, activity studies and design documents, as well as appraising and contracting out activity preparation and implementation
  • development of policy in each sector
  • advice to the Minister, Parliamentary Secretary and Parliament on AusAID’s sector policies and activities
  • reporting on, and coordinating consideration of, sectoral issues across the Agency
  • monitoring the portfolio of AusAID activities against a baseline for analysis of performance against policy, including improving AusAID’s information systems to produce sector-based statistics for the five priority sectors
  • progressing a performance management and appraisal system for sectoral advisers to maximise the quality and timeliness of advice to country program areas
  • progressing appointment of sectoral advisory groups comprising senior external professionals; the health group held two meetings of its sectoral advisory group.

Health

To strengthen Australia’s impact in the health sector, the aid program provided technical and policy advice to develop, appraise and review health and family planning activities for country, regional and global programs. AusAID also contributed to international health policy development and briefings for meetings of multilateral agencies. The ‘Mekong Subregional Strategy for HIV/ AIDS Prevention and Care 1998-2000’ was released as part of the East Asia program. Country programs adopted several proposals from the Health Impacts brief AusAID’s health group prepared in April. The aid program’s HIV/ AIDS activities were reviewed to guide the development of policies. Progress also was made in developing a new health policy to be announced in the next review period.

Education and Training

Through the aid program, Australia’s education sector activities were refocused according to the Government’s priorities outlined in Better Aid for a Better Future, towards basic and technical education and selective assistance for institutional strengthening, distance education and higher education.

Spending in basic education increased from 8 per cent in 1996-97 to 19 per cent of total education sector spending in 1997-98. This trend is expected to continue. Spending in higher education dropped from 78 per cent to 71 per cent over the same period.

Support for technical and vocational education increased from 2 per cent to 3 per cent of education sector expenditure. In addition, work began on tools to improve the quality of education interventions and to conduct the first qualitative analysis of the education portfolio.

Agriculture and Rural Development

A major external review of agriculture sector activities began. The review will report on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the aid program’s current agricultural programs and policies. A newly established group of senior external specialists and stakeholder representatives will monitor the consultant review team.

AusAID supported the commitment made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy to a $1 billion, four-year global food security pledge. The aid program will fund components of the pledge including agriculture, fisheries and forestry projects, scholarships in these disciplines and food aid.

Infrastructure and Environment

A report was completed on the lessons learned from, and innovative responses to, urbanisation in Asia. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are assessing its applicability to their multilateral programming.

On behalf of Australia, AusAID joined the Global Water Partnership, a World Bank-United Nations Development Programme initiative to help promote effective water resource management in developing countries. The initiative includes research to identify needs in developing countries and promotes the role of the private sector in meeting these needs.

Governance

The Australian aid program provided $1.1 million for human rights education and institutional strengthening. A further $56 million was directed towards other aspects of governance, including economic and development planning, public sector management, legal and judicial development and strengthening of civil society.

The focus on governance was strengthened by developing a draft governance policy framework and preparing for governance training to begin in the second half of 1998.

AusAID provided submissions to, and appeared before, the Human Rights Sub-committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Also it made a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties Inquiry into the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Australia.

AusAID led the Australian delegation to the Oslo Child Labour Conference in October. Governments from all participating countries adopted an Agenda for Action containing a number of (non-binding) measures for developing countries, where child labour is a problem, to implement at a national level. The actions focus on education, social mobilisation, and legislation and enforcement.

AusAID assisted the Minister for Foreign Affairs in establishing the Centre for Democratic Institutions including appointing a director. The centre aims to promote democracy, human rights and effective governance in developing countries, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. The centre will provide practical training for parliamentarians, senior administrators, journalists, community leaders, and others influential in the governance of developing countries.

The aid program’s focus on microfinance was strengthened by:

  • completing a report on the quality of microfinance activities across all programs
  • progressing the inclusion of microfinance in country strategies
  • beginning recruitment for a microfinance specialist.

