Budget Trailblazers: Rongai Leakwara

Budget Trailblazers: Rongai Leakwara

In this section, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we talked with Rongai Leakwara, a budget champion from one of the smallest and marginalized ethnic minority communities in Kenya, known as the Ilchamus community. 

Q: What inspired you to start working with budgets? 

A: I became involved in budget work to help my community better organize and engage in county budget making processes. As a person with a disability from the Ilchamus community, I became an active member of a support group for people with disabilities. It was through them that I was introduced to the Centre for Enhancing Democracy and Good Governance (CEDGG), a civil society group that works to empower vulnerable and marginalized citizens to engage with development and governance processes. CEDGG has truly played a big role in making me who I am today. Through CEDGG, I was able to learn about and engage in county budget processes to push for our community needs to be included in the county annual budgets.  

Q: What skills and tools have you learned from your partnership with IBP that has helped your budget work? 

A: I have learned about the county budget process such as the decisions that are being made, important dates in the process, the people involved and the role of citizens. I have also gained skills in analyzing budget documents, community organizing and facilitation of budget deliberations at the community level and engagement with government officials. More importantly, I have gained advocacy skills that have enabled me to engage government officials and follow up on their commitments to hold them accountable.  

Q: How has becoming a budget champion in your community changed your life? 

A: Being a community budget champion has raised my social status in the community and I am now recognized and respected in my community as a resource. Even men, who had previously looked down on women and people with disabilities, now call on me to educate them. For example, the Ilchamus Council of Elders has invited me to consult on their decision-making regarding development in our ward. In addition, government officials, media and research institutions reach out to me for my opinion on various development concerns within the Ilchamus community. In 2019, I was recognized and rewarded by the Baringo County government as a community heroine for championing for the rights of people with disabilities, women and the Ilchamus Community. However, what pleases me the most is when I see my community members accessing water, health and other services as a result of the budget advocacy work that I and my fellow budget champions have done.   

The Iingarua health center that Rongai has been advocating for more budget allocations to improve service delivery.

Q: Why is it important for women to have a voice in budget processes? 

 A: Women play key social roles at the family level ranging from overseeing health care for the family to ensuring water is available for the household. Women end up shouldering the many costs that come with health care needs such as travelling to health care clinics and the purchase of medicine. Therefore, if only men participate, they may not remember to prioritize water projects or health services since they do not appreciate the struggles we go through. When men and women participate, budget decisions are likely to be balanced. 

Q: Why should the average citizen care about budgets? 

A: We expect the government to implement development projects and improve services such as water and health services in our communities. But as a budget champion, I have come to learn that it is only through the budget that the government brings development to our community. We may continue complaining about poor services but unless they are factored in the budget, we may never see the improvements we want and need. Citizens also pay taxes which finance government activities, so we should care because it is about our money. 

European Union logo

IBP joins the Addis Tax Initiative to strengthen the role of civil society in promoting equitable taxation

IBP joins the Addis Tax Initiative to strengthen the role of civil society in promoting equitable taxation

On November 17-19, members of the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI) will gather virtually for their Global Assembly. The ATI was set up in 2015 at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as a multi-stakeholder partnership that aims to enhance domestic revenue mobilization (DRM) in developing countries. Its members include donor countries interested in supporting tax reforms, developing country governments committed to enhancing revenue collection and improving tax administration systems, and supporting organizations, including multilateral organizations, regional tax administration bodies, private philanthropic foundations, and international civil society groups.

As of October 2020, IBP has formally joined the initiative as a supporting organization, as part of its efforts to strengthen the role of civil society in promoting more equitable taxation in developing countries. IBP’s own Tax Equity Initiative has started working in three areas: (a) creating a better knowledge base to build the field of CSO tax work; (b) fostering tax transparency and participation; and (c) supporting CSO engagement with domestic tax reforms in developing countries through training, technical assistance, peer learning and more. ATI provides an important venue for discussion and coordination efforts in all of these areas.

We are honored to be formally joining the effort as the ATI adopts its new 2025 Declaration, which innovates and pushes the DRM agenda. It explicitly recognizes that it is not enough for governments to raise additional revenue, they need to do it in a more equitable way. Second, it supports the important role that “accountability stakeholders”—including legislators, the media, the public, and civil society groups—can and should play in ensuring that tax policy and administration are equitable and effective. It also highlights the importance of promoting transparency and accountability around tax expenditures, something that IBP has been working on through a regional project with a number of Latin American CSOs.

