Budget Trailblazers: Astou Mbengue

Budget Trailblazers: Astou Mbengue

Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we talked with Astou Mbengue, lead data collector for the Senegalese Federation of Inhabitants (FSH).

The text was derived from a video interview that was translated and then edited for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Q: What are the main problems you and FSH are working to address? 

A:  I live in an area that can best be described as an informal settlement. It is a precarious neighborhood that was built without clear planning, which makes it susceptible to flooding. Our parents developed this area, and my generation feels obliged to improve living conditions in the district by working through community organizations. In some areas we face sanitation problems, which are compounded by a lack of financial means to improve conditions.

Flooding is a particular challenge that has contributed greatly to the community’s degradation. Flooding causes sanitation problems because homes are not connected to formal sewage systems. Even if the houses were strong [flood-resistant], floods would still have a major impact on living conditions because rainwater mixes with wastewater, which creates a massive health challenge. Wastewater that isn’t handled properly is discharged into the streets and it affects the entire community, including children who end up playing with the filthy water. This can lead to skin disease, diarrhea, and acute respiratory infections. The problem of sanitation and flooding negatively impacts the entire community’s daily survival.

As citizens, we saw the problems getting worse and so we decided to take charge of our needs.  [But] without authorization from officials, the situation is untenable. Even if the population takes charge of its development, there will always be blockages at the level of the authorities who must validate the initiative.

Q: What is your role in FSH and in your wider community?

A: I wear many hats because I am Bajenu Gox or a neighborhood auntie, a community actor, and a municipal councilor. Additionally, I am a data collector at FSH. We are motivated to be a voice for the voiceless and all those who live in the same precarious conditions that we find ourselves in. We have organized ourselves at the local level to solve the problems we all face.

The role of the Bajenu Gox is important.  We were chosen following discussions of several neighborhood delegates. In the beginning, we were focused on Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 – reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, respectively. Combining this position with my role as lead data collector at FSH and municipal councilor of the commune has been a natural fit because both roles are focused on making the community better.

Being Bajenu Gox requires me to be on the ground working with the population. As a councilor, my job is to represent the population at the level of the municipal council, give budgetary orientations, report on the difficulties encountered by the population, vote on the budgets, and verify that resources are being used for their intended targets.

Q: What is your process of data collection?

A: FSH has certain principles, particularly principle number 3, which is to know one’s community. To achieve this, we must have data. We collect data by working with members of the federation group who are trained in data collection.

Data collection takes place at two primary levels: the group and municipal level. At the municipal level, data collection takes place between the federation and its supporting NGO, Urbasen, which has a mapping unit. By contrast, FSH uses a data collection manager. To collect data at the municipal level requires preparatory meetings with the mayor. We then analyze and validate the proposals and organize meetings with leaders, such as the neighborhood delegates, other notable people, and the municipal team. Then we train the people who collect the data.

Following training, data collection is done in four phases. The first phase is to define the perimeter of the district of the commune by GPS. In the second phase, we organize focus groups in the neighborhoods, bringing together notable people, neighborhood delegates, and all the targets to present themselves. The neighborhood delegates lead the focus group meetings and discuss and prioritize the difficulties the neighborhood experiences. In the third phase, we organize a small dissemination activity. In the fourth phase, we carry out the household surveys for each house in the area.  At the end of this process, we meet with the mayor to elaborate on the thematic maps at the municipal level.

The basis of data collection is to self-identify as a community, since the state has not been able to do that. It is with a solid demographic base that we can justify the existence of this community. That’s the importance of collecting data that can help integrate vulnerable groups into policy. As the saying goes: whoever has information, has power.

At the group level, we conduct a survey amongst member organizations to determine each group’s constituents and answer questions such as: are they still members, have they undergone training, what are their income-generating activities, what are their savings? This is valuable data to combine with the municipal findings.

Q: How do IBP and FSP work together in Senegal?

A: IBP supports Urbasen and FSH. We connected with IBP through Urbasen and were introduced to the SPARK program, which has strengthened our budget knowledge and built our capacity. IBP opened our eyes to the value and importance of budgets and budget advocacy. Now we meet with women who have been trained in budget analysis and we understand how the budget is distributed amongst the population and sectors.

IBP has also been instrumental in introducing us to institutional actors and partners whom we didn’t have access to previously. It is not merely a financial partner; it accompanies us in our actions and gets close to the communities in which we work. This gives the communities an opportunity to get to know the organization that supports us.

