This post was written by David Cabo, Director of Fundación Ciudadana Civio
When we started ¿Dónde Van Mis Impuestos? – the Spanish version of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Where Does My Money Go? (a website that graphically “visualizes” how tax money is spent in countries around the world) – in December 2010, the platform quickly became the model for tax visualization in Spain. This is true even though the platform presents only a high-level summary of the national budget. However, there is no other similar resource in Spain, which demonstrates both the scarcity of publicly available and accessible information about public expenditures and that we have a long road ahead of us in terms of open and accountable budgeting.
Thanks to the kick start the platform provided, as well as the public’s interest in public spending information, the regional governments of the Basque Country and Aragon decided to take a concrete step forward and hired our lead developer to create custom tax visualization projects for their regions. With the help of these governments, and the subsequent ease in accessing the required information, we were able to create two new versions of the tax visualization platform (one for each region) that greatly improved upon the original project. These websites display not only where the government spends the money but also its revenue sources. The sites go even further to include a comparison of budgeted and actual expenditures, and they allow citizens to track where every cent of their tax money goes. The Aragon site includes updated budget information as soon as it’s available, and we are working on extending its coverage to the county and municipal levels. This level of information was only possible because the two administrations made the information public.
With this experience behind us, we now want to improve ¿Dónde Van Mis Impuestos?, the national-level website. Although we have been able to adapt and improve upon the platform for the Aragon and Basque Country sites, there is one feature of those sites that we will not be able to reproduce on the national site without the cooperation of the Spanish government —the budgeted vs. actual spending of public money. The breakdown of actual central government expenditures currently available to the public is completely inadequate — much worse than the breakdown of budgeted expenditures — which makes a comparison between the two impossible.
The problem, apart from technological issues related to file formats and data standards, is the lack of political will to clearly inform citizens about where and how much the government actually spends. In Spain the focus is on budgeting, which in many departments is nothing more than a piece of paper cluttering a desk or two (for example, every year the Ministry of Defense spends a minimum of more than one billion euros beyond its budget).
In the middle of an economic crisis in which citizens scrutinize every detail of public spending, wouldn’t it be more effective for the government to make this data public in a detailed and straightforward manner? Or at the very least permit others to do so? Knowing the complete details of official budgets (without the interference of intermediaries who present data on a few select issues in isolation from the entire budget picture) could help the public understand unpopular spending cuts. For instance, if you take into account the reduction of certain payments and are aware of cuts in pensions, health care, and other fundamental services, perhaps you would be more understanding of the spending cuts in other areas that are not basic necessities.
For all this to occur, Spain’s political leaders must respect citizens and allow them to participate in the business of public spending. It’s also essential for citizens to actively participate. At the end of the day, accomplishing these goals is our raison d’être, and our work on ¿Dónde Van Mis Impuestos? aims to drive the discussion and action to make it happen.
This post was written by Muhammad Zahoor, Executive Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability.
In July 2013 the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) and Integrated Regional Support Program (IRSP), two civil society organizations based in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pakistan, analyzed the water and sanitation budgets for the area to better understand allocations and spending on these services. The two groups were concerned that water and sanitation service delivery was inadequate and that the public did not have enough opportunities to participate in the budget-making process. The study involved a research team from CGPA, the Water and Sanitation Program Team at IRSP, other civil society organizations, a government official from the Tehsil and District Municipalities, and provincial Finance Department officials.
In conducting the analysis, the groups hoped to promote budget transparency, participation, and accountability, as well as to ensure better water and sanitation service delivery in the KP. The findings of the study will also be useful for other civil society groups looking to carry out research-based advocacy to determine the best use of public money.
The analysis revealed, among other things, extremely limited opportunities for community or civil society participation in the budget process. except for pre- and post-budget conferences, which were held at the national and provincial levels. The budget-making process at both levels is based on an “incremental increase” and is highly dependent on “availability of external funds.” In other words, the budget for the coming year is essentially based on the current allocations plus (or sometimes minus) an amount based on an incremental increase and the amount of funds available. Budgeting in this way limits the influence of citizens and civil society to what the increment will be and, in some cases, what it will be used for. The story of limited public participation is much the same at the district level. Provincial assembly members propose development schemes in the Annual Development Program and the Finance and Planning Department prepares the budget proposal using estimates received from the district departments. There is no budget committee in the district department that proposes and prioritizes schemes (and, potentially, gathers public input into these decisions). Instead the head of the department in question has full discretion to assign someone in the department to prioritize which schemes will get estimates for inclusion in the budget proposal.
In 2012 the provincial Ministry of Finance did try to include a consultative element in the budget process by organizing a pre-budget seminar, which was followed by Budget ”Jirgas” (consultative meetings with members of the provincial assembly). However, this seminar did not have any significant impact on the budget proposal as the process had already been completed, leaving no time for changes to the estimates.
Moving forward, CGPA and IRSP plan to use the analysis and results of the study in a number of ways, including for:
- engaging citizens in the process of prioritizing budget allocations for water and sanitation;
- convening public planning sessions and seminars with key civil society leaders and organizations, trade unions, and elected representatives before the budget-making process starts to ensure citizen participation and feedback;
- launching campaigns to advocate gender-based budgeting for water and sanitation;
- helping introduce ground water usage policy and regulation to control the improper exploitation of ground water sources; and
- launching an advocacy campaign to include allocations in the budget for improving awareness of proper hygiene so as to prevent waterborne illness and other diseases.