In coming years, we plan to contribute to ATI and its mission, bringing to bear our rich experience in working with civil society groups, governments and other actors in promoting more general reforms in budget policies and processes. We will support CSO tax work at country level, continuing our engagement on tax expenditures in Latin America and launching a new program to support civil society engagement with tax reforms in Africa. And we will work with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency in promoting more transparency and citizen participation in tax policies and processes.

Most of our initial efforts, have focused on building a better knowledge base for the work that civil society organizations can do to promote more equitable taxation.

A few weeks ago, we published a comprehensive literature review of the political economy of domestic tax reforms, and a companion piece offering “reflection points,” or questions and suggestions for civic actors to consider as they plan work around tax reform.

Today, we are publishing the results of a global scan that aims to map, globally, civil society engagement with domestic taxation issues.  This scan resulted in both a paper and an online dataset.

The dataset contains information on 171 civil society organizations working on domestic tax issues across 66 countries. It was populated mostly by drawing on IBP’s own partner network and the networks of other international NGOs such as Oxfam, Christian Aid, ActionAid International and the Global Alliance for Tax Justice. The dataset, based on information drawn from the websites of these organizations, describes broadly for each organization what types of tax issues they work on, what types of activities/work they are engaged in, a description of their approach, memberships in international or regional networks, and their main publications on tax from recent years.

The paper summarizes the key findings from the dataset, and goes a few steps further, drawing on results from an online survey and a series of in-depth interviews with well-established CSOs in this field, to provide a clearer picture of the main characteristics and challenges of CSO work on domestic taxation. In the paper, we identify key entry points for organizations entering this work and the key constraints that they face. It is a snapshot of the current moment in an evolving and expanding field, and by looking at where it is and where it has come from, we look at where it could move, and what needs to change to make that happen.

ATI members can use these publications in shaping their future work with civil society actors. By getting to know better what the field looks like, they can identify potential partners in the countries, regions and policy areas of their interest. And by recognizing how far CSO tax work has come in the past two decades, they can realize how important it is for ATI’s own mission, and support it in ways that address capacity constraints and strengthen the field.

In the coming weeks we will also be releasing the first set of in-depth case studies on how civic actors have engaged in tax policies, covering eight cases of CSO-led tax reform campaigns in Latin America, Africa and Asia. A synthesis of these cases, and short summaries of each, will be available soon. In addition to showing how CSOs can contribute to more effective and equitable taxation, this project will generate lessons for other civic actors interested in engaging with tax reforms.

We hope that ATI members—and many others interested in DRM and related areas—will benefit from these publications, and we invite everyone to engage in discussions and in action on how civil society can help promote more equitable taxation across the world.

Government budgets responding to crisis: what we can learn from the Ebola emergency

Government budgets responding to crisis: what we can learn from the Ebola emergency

As governments continue to implement COVID-19 response and recovery programs, many civil society groups are asking how the crisis will impact governments’ ability to spend money effectively and deliver essential services. For civil society groups that are following the COVID-19 money trail, there are critical questions about budget credibility, or whether governments will actually spend the money allocated in their budget during their fiscal year.

The unpredictable impact of the COVID-19 crisis on government revenues and expenditures could create understandable reasons why governments may deviate from their planned or adjusted budgets in the coming months and years. At the same time, a lack of budget credibility can increase the risk that shifts in spending priorities may also result in cuts to essential funding for non-emergency services that people need—such as for education and routine health services.

One way of identifying potential risks for budget implementation in the current context is to look at the impact of previous health emergencies, such as the Ebola crisis that impacted several West African countries in 2014 and 2015. Reviewing lessons from two of the most impacted countries—Sierra Leone and Liberia—can help understand how government budgets change in response to a crisis and how these changes can impact budget credibility. Drawing on available budget documents and PEFA assessments that cover the Ebola crisis years, here are three key lessons about what we see—or do not see—in terms of government budget credibility during that crisis.

