Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month we’re spotlighting Julius Kapwepwe, director of programs at the Uganda Debt Network. This interview is supported by the European Commission.
1. What is the Uganda Debt Network (UDN)?
UDN’s vision is a Uganda where public resources are prudently, sustainably and equitably managed.
2. What drew you to budget and advocacy work?
From an early age, I was interested in the public and economic affairs of my country. My parents were ordinary people—traders and farmers—but they were always politically aware, so I was naturally attracted to the public sector. My parents baptized me with the names “Kapwepwe” after the former vice-president of Zambia, and “Julius” after Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania. They were both African liberation giants. So, I grew up Pan-African oriented, believing that African countries have the legroom and the space to finance their development priorities.
3. What is UDN’s connection to the International Budget Partnership (IBP)? And how has the partnership affected financial transparency in Uganda over time?
UDN has partnered on the Open Budget Survey (OBS) since 2006. The survey is an evidence-based process that visibly adds value for the government. They [the government] would say, “Oh, we thought we’re connecting with people, but now I see that there’s a gap [in communication] here and there.” Or, “Oh, we have generated this [budget] publication, but have not been conscious to upload it in time for the public to meaningfully engage with it.” The OBS has contributed to quicker uploading of key documents in Uganda such as the pre-budget statements.
4. How is UDN working towards greater transparency in the acquisition and management of government debt?
When the government is looking to acquire debt, we want to look at the quality of the terms of the proposed loan and the conditions for the loan. Through the national parliament (our legislative body) there is a regular window for stakeholders to offer input in the loan management process. We are seeing great activity now compared to where we were several years ago. We are in a much better position. The issue is that although we can provide input, our input is not always implemented. But we are moving toward a more open and inclusive process.
5. UDN has developed the kind of working relationship with Uganda’s government that other countries would love to replicate. For example, the 2021 OBS was launched in Uganda with the minister of finance at the Ministry of Finance. How did that relationship develop?
Budget advocacy has required a closer working relationship with select government institutions such as the Ministry of Finance, national parliament, inspectorate of government, auditor general and the Central Bank of Uganda. It goes back to the government’s recognition that evidence-based processes such as the OBS add value, which then builds value into the government’s budget processes.
6. What is still left for UDN to accomplish in Uganda?
Our OBS aspirations are progressive and broader democratization, poverty reduction and increased self-financing of our country’s budget and development priorities. If a country does not have its own financial muscle to determine its own budget priorities and actions, it cannot fully succeed in key areas of the OBS. We will therefore be pushing to increase our own revenue bases to finance our budget priorities, determine our own poverty reduction agenda and build our own capacities.
Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month we are spotlighting Andrea Larios, a researcher for Fundar in Mexico.
1. Give us a brief detail of your name, the organization you work at and what you do?
My name is Andrea Larios, I work at Fundar as a researcher for the Fiscal Justice Program. The focus of my work relies mainly on public expenditure and its impacts on human rights, gender equality and social justice.
2. What is the relationship between deviating from a country’s approved budget and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? In other words, how does budget credibility affect a country’s progress on these goals?
When the federal budget is approved, resources are allocated towards different objectives. However, as the fiscal year goes by, reallocations are made and, in some cases, resources are over or under spent. Underspending makes it difficult to achieve the SDGs, as in many cases we see budget cuts affecting social services that can propel progress towards these goals. As we know, the budget is the most concrete display of a government’s priorities, and in absence of budget credibility, the achievement of goals, specifically the SDGs, becomes harder to obtain. Furthermore, budget credibility is not a topic that is discussed enough in public debates in Mexico.
3. How is the Mexican government prioritizing resource allocations to accelerate progress on the SDGs? And in what ways is it missing the mark?
Mexico’s Federal government is not prioritizing resource allocations towards SDGs, except on social protection. There are specific sectors that are constantly under spent and face consistent budget cuts. This raises concerns about the government’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda. In the health and education sectors, the government’s level of spending is below internationally recommended standards. There is an underinvestment of resources towards achieving gender equity goals and no clear methodology in place to attain them. Resources directed towards environmental protection have also been consistently falling since 2019.
4. Which sectors in Mexico’s economy routinely underspend and why is underspending a concern for reaching SDG milestones?
Society expects that when a public budget is approved, it is executed in a timely and appropriate manner. However, governments do not always comply with this by over or under spending. Underspending can cause delays in the achievement of goals as the delivery of public services and goods, as well as investments, is insufficient and not effective. When previously approved funds are not fully spent, the effectiveness of public programs and projects diminishes. Furthermore, government’s does not explain why these deviations take place. In Mexico, there has been recent underspending in food and agriculture and environmental protection. And while underspending for health, social protection, and water and sanitation is not the norm, it happened in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
5. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted spending patterns in Mexico, particularly when it comes to social protection?