Armed with the knowledge gained from the results of the study, as well as the methodology for conducting it, Pakistani civil society and others around the world will be able to hold their government accountable for how it spends public resources and help guide them toward improving the lives of its citizens.
This post was written by Albert Van Zyl, Research Manager at the International Budget Partnership.
Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) are funding arrangements that channel money from central government directly to legislators for local infrastructure projects. Budget-monitoring civil society organizations (CSOs) have criticized CDFs because they:
- breach the separation of powers,
- reduce government capacity by misdirecting funding, and
- weaken the oversight capacity of legislatures.
Despite efforts by CSOs, which include legal action in Kenya and Tanzania, CDFs have spread rapidly, especially in Africa. By 2012 11 of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had CDFs, while Botswana was threatening to bring that number to 12. Apart from caricatures of greedy African members of parliament (MPs), nobody seems to have a good explanation of why these troublesome funds are spreading so quickly. Until now.
A fascinating paper by Bob Mattes (University of Cape Town) and the late Joel Barkan (University of Iowa) presents evidence from Afrobarometer and the African Legislatures Project that African MPs may be misunderstanding the demands of their voters. Mattes and Barkan show that while voters are asking MPs to represent their needs and views to the central government via the legislature, MPs misinterpret this need for representation as a demand for cash, jobs, and other favors. Mattes and Barkan say that this is like “an amorous suitor who showers the object of his affection with jewels and expensive clothes, while the woman secretly confides to her friends that ‘I just want someone to listen to me.’”
Unsurprisingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that the introduction of the CDF in Kenya actually reduced the reelection rate of incumbent MPs. Running counter to MPs’ expectations of CDFs, Mattes and Barkan’s evidence suggests that voter evaluation of MPs is actually lower in countries with CDFs than in those without.
Mattes and Barkan also present evidence that MPs in CDF countries don’t spend more time with their constituencies than their counterparts in non-CDF countries. This may somewhat assuage the concern that the executive responsibilities that come with CDFs detract time and attention from MPs’ oversight responsibilities.
What does all this mean for CSOs’ campaign against CDFs? Mattes and Barkan’s work suggests that CDFs are based on a massive misunderstanding. Voters want MPs to represent them — not handouts — but this message to MPs has been lost in translation. If this is true, CSOs may get more joy from repairing communication channels between MPs and voters than from taking governments to court.
Want to know more about CDFs? Check out IBP’s website for articles, videos, and more on the subject.
The paper by Mattes and Barkan is not yet available to the public, but will be published in a forthcoming book. Watch this space for an update on where you can find it.
This post was written by Karim Trabelsi, Consultant at the International Budget Partnership, and is also available in French here.
The design and publication of Tunisia’s first Citizens Budget in December 2013 was an important milestone, marking a significant step in promoting budget transparency. For the first time in the history of public finance in Tunisia, the Ministry of Finance disseminated budget information that was not previously publicly available, including the draft Finance Bill, the Pre-Budget Statement, and the budgets of ministries and local authorities. The publication of the 2014 Citizens Budget highlighted the positive direction that the Ministry of Finance is taking toward budget transparency.
A participatory conceptual approach
The Citizens Budget was developed following an open and inclusive process involving civil society members of the Joint Committee on Budget Transparency. It took into consideration the results of a survey of approximately 100 civil society organizations in Tunisia that was conducted by the International Budget Partnership (IBP). Through the survey, IBP helped identify the budget information needs of civil society, which was very valuable in developing the content of the Citizens Budget. The proposal for what should be included in the Citizens Budget that came out of the survey greatly inspired the Ministry of Finance in the preparation of the final document.
Rich and accessible content
The 20-page Citizens Budget presents a considerable amount of budget information in a simplified and accessible way, including through numerous maps and illustrations. The content is organized around four main themes:
- a presentation of the Tunisian budget cycle including key stakeholders and dates;
- a general description of macroeconomic assumptions and new tax measures under the 2014 Finance Law;
- a statement of the main budget lines relating to revenues and spending estimates, including those from public companies; and
- a glossary explaining the meaning of some budget terms.
In accordance with suggestions from civil society organizations, the Citizens Budget also presents budget information that does not appear in the 2014 Finance Law, such as the number of recruitments of public servants and the distribution of direct taxes by categories of taxpayers. Releasing this type of information is unprecedented.
A praiseworthy initiative that remains insufficient
The Open Budget Survey (OBS) — an IBP biennial initiative that assesses budget transparency and accountability in countries around the world — included Tunisia for the first time in the 2012 Survey. IBP uses a subset of survey questions that assess the amount of budget information that the government makes available to the public to construct the Open Budget Index (OBI), which gives each country surveyed a score between 0 and 100. With an OBI score of 11, Tunisia placed 85 out of the 100 countries surveyed. Publicly released in January 2013, the 2012 Open Budget Survey results were discussed in detail by a special delegation from IBP and senior officials from the Ministry of Finance, which helped stimulate a number of positive initiatives, including the publication of the Citizens Budget. However, these efforts remain insufficient in the absence of substantial reforms of existing laws, including the Organic Budget Law — a major structural obstacle to the implementation of international standards of transparency and budget accountability. In the short and medium term, Tunisian civil society’s commitment will certainly be critical, if Tunisia is to rise to the rank of the countries at the top of the OBI rankings. Stay tuned!