1. Transparency is needed to understand budget credibility during a health emergency.

During the Ebola emergency, governments were making critical decisions about where to spend and where to cut. But what were those decisions and how did they impact government services?

These questions should be answered in government budget documents that provide an official account of how public resources were raised, allocated and spent, along with explanations of changes and deviations in the budget during the year. Unfortunately, good practices on budget transparency were not in place for the countries impacted by the Ebola crisis. The Open Budget Survey (OBS) assessment covering this period in Liberia and Sierra Leone found that both countries’ transparency scores declined as compared to the previous assessment. Moreover, critical budget execution documents were not published online or were published late. In Liberia, the government was producing these documents but released them only years later, far too late to be of use to civil society organizations (CSOs) that were monitoring the government response.

Availability of budget execution documents assessed in OBS 2017

Even published budget documents had significant gaps in information, such that they did not allow comparisons between actual spending and budgeted allocations. For example, Sierra Leone’s In-Year Reports, the monthly Statement of Fiscal Operations, showed expenditures by overall sectors (functional classification) and type of spending (economic classification), neither of which is comparable to the initial budget, which is approved by each ministry (administrative classification).

One area with stronger accountability during the Ebola crisis was the rapid auditing of emergency spending. The supreme audit institutions (SAIs) in both Sierra Leone and Liberia conducted and published rigorous audits of emergency funds, which uncovered waste and mismanagement of spending during the crisis and led to governments addressing some of the problems identified. In contrast, regular audits of government spending did not fully investigate impact of the crisis. Neither of the audit reports for government financial statements in Sierra Leone or Liberia explained changes made to budgets, in part because the SAIs did not receive this information from the government. In Liberia’s case, the regular audit report for 2014/2015 was also delayed in publication, undermining transparency for the rest of government spending – released only four years later.

2. Credibility is an ongoing issue during a crisis.

As governments responded to the Ebola health emergency, they adjusted their budgets in similar ways to what we see in recent months in response to COVID-19, prioritizing the emergency response and economic stimulus efforts. Even with these revised priorities, budget implementation practices followed similar trends as in earlier years.

Budget execution data for the years of the Ebola crisis can be found in in the PEFA reports for Sierra Leone (2018) and Liberia (2016). PEFA assessments examine budget credibility in terms of aggregate expenditures and the composition of the budget (spending by ministries) from the central government: in Liberia, this included on-budget donor expenditures, while in Sierra Leone donor expenditure data was not available.

The PEFA report shows that the government in Liberia struggled with accurate revenue forecasts before the crisis that led to underspending, but budget credibility trends varied by sector. In spite of more pronounced underspending in the health ministry when compared to education or defense, the overall execution rate in Liberia actually improved during this period.

For Sierra Leone, the PEFA report shows that overspending was the norm before the crisis, and this continued to a lesser degree during the Ebola response years. Like Liberia, deviations varied by sector – for example, despite overspending in health and defense sectors in Sierra Leone, the budget for the education ministry was underspent.

At a more detailed level, budget variances can become extreme. For example, official data indicates that an administrative unit known as “Miscellaneous Services,” which includes contingency expenditures, was significantly overspent during the crisis, but no explanations were provided to explain why this happened or how the money was spent.

Sierra Leone PEFA: Actual spending in key sector ministries as a share of the initial approved budget

Liberia PEFA: Actual spending in key sector ministries as a share of the initial approved budget

Thus, on an aggregate level, the Ebola crisis for Sierra Leone and Liberia resulted in slight improvements in budget execution rates, rather than increased fluctuations, as might be expected.

However, these aggregate values can mask large shifts within budgets that potentially can undermine credibility. For example, In Sierra Leone, official data indicates that an administrative unit known as “Miscellaneous Services,” which includes contingency expenditures, was significantly overspent during the crisis, but no explanations were provided to explain why this happened or how the money was spent.

Contingency expenditure in Sierra Leone (in millions, PEFA)

In the same time period, Sierra Leone also increased their accumulation of payment arrears from one percent of expenditures before the crisis to 17 percent of expenditures in 2016. These arrears, which are obligations where the government is late or delayed on payment, are often not reported in budgets and can potentially hide overspending practices. Such changes make it hard to track in government reports where the money goes and how it is being used and can mask credibility problems in the overall budget or specific programs.