Cross-cutting Issues

In Better Aid for a Better Future, the Government restated the need for the aid program to take account of gender and environment issues in all aid activities, to improve their effectiveness.

To ensure integration of gender issues across the program, AusAID analysed current competence levels of staff and implemented a training program. Over the past two review periods, 80 staff members have been trained in gender concepts. AusAID established a baseline to enable a comprehensive analysis of the Agency’s progress toward incorporating gender concerns across the program. AusAID also held interviews for a specialist gender adviser to strengthen the Agency’s gender expertise.

To strengthen the aid program’s environmental impact, AusAID commissioned and completed a review of the effects of the 1997-98 El Niño on countries supported by the Australian aid program. The study has produced solid recommendations to improve the ability of country programs to assist partner countries plan for, and manage, the physical and social impacts of El Niño and future events. The scope of environment consultations with the NGO community also has been expanded to include representatives of the private sector. New ways to facilitate the dissemination of environmental lessons learned and more effective mechanisms for communication between AusAID and the wider public were identified and are being implemented.

Evaluation, Audit and Effectiveness Review

AusAID continued to invest significant resources in evaluation, audit and effectiveness reviews to improve the quality of Australia’s aid efforts and ensure the program is managed in a way consistent with international best practice.

The establishment of the Office of Program Review and Evaluation, responsible for audit, statistics, activity management systems, performance information and evaluation and review functions, strengthened AusAID’s capacity for planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the aid program. In 1998, the office played a central role in helping to develop an Agency-wide performance information framework to enable the collection and reporting of program performance in key result areas and against cross-cutting issues (health, education and training, infrastructure, agriculture and rural development, governance, gender and the environment). In addition, humanitarian and emergency relief, aid program management and effective partnerships were included as key result areas.

Aid program performance was improved by developing new procedures for preparing, designing, contracting and implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects and activities. This ongoing process will increase effectiveness and accountability by specifying and measuring results of aid projects in a more systematic way.

The quality and efficiency of reporting on the aid program also was strengthened by enhancing AusAID’s corporate-wide information handling system, the Activity Management System. In addition to helping staff to improve planning and management of project and program activities, the improved AMS plays a central role in collecting, analysing and reporting on key performance aspects of the aid program.

During the review period the computerised Student Information Management System was enhanced and modified to support the placement and management of overseas-sponsored students in Australian academic institutions. The reporting functions were improved, including designing a customised report for use by overseas posts in reporting to partner governments on how their students are performing academically.

The Agency implemented a new policy for handling evaluations and reviews. The policy set the parameters for the selection, conduct and publication of AusAID’s ex-post and strategic evaluations, program and sectoral reviews, and evaluations.

The Agency completed 11 major reviews and evaluations, including evaluations of clusters of agricultural and institution strengthening projects in Papua New Guinea, a review of the evaluation capacities of multilaterals and a synthesis of lessons learned by AusAID and other donors in the eastern islands of Indonesia. AusAID also undertook a number of program, project and administrative effectiveness reviews. Overall, the projects and programs examined met their development objectives in a sustainable, cost-effective manner.

AusAID’s lessons-learned database helped in disseminating the lessons learned from evaluations and reviews to program managers; the database was revised to ensure relevance and ease of access, and updated to take account of 24 major studies completed between 1992 and 1997. In addition, the Agency initiated a seminar series on the findings of key evaluations and reviews. The reports are progressively being put on AusAID’s website (http://www.ausaid.gov.au). They are also available in hard copy from Bibliotech (at the ANU).

AusAID completed 15 major audits; another three are underway. The application of lessons learned from the program of audits strengthened financial management and reporting, project monitoring and contract management processes. The internal audit program was enhanced by:

  • focusing on risk-based auditing of commercial contractors and NGOs
  • starting AusAID’s Strategic Audit Plan for 1998-2001
  • revising the Audit Committee Charter to meet the requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997
  • starting the Agency’s new fraud prevention plan.