The government outlined its economic plan to face the pandemic in 2020, and in it, austerity measures were put in place. This led to resources being taken from some sectors to increase the budget of others that the government considered more strategically important. Across the sectors we have examined, budget deviations were mostly found in health, social protection, environment and water and sanitation.: While resources were increased for health, water and sanitation, the environment suffered budget cuts, as did social protection. Underspending in social protection stands out as it happened amid the peak of the pandemic in 2020, a year in which household income dropped drastically and millions of people lost their jobs. This was counterintuitive and had a negative effect on the well-being of individuals and the economy as a whole and may have influenced the increase in the number of people living in poverty that year.
6. What has the Mexican government done to affirm its commitment to achieving the SDGs? And what more can it do?
While Mexico’s government has outlined its commitment towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda through reforming the country’s Planning Law and the creation of documents and strategies to implement the agenda, in practice, it won’t be so easy to achieve. Public expenditure data, socioeconomic indicators and advances per SDG show that the allocation of resources towards the sectors that are aligned to SDGs has been insufficient, particularly in education, health and the environment. Mexico’s administration still has work to do to achieve the goals in the 2030 Agenda, including:
The government should explain budget reallocations to prove its commitment to transparency and accountability
Public debate around budget credibility and its impact on achieving SDGs should first focus on the need for progressive fiscal reform that enables the federal government to collect enough tax income to support the operation of public and social programs directly related to SDGs
Improve transparency and data access related to programs and SDGs, specifically on the public database that links SDGs with public programs but does not disclose budget allocations per SDG.
Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month we are spotlighting Edil Eraliev, the Chief Executive Officer at Precedent Partners, in Kyrgyz Republic, a partner of our European Commission funded project Collaborating for Open and Accountable Budgets.
1. Describe your organization’s role and how your mission advances open budgets in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Part of Precedent’s mission is to promote access to information and budget transparency. An open budget is one of Precedent’s key priorities. We have been working to promote open budgets since 2008 when we collaborated with IBP to conduct the first analysis under the Open Budget Survey. Kyrgyzstan received 8 out of 100 points on budget transparency at that time, but the country has steadily improved its transparency score and in the 2021 OBS, it earned 62 points.
Since the end of 2015, Precedent has been actively working with the Coalition for the Budget in the healthcare field, which encompasses more than 50 civil society organizations in Kyrgyzstan. Precedent prepares Coalition members for public and parliamentary budget hearings, monitors budget expenditures by ministries, and helps monitor public procurement plans. Precedent is actively working to educate the Coalition on the national budget and public procurement, thus expanding public engagement and expertise in budget matters and facilitating the participation of civil society organizations (CSO) in state decision-making.
Precedent’s role in promoting open budgets is to promote civil society and activists’ participation in the budget process and encourage citizens to actively engage with government and parliament.
At the core of each of our four areas of activity is solving specific problems and challenges. These four areas include: transparency (access to information, public procurement, and budget transparency), justice (campaigning for judicial reform and providing legal support to citizens), governance (developing connections to and actively engaging with the government) and civic education.
2. The Kyrgyz Republic is one of the biggest improvers in transparency since 2008 in the Open Budget Survey. Can you give us a snapshot of how your organization and other activist groups engaged the government to achieve this result?
The main goal of Precedent is to work with CSO’s and activists to promote the transparency and accountability of public authorities. After all, there is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money. State authorities manage our money and the future of the country, and its residents depend on the effectiveness of their management.
Precedent has always followed the approach to build relationships with ministries, the government and the parliament in friendly and constructive ways. We continually improve our training programs with this in mind.
In working with Coalition members, Precedent pays close attention to the analysis of draft budgets. Based on that analysis, we prepare Coalition members to participate in hearings. In recent years alone, Coalition members have achieved incredible results, specifically:
In 2019, they prevented sequestering of the Mandatory Health Insurance Fund (MHIF) budget in the amount of 873 million soms.
In 2020, they helped boost Ministry of Finance funding for the health sector from 18 billion soms to 20 billion. In 2022, that allocation has now risen to 28 billion soms.
In 2021-2022, supported the Coalition’s request to the Government to allocate additional funding to the health sector by 1 billion soms for 2023-2024.
3. What role has IBP played in helping to improve budget advocacy and open budgets in the Kyrgyz Republic?
Since our collaboration on the OBS in 2008, IBP’s contribution to the transparency of Kyrgyz’s budget process and helping citizen advocacy has been significant. IBP has provided us with advocacy training and shared their experiences in other countries which helped persuade the Ministry of Finance to be more transparent with state budgets. In particular, an IBP training on budget transparency and accountability held at the end of 2021 and May 2022 which enabled Coalition members to use examples from other countries to improve their knowledge and new approaches and practices in their advocacy.
4. What role did your organization play in spotlighting the need for reform to expand public participation in the budget process? What has been achieved?
Since 2013, Precedent Partners has been actively working on budget transparency and participation through authoring such workbooks as Proactive Civic Control and the Budget Guide for Citizens. More importantly, our founder Nurbek Toktakunov is the co-author of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic (2010), and he promoted and defended an article of the Constitution which gives every citizen the right to access information.