3. Altered systems for emergency spending make it harder to track budget credibility.

The need for a rapid response in the Ebola crisis led governments to use different public financial management arrangements during their response. In both countries, the PEFA reports document shifts that governments made in their budgets during the emergency response, but with varying degrees of accountability and transparency. In the case of Liberia, these shifts were discussed with the legislature before being implemented and were not large enough to warrant a formal supplemental budget. In Sierra Leone, overspending was large enough to require a supplemental budget from the legislature, but after 2014 no supplemental budgets were submitted or approved.

In addition to revising public spending, governments were also setting up extra-budgetary funds to manage emergency spending. Extra-budgetary funds promised rapid delivery of services that could circumvent the slower machinery of government systems, including normal oversight practices. In many cases, new extra-budgetary funds were created due to the demand of donors. However, such funds also obscure the total amount of public resources directed to the crisis. By the end of the crisis, only 23 percent of donor financing was disbursed directly to all affected countries public finance systems, with the majority channeled either in extra-budgetary funds or implemented directly through development partners. Off-budget donor funding also has the additional challenge that government auditors in Sierra Leone and Liberia either did not have the mandate or access to donor accounts to audit where and how donor funding was spent.

How should lessons from the Ebola emergency inform the COVID-19 response?

As governments begin implementing their COVID-19 response efforts, often using similar tactics to those used during the Ebola response, we should watch out for similar pitfalls. These include:

  • Lesson 1: Transparency can regress. Lack of transparency makes it very challenging for CSOs and other stakeholders to conduct timely analysis of emergency spending practices and thereby seek remedial actions from the government during the period of the crisis. CSOs and other stakeholders must insist that governments prioritize transparency and the timely publication of data—transparency and accountability build the trust that is needed to combat the virus.
  • Lesson 2: Governments tend to use new instruments and PFM arrangements during a crisis. These include supplemental budgets, extra-budgetary funds, contingency reserves or funds and increases in expenditure arrears. Civil society should track these changes and monitor potential risks in these new systems. A special series of notes on COVID-19 from the IMF is a good resource for learning about how PFM systems are changing and what good practices should be adopted.
  • Lesson 3: Prioritized audits of emergency spending measures can come at the cost of routine audits of government spending. Auditors should formulate audit plans that ensure that all public funds are assessed. Routine audits of government financial statements—which will still account for most government spending—should look at spending deviations during the crisis. Additional support and funding to SAIs will allow them to take on this expanded mandate. CSOs and other stakeholders that are demanding that SAIs conduct expedited audits should also insist that regular audits continue, especially for programs at risk of mismanagement.
  • Lesson 4: Trends in deviations can continue during times of crises. Importantly, these trends hold true not just for aggregate budgets but also for the budgets of individual ministries and sectors. CSOs can use evidence of previous spending patterns to push back against unjustified claims made by government that budget deviations are only due to the crisis.
Overcoming barriers that limit accountability of public spending

Overcoming barriers that limit accountability of public spending

This piece was originally posted on the World Bank blog.

Countries around the world have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic crisis by expending trillions of dollars to support their economies and provide relief to their populations. Governments are following expedited procedures to quickly channel funds to relief and recovery programs. Still, a key challenge that countries are facing is ensuring that funds contribute to recovery and reach intended beneficiaries. This is a serious concern as cases of misuse and mismanagement of COVID-19 funds have been  reported on every continent.

Supreme audit institutions are key

Fortunately, countries already have organizations such as the supreme audit institutions (SAIs) that are responsible for providing independent assurance on the effective and lawful use of government monies, improvement in public service delivery, and response to disasters. In fact, in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit South and South-East Asia in 2004, the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) issued special standards on disaster-related expenditures. Further, during the Ebola pandemic in 2014, the SAIs of Liberia and Sierra Leone were lauded for their audits of emergency programs, which received extensive coverage in the national and global media.

Civil society’s involvement is necessary

Simultaneously, civil society organizations (CSOs) have also developed innovative methodologies to monitor government expenditures during emergencies and  ensure that  remedial measures are instituted based on audits conducted by SAIs. For example, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that hit Mexico and Nepal in the past few years, local CSOs used audit reports issued by their national SAIs to demand that their governments implement reforms in relief programs.