SPARK has helped our advocacy efforts and facilitated our collaboration with the National Sanitation Office, through which we organized community mobilization and sensitization activities about the work being done to prepare for the rainy season, amongst other activities.

Q: What challenges does FSH face?

A: A major challenge is expansion. There is a lot of demand for help across many regions and departments but it’s not easy to expand while ensuring that the quality of our work remains high. We are therefore focused on expanding to regional branches with the same quality that we have become known for.

Q: How have you developed personally from working for FSH?

A: I have discovered that I have huge capacity to find solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges and I have seen how our work is having a positive effect. This has been a source of deep motivation.  As a member of the community, I take pride in knowing that I am representing it, assisting it, and helping to improve living conditions. As a woman in Senegal, I also face socio-cultural barriers. My personal ambition is to assist our communities to have relief and fulfillment.

Special Drawing Rights: Let’s talk about transparency and accountability

Special Drawing Rights: Let’s talk about transparency and accountability

 

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By Eka Iakobishvili, Program Officer, Open Society Foundations

In August this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to issue the equivalent of $650 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to boost global financial liquidity in what IMF president Kristalina Georgieva called “a shot in the arm for the global economy at a time of unprecedented crisis.”

The SDRs are a reserve asset issued by the IMF to each of its 190 member countries, which can be exchanged for hard currency as required, or used as reserves, or swapped or on-lent. For countries suffering fiscal pressures because of the economic impact of the COVID pandemic on exports, or tourism, or increased healthcare costs, new SDRs can help balance the books.

The use of SDRs can be an attractive option for a country, if hard currency is needed.  Although a small interest rate applies, it is by far the lowest available to Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) and this is why SDRs are often referred to as free money or a reserve asset that is without conditions.

There is a lack of transparency about how SDRs are used and regrettably, very few governments globally have sought dialogue with the public on SDRs spending. In most countries, particularly in Africa, use of the SDRs resources and consequent accountability have been left solely to the discretion of the central bank and a few technocrats within the finance ministry with limited to no involvement or dialogue with the general population. This raises concerns over the decisions made: central banks might opt to prioritize debt repayment to international creditors, as opposed to using the funds to support recovery efforts.

For poor and middle-income countries, SDRs are going to be vital in the post-pandemic recovery. In this process, civil society has a vital role to play. Civic activists and established civil society organizations (CSOs) have the power and capacity to advocate and push for people-centered economic models that were not possible before, building the capacity for resilience but also playing the oversight role.

Some groups are already taking a lead:

  • In Africa, some suggestions by Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) already have been made for SDRs use in a multi-year framework that can finance social services and/or infrastructure projects within the country.
  • In Latin America, CSOs such as Latin American Network for Economic and Social Justice (LATINDADD), are asking governments in the region to issue one time budget flexibilities to start using SDRs as an extraordinary fiscal framework that was applied during the pandemic.

CSOs can assist central banks and governments to ensure broader public participation in dialogue with technocrats and high-level policy makers. In Uganda, Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) has been pushing for such policy engagement with the government by providing policy recommendations and calling for wider public participation and oversight on debt debates in the country.

CSOs can also support efforts by legislators to strengthen debt management procedures and engage in advocacy around oversight procedures where they exist.

Finally, the CSOs should work in coalition with cross country and cross regional groups to apply pressure on institutions (IMF, or regional banks) and high income countries involved in on-lending, to include transparency and accountability safeguards in SDR-related concessional loans – all in the spirit of democratic ownership, strengthening independent scrutiny, and creating space for participation and accountability to citizens.

It is important that calls for putting such mechanisms in place come from both national groups and international CSOs to ensure governments are held accountable and follow through on these commitments. For CSOs to be effective in holding government to account, they need access to information on the use of SDRs. International organizations, including the IMF, can and should facilitate disclosure of such information and enable public dialogue at the national level.

The international community and national governments can benefit greatly from opening the space for civil society voices and expertise to inform decision making around and oversight of SDRs. Smart partnerships between international organizations, governments and CSOs can ensure these critical funds help fuel more efficient, resilient and inclusive post-COVID recoveries.

For more on this topic, watch the recording of a recent event co-hosted by the International Budget Partnership on Promoting Equity and Accountability in IMF Special Drawing Rights in English and Spanish.

The missing link: Indonesian fishers fill the gap to simplify the subsidized fuel program

The missing link: Indonesian fishers fill the gap to simplify the subsidized fuel program

Sulaiman is typical of many fisherfolk making a living using a traditional sailboat. When his boat was damaged by a wave eight months ago, Sulaiman faced tough decisions about his livelihood.