Improvements in statistical data coverage, quality and timeliness; enhancement of relevant staff skills; and development of a databank of statistical information drawn from a wide variety of sources, including historical data, all enhanced AusAID’s statistical capacity and reporting.

Ministerial Services

AusAID aimed to provide timely and effective services to ministers, the Parliamentary Secretary and Parliament. A new Parliamentary Secretary responsible for overseas aid, Kathy Sullivan, was appointed in October.

During the review period, the Agency prepared 333 submissions for the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary on policy and program implementation issues. At the request of ministerial and parliamentary offices, AusAID provided responses to 119 briefing requests and 24 speech requests. The Agency also received 2 199 ministerial and parliamentary secretary letters and provided 1 650 responses. AusAID coordinated responses to over 20 questions on notice.

An enhanced electronic records management and tracking system assisted the collection of data and reporting on correspondence, ministerial submissions, briefing and speech requests. A training course, ‘Services to the Minister’ was conducted on 12 August to help ensure the quality and timeliness of services provided to the Minister.

Corporate Planning and Budget

High-quality corporate activities, including preparing the annual aid budget, facilitated effective and efficient management, delivery and review of the aid program.

AusAID assisted the Government in determining the 1998-99 aid budget so it gave effect to the strategic directions for the aid program set out in Better Aid for a Better Future and responded to urgent development needs in the region. AusAID prepared a detailed budget paper on the aid program, Australia’s Overseas Aid Program 1998-99, circulated by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to ensure full transparency of the Government’s aid policy and resource allocations for the overseas aid program. The Agency also began preparations for the shift from program budgeting to accrual budgeting.

The annual Senior Management Conference held in February focused on the challenges the Agency faces in implementing Better Aid for a Better Future, the corporate review process, as well as the broader public service reform agenda. The conference raised senior management awareness of the need for a more integrated approach to performance information and defined issues to address.

Internal consultation on, and preparation of, the 1998-2000 Corporate Plan were largely completed during the review period. The plan is expected to be released early in the next review period. AusAID began a review of its activities as part of the Government’s requirements for all APS managers to review their functions.

Financial and Resource Management

AusAID placed a high priority on adopting contemporary best management policies to ensure its staff remain highly professional, motivated and results-oriented. It gave attention to ensuring the aid program was managed in a financially responsible and ethical manner, meeting all prescribed standards of accountability.

The Agency introduced a performance planning and review staff management system to improve dialogue with staff about work expectations and the Agency’s key goals, and encourage better supervisor feedback and appraisal. This process explicitly links the work of individual officers with the achievement of AusAID’s goals, and encourages continuous performance feedback.

AusAID management and staff negotiated a Certified Agreement, covering all aspects of pay and conditions for non-SES AusAID employees. The agreement will improve productivity through more flexible working arrangements, an emphasis on performance and significant streamlining of personnel administration practices. Introducing remote entry processing for recreation leave and establishing an AusAID Intranet further streamlined administration. The Intranet also improved access to corporate and program information.

A comprehensive range of training and development programs enhanced staff knowledge and skills. These included:

  • middle management development training for over 150 staff
  • training for over 250 staff in contract management and contract law
  • study support to assist 69 staff gaining qualifications in disciplines particularly relevant to the

Agency’s core business. AusAID instituted a system of staff separation questionnaires and exit interviews as a basis for developing strategies to retain quality staff.

A new Workplace Diversity Program for AusAID, launched in December, is outcomes based and integrates equity and diversity principles into AusAID’s corporate planning and people management processes. The Public Service and Merit Protection Commission has recognised the program as APS good practice.

IT infrastructure in the central and state offices, and network and desktop operating systems were upgraded. A rolling program of upgrading IT facilities at overseas posts began, as did work to certify the Agency’s IT systems for year 2000 compliance.

AusAID prepared to implement a full accrual accounting system, including an integrated assets and purchasing management system. The Agency developed a new Financial Management Manual and agency-wide training course following the introduction of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997.

Work to upgrade accommodation and improve building security was substantially completed in preparation for the installation of secure communications.

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