CSOs have now joined calls made by various international bodies and financing agencies for SAIs to be more involved in the monitoring of COVID-19-related funds. These are positive developments but more needs to be done to ensure that audit findings foster the efficient and effective use of public resources for the benefit of citizens.

Effective oversight relies on an ecosystem

In November 2020, the International Budget Partnership (IBP) and the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) are releasing a joint report that assesses the adequacy of national oversight systems based on data from 117 countries in the latest Open Budget Survey.

Audit and oversight are an “ecosystem,” consisting of a set of interconnected actors, conditions and processes that need to be in place and function well for the system as a whole to perform effectively. Although SAIs lead the charge, the success of their audits in upholding accountability and enhancing performance in large part depends on the actions of legislators, civil society, the media and ultimately the executive.

Overcoming barriers that limit accountability

Too often, SAIs suffer from deficiencies that are compounded by weak legislative oversight, inadequate responsiveness from executives to reports, and few opportunities for public engagement in the audit and oversight process. These challenges preceded the pandemic and are likely to be exacerbated by the crisis.  The IDI-IBP report suggests that all partners of the oversight system need to take action to strengthen accountability. Recommendations include:

  • Increasing the mandate, independence and resources of SAIs to audit public funds, including special funds established to channel resources emergency programs,
  • Improving the quality of audits by strengthening systems and independent quality checks,
  • Enhancing transparency with timely publication of audit reports and tracking executive responses to recommendations,
  • Ensuring that legislatures scrutinize SAI reports, including the ones on emergency spending measures, and
  • Expanding opportunities for public engagement during the formulation of plans, legislative discussions, and crucially, executive implementation of audit recommendations.

It is very important that governments and other stakeholders use audits to ensure that public funds are expended in a manner that will best save lives and reduce hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

*Martin Aldcroft is Senior Manager of the Strategic Support Unit of the INTOSAI Development Initiative, Vivek Ramkumar is the Senior Director of Policy at the International Budget Partnership and Edward Olowo-Okere is Director of the Global Governance Practice at the World Bank.

* * In 2019, IBP and IDI signed a strategic partnership agreement out of mutual recognition of a shared vision and fruitful synergies while supporting effective engagements between SAIs, legislatives and civil society in order to enhance accountability, audit impact and make a difference to the lives of citizens. This joint report “Harnessing accountability through external public audits: An assessment of national oversight systems” is one product resulting from the partnership.

Part Three: From challenge to advocacy: how Social Justice put children at the heart of the budget

Part Three: From challenge to advocacy: how Social Justice put children at the heart of the budget

This is the last in a three-part series on the budget analysis and advocacy learning journey of IBP’s civil society partner, Social Justice, in Cote d’Ivoire. Part one is available here and part two is available here.

This post is also available in French.

The word was out. Social media conversations on YouTube, webinars with journalists and bloggers and meetings with high-level government officials were all centered around the issue of school canteens across Cote d’Ivoire. The Minister of the Budget recognized the need for better funding of and accountability for the canteens that help kids stay in school. But how did we get here?

We first wrote about Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire- a civil society group focused on transparency and good governance in Cote d’Ivoire – in an earlier blog and their evolution from a group working on broad transparency issues to one focused on rigorous budget advocacy and analysis. In partnership with the International Budget Partnership (IBP), Social Justice had sharpened their vision and focused on analyzing the government budget and identifying non-functioning or subpar school canteens as a critical issue facing their country. As they dove deeper into the issue, they were able to link the problem directly to the budget and a lack of community involvement and oversight in the functioning of these canteens. But that was the easy (ish) part. The next step was to figure out what to do with the information they gathered, who to share it with and how to create a plan to close the school canteen gap.

Developing an evidence-based advocacy plan

In our previous blog, we learned how Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire began capturing evidence of the problem with their budget analysis report. This was a critical step in understanding the entirety of the public finance system as well as laying the foundation for an evidence-based advocacy plan. They soon learned that the school canteen issue was about much more than just the canteens – they also had to look at issues of nutrition, food security and the political ecosystem of critical stakeholders. School canteens are infrastructures that fall under the responsibility of the state at the central level as well as local authorities. As such, the relationship between the central and local governments is a complex and important one – the influence of the central state is needed to promote the consideration of school canteens at the local level. This implies, if necessary, an increase in the resources allocated by the state to local authorities. This in turn means there will be an additional expense in the community budget requiring new taxes or the redirecting of certain expenditures to school canteens, making the local community’s political will vital. To gain the support of local authorities, it’s important that the Ministry of Budget increase the resources allocated to community budgets to take on better funding of school canteens.