Along with 150 other fisherfolk from Pari Island in Indonesia, Sulaiman struggles to obtain subsidized diesel fuel at the price of 5,500 rupiahs (U$0.38). At present, he has to purchase the fuel at a market price of 8,000 rupiahs (US$0.55). Last year, the government set a quota of 1.7 million kiloliters of subsidized diesel for fishing vessels with a capacity under 30 GT, but only 530,000 kiloliters of the quota were distributed. 

When trying to access subsidized fuel, fisherfolk are generally met with government red tape. They are required to obtain a recommendation letter from the municipal government or port authority. The letter must be renewed monthly and requires several difficult-to-obtain documents, such as a boat license or registration.


Grassroots collaboration for change

A coalition called Kartu Pelaku Usaha Kelautan dan Perikanan (KUSUKA) is focused on the challenges facing small-scale fisherfolk. The coalition includes several NGOs, the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen’s Union (KNTI), the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency National Secretariat, the Society Initiative, urban development organization Our City, and International Budget Partnership Indonesia. Together they conducted a survey of 5,292 members in April and May 2021 to learn about access to subsidized fuel and why the government quota was not met.  

“A total of 83 percent of respondents purchased the fuel at the market price and only 5 percent at the subsidized price,” KNTI Managing Director Dani Setiawan said on July 7, 2021. He was speaking at a public discussion organized by KUSUKA to strengthen the government’s protection of small-scale fisherfolk amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Administrative requirements and the distance to travel to the fuel stations are other obstacles to accessing the fuel, according to survey respondents. At least 93 percent of those interviewed had never submitted documents to become eligible for fuel subsidies, while 38 percent admitted they did not have the required documents at all. A further 22 percent said they could not find a station nearby selling subsidized fuel.  

Based on its survey findings, KUSUKA recommended that the government visit the fisher villages to explain the procedure of securing subsidized fuels. More importantly, the coalition recommended the government simplify the requirements for accessing the subsidies. 

Cutting the red tape, building more stations

The government received the survey results and appears to be listening to the recommendations KUSUKA laid out. The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry said it was committed to improving the distribution of subsidized fuel to small-scale fishers. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono publicly conveyed his concern about subsidized fuel distribution for traditional fishing communities. 

“The ministry, together with the Downstream Oil and Gas Regulatory Agency, Pertamina, and local governments have simplified regulation to distribute the subsidized fuel, revitalized fishermen filling stations, and digitized the recommendation process,” Trenggono said. 

KUSUKA membership cards

The issuing of KUSUKA memberships cards is one way the ministry has simplified the process for fisherfolk to obtain subsidized fuel. According to the ministry, there were at least 1.7 million fishers or enterprises eligible for KUSUKA cards. However, only 895,256 fishers and 5,680 small enterprises were registered. 

The ministry has acknowledged that it did not have enough staff present at the community level to fill the registration gaps for KUSUKA cards and welcomed assistance from KNTI in making up the shortfall. “Indonesia is a vast country. If KNTI is willing to cooperate, we welcome the partnership in registering the members of KNTI,” stated Budi Sulistiyo, a staff member from the ministry. The ministry is also preparing an online application to facilitate registration. 

In order to streamline the registration process, the ministry will need to overcome existing regulations that require fishers to produce a recommendation letter to qualify for fuel subsidies. This will mean reforming the 2012 Presidential Regulation No. 15 on Subsidized Fuel Distribution, which mandates the registration letter. Sulistiyo suggested a revision of the regulation to permit KUSUKA cards as a replacement for the recommendation letter. 

The Supreme Audit Institution has been yet another ally in KNTI’s efforts to streamline the registration process. It too recognized the need to overcome the Presidential Regulation. “The bottleneck is still there. The Presidential Regulation specifically mentions a recommendation letter,” said Erwansyah Fuad, the head of Subaditoriat IV.B.1 of the agency. The Supreme Audit Agency supports the use of the KUSUKA card as a verification tool for fisherfolk to access fuel at a subsidized price. 

Thanks to our partners efforts, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has decided to pilot five projects where it will allow the use of the KUSUKA cards to facilitate fisherfolks’ access to subsidized fuel. The ministry has invited KNTI and the Supreme Audit Agency to supervise these projects, and also noted that the coalition’s survey data helped them decide where to pilot the projects. 