The need for allies

At this juncture, Social Justice recognized the need for powerful allies who could carry the message and navigate the discussions among state and local government officials. Due to the high-quality of their budget analysis, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire was able to secure major development partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme, in addition to local budget officials at the Departmental Budget Directorate. Additionally, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire knew that the involvement of cooperatives would be essential to reducing the costs of taking over school canteens in community budgets and thus alleviating any reluctance at the local level to take on the financial burden.

Pivoting during COVID-19

With critical partnerships in place and their analysis report validated, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire knew it was time to get the school canteen message out far and wide – press releases were drafted, and press conferences were planned. And then COVID-19 hit. Like so many other civil society partners IBP works with, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had to quickly find new ways of working – and they did. In light of the quarantine and travel restrictions, the national analysis report, as well as the locality report, were sent to a directory of 22 local civil society organizations to inform and assist in local dissemination and advocacy.  Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire also partnered with three local radio stations to broadcast debates on the problems and to find national solutions and local alternatives to finance school canteens.

Social Justice also held an online press conference and invited reporters to a webinar to discuss the findings of their investigation and to encourage wide reporting on the issue. It is also important to note that working online in this way is no easy task in Francophone Africa. Spotty or nonexistent Wi-Fi is a challenge many face but Social Justice approached it with a spirit of collaboration and shared or donated airtime for those who needed it. As a result, several blogs, newspapers and a radio station ran stories on Social Justice’s investigation, with more planned. Additionally, Social Justice has established key relationships with the media and is working with a group of bloggers on tips and strategies on publishing compelling online content. Moving forward, Social Justice can be an expert resource for the media on budget matters and help carry the message of budget transparency and accountability.

Successes and lessons learned

Social Justice’s hard work to explore the challenges affecting school canteens is by no means over. While widespread awareness of the issue has been achieved and partnerships forged, they will have to continue to pressure national, regional and local stakeholders to ensure school canteens benefit the community’s children.

However, it’s important to highlight Social Justice’s wins and the long-term skills and competencies they gained throughout this project, including:

  • The strengthening of Social Justice’s capacity for budget analysis;
  • The availability of budgetary and statistical data generated by the project, which will contribute to continued advocacy in the sector;
  • Significant partnerships with allies such as the WFP, UNICEF, the Ministry of the Budget and the Ministry of National Education;
  • Awakening local actors (cooperatives, associations, local authorities, etc.) to the alarming situation of school canteens through awareness campaigns;
  • Involvement of the media on the issue of school canteens.

While Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire will focus on other issues in their country, the experience of building their budget analysis and advocacy skills will strengthen their ability to fight for transparency and good governance.

The author would like to thank Carol Kiangura, IBP Senior Program Officer, Sub-Saharan Africa, Training, Technical Assistance & Networking and the Social Justice staff for their invaluable help in writing this post.

Part Two – From challenge to advocacy: how Social Justice put children at the heart of the budget

Part Two – From challenge to advocacy: how Social Justice put children at the heart of the budget

This is part two of a three-part series on the budget analysis and advocacy learning journey of IBP’s civil society partner, Social Justice, in Cote d’Ivoire. Part one is available here.

This post is also available in French

Service delivery challenges are often the impetus for a civil society group or movement to start engaging in budget work. Gaps in services such as health care, education or sanitation can be obvious signals that something is wrong but determining if the root problem is related to the budget requires specific skills and competencies.