Prosperity for fishing communities  

Indonesia’s fishery sector creates jobs for 13 million to 15 million people. As the country works towards a post-pandemic economic recovery, protecting the income of small-scale fisherfolk is paramount. Overcoming the challenges facing small-scale fisherfolk requires more collaboration between civil society organizations and the government. By working together and creating new alliances, our partners have been able to pinpoint the data and common-sense reforms that can facilitate assistance and spur economic viability for millions of fisherfolk.

Budget Trailblazers: Rommel Rodríguez and Jaime López

Budget Trailblazers: Rommel Rodríguez and Jaime López

Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we talked with Rommel RodríguezMacroeconomics and Development Area Coordinator, and Jaime LópezTransparency Researcher, both from the National Development Foundation (FUNDE) in El Salvador.

Q: What is FUNDE’s area of work and main aims? 

A:  FUNDE has four areas of work: Macroeconomics and Development, Transparency, Citizen Security, and Territorial (urban, rural, and environmental) Development. Our mission is to work for a fair, open, supportive, and sustainable society. Our vision is to generate innovative thinking, proposals, and actions in the field of development. In 2008, we started to work more on fiscal affairs from a macroeconomic lens, and more recently we began to focus more of our work on engaging the broader public in how budgetary matters impact their lives. 

Q: How has been the partnership between FUNDE and the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (ICEFI)? 

A: In general, it is a relationship based on mutual consultation. There have also been opportunities to collectively host events or advocacy activities. For example, FUNDE, ICEFI and other organizations recently made a joint statement on the possible loan agreement between the IMF and El Salvador and the use of bitcoin in the country. We also work together to co-lead the Citizen Oversight Committee of the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador, which is playing a critical oversight role in monitoring public spending on COVID relief. 

Both organizations are part of the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, the Latin American and Caribbean Tax Justice Network, and the Central American Tax Justice Network, and share an interest in promoting tax transparency and public participation in tax decisions. Together with eight other organizations from Central America, FUNDE and ICEFI recently created the Center Against Corruption and Impunity in the North of Central America, where we seek to address transparency and corruption in the governments of the Northern Triangle. 

Q: How did El Salvador score on IBP’s COVID study? What are your main impressions?    

A: The COVID study helped us think more systematically about financing for emergencies, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to use that process to highlight in very clear and discrete ways the processes that were followed as well as the lapses that occurred. For instance, government officials failed to follow the formal processes that exist for administering and authorizing the budget. We were able to highlight positive developments, such as the creation of the Citizen Oversight Committee in the legislature, as well as lapses, such as the fact that the government has not evaluated or published information on the impact of its relief package.  

In fact, to this day the government still has not produced a specific document that accurately details its 2020 spending on COVID-19 relief. A budget expenditure report is available, but not a specific document for pandemic-related spending. The Citizen Oversight Committee has been focused on getting this information. 

Although the creation of the Citizen Oversight Committee was a positive development, in practice some officials have been reluctant to provide timely and substantive information to the committee. This is happening despite the fact that the legislative decree that created the Committee allows for the committee to have unrestricted access to information and indicates that officials who fail to provide information should be sanctioned. 

Q: What recommendations do you have for the government of El Salvador to improve accountability for COVID-related expenses? 

A: After the initial lockdown, the government resumed monthly publications on its online portal, including for information regarding the execution and modification of the budget. The information is relevant but lacks detail; for example, it does not include the objective of specific expenditures. The information published on the government portal also lacks detail about the sources of financing, including tax or other contributions to the treasury, donations, external loans and financing, and the placement of securities, among other things.   

The Ministry of Finance claimed that urgency is the reason it did not introduce loans through the standard budget process, which would have meant requesting that the Legislative Branch approve the additional resources into budget line items. Instead, they introduced new funds into the budget through an Executive Agreement. Nevertheless, executive agreements to allocate funds and/or modify the budgets of public entities through the Official Gazette must also be made public, without exception. To date, several of them are not public.  

The public portal of Comprasal should be updated as soon as possible with information on COVID-related purchases. The Prevention and Mitigation of Disasters Fund and the Trust for the Economic Recovery of Salvadoran Companies, which is administered by the Development Bank of El Salvador, must also provide detailed information on their sources of financing, the distribution of funds, and the execution of expenses, as well as a public list of beneficiaries. This information must be made publicly available online. 

Managing Covid Funds: the accountability gap

Managing Covid Funds: the accountability gap

Background

When the Covid pandemic broke in early 2020, there was near unanimous consent that a crisis of this magnitude required governments to act boldly and swiftly to meet the needs of their people. By the end of 2020, governments mobilized a staggering $14 trillion in fiscal policy responses of different types.

While welcoming these responses, a chorus of voices, including ours, urged governments to put in place the transparency and accountability arrangements necessary to ensure that the massive resources being mobilized did not go to waste. Responding to the crisis in an open and accountable manner was a way for governments to restore public trust and build back better.

Working with civil society researchers in 120 countries, we documented the introduction of almost 400 emergency fiscal policy packages from March to September 2020 and assessed the largest or most important of these packages in each country.

Findings

Our assessment shows that more than two-thirds of surveyed governments are falling short of managing their fiscal responses in a transparent and accountable manner, thereby jeopardizing the effectiveness and impact of their responses to the crisis (Table of Results).

These shortcuts and limitations are neither necessary nor inevitable. Many countries across regions and incomes have chosen a different path. An urgent and speedy response does not have to come at the expense of accountability. There are three key findings in our COVID accountability report.

1. Governments have failed to adopt key measures to enhance accountability that many voices had demanded when governments began to announce their relief packages.

  • Only in about a quarter of countries assessed were auditors able to produce and publish audit reports on Covid fiscal packages before the end of 2020.
  • About half of the governments surveyed published little information on the implementation of policy initiatives.
  • Approximately two thirds of surveyed countries failed to follow transparent procurement procedures.

Despite this, some countries have shown a different way is possible. For example:

  • Paraguay has a one-stop-shop site that publishes information on all pandemic-related procurement.
  • In Jamaica, the Auditor General published three concurrent audit reviews of the government’s cash transfer program, and the Ministry of Finance worked closely with the national audit office to follow up on audit recommendations.
  • Recognizing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women, Canada, the Philippines and Sweden published a Gender Impact Assessment of their COVID-19 response. And in Togo, in a short period of 10 days, the government established a transparent platform for a cash transfer program that prioritized women.

2. The role of legislatures has been limited during the pandemic.

In almost half the countries in our assessment, governments introduced fiscal policy measures through executive decrees, side-stepping normal legislative and approval processes and preventing public debate. Not surprisingly, countries that bypassed their legislatures were also generally less transparent in their Covid-related spending.

Again, some countries showed that a better way is possible. For example:

  • In Nepal, the Parliamentary Accounts Committee investigated irregularities in procuring medical equipment and supplies to hold to account those responsible for these failures.
  • In the Philippines, weekly reports on COVID-19 response actions are sent to a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee that oversees implementation.

3. Public participation in the formulation and execution of COVID policy responses is virtually non-existent.

This has not only excluded the public from having a voice in decisions on priority-setting during the pandemic but it has also deprived governments of inputs which could greatly improve the effectiveness of their actions. Only 10 out of 120 countries made any meaningful efforts at engaging with their populations in the design and oversight of relief monies.

Even as governments largely kept the public at bay, civil society groups have been active in mobilizing local communities and amplifying their needs to government. One of the most successful examples of civil society and government collaboration is the Asivikelane initiative in South Africa which is giving an active voice to informal settlement residents in major cities who are faced with severe basic service shortages during the crisis. Through targeted advocacy and campaigns, the initiative has already secured improved access to water, sanitation and waste removal services from municipal governments affecting more than one million people.

Going Forward

There are practical steps governments and donors can take to bolster accountability as part of the ongoing response and to build back better.

  • Governments can adopt reforms now such as publishing monthly progress report and disclosing procurement details in open formats. They can plus up resources for national auditors to conduct expedited audits and take remedial measures in response to their reports. They can take actions to restore legislative oversight. Further, they can also leverage existing mechanisms in the executive, legislatures and within national audit offices to facilitate citizen participation in the formulation, approval and execution of new Covid-related packages.
  • Over the long-term, governments can strengthen systems in the annual budget cycle to be better prepared for future crises. These include reforming legal and regulatory frameworks to clarify roles and responsibilities in areas such as procurement, oversight and participation. They can also integrate innovations that emerged from this crisis, such as providing user-centered information.
  • The international donor community can play an important role in advancing accountability norms in emergency spending. As part of their assistance, donors should urge and support country-led efforts to publish more information about what governments are spending and its impacts and to facilitate oversight by legislatures, auditors and citizens.

The COVID crisis is far from over. We must keep mobilizing resources for the global COVID response, including filling the funding gap for COVAX to ensure everyone has equitable access to vaccines. But if we are serious about equity and justice, we must simultaneously get serious about accountability. This is about ensuring assistance reaches those who need it most. When governments do not deliver as promised, underserved communities bear the brunt.