Stretching to learn new skills
Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire, a civil society group focused on transparency and good governance in Cote d’Ivoire, had already been engaged in budget work – specifically budget monitoring – and has been a longtime partner of the International Budget Partnership (IBP). As an Open Budget Survey (OBS) researcher, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire is already well-versed in assessing the components of the budget accountability system including public availability of budget information; opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process; and the role of formal oversight institutions, including the legislature and the national audit office. However, it’s important to note that this was the first time Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had practiced budget analysis and that no other civil society group in the country had embarked on such analysis. Analyzing data in the context of a specific problem to arrive at an advocacy strategy was a shortcoming that limited their contribution to fiscal policy. With our more focused partnership with Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire as part of the Francophone Africa Network (FAN), we supported them in sharpening their vision, focus and skills.

Meeting with the Minister of the Budget

Once Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had focused on the issue of insufficient or non-working school canteens, the next step was to identify if the challenges were in fact due to a budget problem and if engaging in the budget ecosystem was an effective solution. Public finance systems are often complex, sprawling and bureaucratic labyrinths that can be difficult to understand and penetrate, even for an experienced group like Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire. Combine that with the unique system of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and a highly centralized service delivery process and it’s easy to understand how complex it can be to find a root cause. But Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire was determined to do the analysis to understand why the school canteens were failing the community’s children. IBP’s support in this area was two-pronged : 1) direct capacity building around how to determine if there’s a budget problem (i.e., mismanagement, lack of resources, lack of value for money) and 2) through IBP’s grant, working with a former Ministry of Finance official who strengthened their capacity to understand budget processes, documents and relevant actors and stakeholders.

This learning process was essential for Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire to not only analyze an important aspect of social policy in relation to the government’s budgetary policy, but to also highlight service delivery gaps and make constructive proposals for improvement. Additionally, this learning benefits the entire field of civil society as Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire shares its learning and helps build a field of groups experienced in budget analysis.

Is this a budget problem?

Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire initially set out to examine the national education sector since it’s such a vital part of society and is a strategic lever for sustainable development, specifically achieving quality education as part of the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations. Additionally, the Ministry of National Education has the largest budget in the state – about 17.6 percent as of 2017. Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire wanted to explore how the Ministry’s budget was impacting essential services within the education sector.

To explore this issue, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire conducted a survey of primary education directorates, civil society groups working in education and parents’ associations in three targeted regions to identify important services that are underfunded. On the whole, school canteens emerged as an important means to keeping children in school. With additional analysis of certain budget documents, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire discovered dismaying facts about school canteens, including: 67 out of 100 schools do not have canteens and of those that do, only 10 percent are functional. According to the survey respondents, these issues are a result of a lack of funding resources and served as a starting point for Social Justice’s budget analysis.

The start of budget analysis

The next phase of Social Justice’s work was to inform a budget analysis report through the identification of localities to focus their analysis and the stakeholders and issue areas they would need to engage in the process.

As part of their budget monitoring work, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had five committees in place for monitoring public policies at the local level. They knew that the budget analysis would need to include localities, so they decided to focus on three municipalities where they had planning committees that could contribute to information gathering and advocacy: Bouaflé, Bondoukou and Hiré. The local committees already had budget tracking and advocacy experience, however they also received additional training in local budget analysis. Additionally, these localities are mining areas which benefit from a Local Development Fund financed by 0.5 percent of the revenues of each mining company. The fund is managed by a committee) comprised of local authorities, representatives of village heads and young community members) in charge of using the funds to carry out community projects. Geographical distribution was also an important consideration in choosing where to focus their work to ensure a diverse scope of the challenge.

Once Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had their local budget analysis for the three localities, they were able to start working on the high-level report that would inform their advocacy strategy to address the school canteen issue. This work included conducting a literature review on national education, school canteens and the state budget and a field survey phase for interviews and discussions. Drawing on the training from IBP and other partners, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire was able to extract statistical data, process and analyze it and draw conclusions to formulate their final budget analysis report.

Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire knew the country’s children faced a problem with a lack of sufficient and operational school canteens and went from budget monitoring to budget analysis to get to the heart of the issue. Embarking on a learning journey with IBP and other partners, they were able to engage stakeholders and analyze the gaps affecting this critical infrastructure to help keep kids in school.

In the third and final post in this series, learn more about what Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire uncovered in their budget analysis and how they built public awareness around the school canteen issue.

The author would like to thank Carol Kiangura, IBP Senior Program Officer, Sub-Saharan Africa, Training, Technical Assistance & Networking and the Social Justice staff for their invaluable help in writing this post.