Access to information is now recognized as an exceptionally important human right. State and local self-government authorities are called to work towards the fulfillment and improvement of this right of access to information. Work in the Kyrgyz Republic on transparency of the budget system started with the right of access to information. As part of our budget advocacy, we actively conduct training seminars on the basics of budget law, its structure, and content for our partners who work in the field of budget advocacy. Precedent prepares Coalition members for public and parliamentary budget hearings, monitors budget expenditures by ministries, and assists in monitoring public procurement plans.
5. How do you see the role of civil society in adding value to the budgeting process and accountability ecosystem?
Civil society organizations are central to the budget process and accountability. It is the CSOs in Kyrgyzstan that promote the values of these two words “transparency” and “accountability.” CSOs in the budget process should have the role of a partner, helping state agencies in the formation and spending of public funds. Precedent strengthens its work in training CSOs on the budget process and monitoring public procurement. Together with Open Contracting Partnership, Precedent is working on building an information platform that will provide training, analytics, and up-to-date information on public procurement in the Kyrgyz Republic.
6. What do you think are the critical next steps the government should take in improving open budgets in the Kyrgyz Republic?
In the 2021 Open Budget Survey, a number of recommendations were given to the Kyrgyz government to improve open budgets. Among the most critical are annually holding public hearings on the approval of the National budget as well as ensuring civil society representatives’ right to speak during hearings on the budget’s execution. (For more on the recommendations, download Kyrgyz’s country report here).
In addition to the OBS recommendations, we would like to add a proposal that the government should consider disclosing the law enforcement bodies’ budget. Currently, it is kept under the “confidential” classification. We also think the government should hold a discussion or hearing on making changes or additions to the current budget. The government does makes changes to the budget during the year, but does not hold any hearings on it, which leads to changes being made without public input.
Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month we’re spotlighting Katia Lambis, budget expert and OBS consultant, from Fundación Solidaridad in the Dominican Republic.
This interview was translated to from Spanish.
Q: Tell us about Fundación Solidaridad’s mission?
A: Fundación Solidaridad, founded in 1990, is a non-profit institution based on the principles of solidarity, equity and participatory democracy. We support citizens to play an active role in their collective wellbeing. For 30 years, the organization has developed projects to strengthen the advocacy capacity of civil society organizations in promoting transparency, oversight and accountability, among other issues.
Fundación Solidaridad has been recognized nationally and internationally for being a pioneer in the implementation of the Municipal Participatory Budget in the Dominican Republic. Since 2008, we have carried out the independent review of IBP’s Open Budget Survey (OBS) in the Dominican Republic.
Q: How did the Dominican Republic fare in the OBS 2021?
A: The country made significant progress, ranking ninth in the list of countries that exhibit the greatest budget transparency globally and as one of the 17 countries that publish all eight national budget documents.
Q: In what ways has the Dominican government shown improvement compared to its previous OBS ranking from 2019?
A: The country’s transparency score improved from 75 to 77 due to progress that was made in the availability and comprehensiveness of information provided in national budget documents. Regarding budget oversight, we also observed an increase from 57 to 63 points thanks to actions carried out by Congress and the audit institution (the Chamber of Accounts). However, we should note that the public participation score decreased from 31 to 22 points because opportunities for citizen participation were not provided during the formulation and approval of the budget.
Q: The Dominican government established public consultations during budget implementation to strengthen public participation in the budget process. This is a great start but what else can it do to further bolster the public’s involvement in budget matters?
A: The Dominican government has expressed its commitment to public participation in budget matters and the relevant institutions have reiterated their commitment to prioritize, guarantee and expand spaces for public participation throughout the budget process. To this end, they have begun to set up mechanisms that allow citizens and civil society organizations to participate in activities related to the formulation of the budget and are working to create participation mechanisms during the approval of the budget.
Q: How does the Dominican Republic use the OBS findings to improve its open budget practices?
A: With each OBS publication, the results have allowed the Dominican Republic to identify areas for improvement in its budgetary practices and implement policies to address weaknesses.
A good example of an effort to promote more open budget practices was the publication of the Citizens Budget, which began in 2015. The Citizens Budget has contributed to a) progress in making information accessible to citizens; b) improving follow-up and citizen monitoring throughout the budget process; and c) contributing to improved transparency and accountability of the budget process.
The institutions responsible for the budget’s preparation have made available to the public several instruments to support the Citizens Budget, such as a guide to understanding the budget, explanatory videos and infographics with weekly, monthly and quarterly reports on budget execution that allow citizens to evaluate the performance of spending measures.
Thanks to Fundación Solidaridad’s advocacy, and the results of the OBS 2021, the government is motivated to continue working towards increased transparency and oversight, and to formalize channels for public participation in budget matters. We continue to organize dialogues with Congress and the Chamber of Accounts to promote greater detail in budget information and increased spaces for public participation. We will keep working towards progress.
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 Romulo Emmanuel Miral, Jr. PhD, Director General of the Philippines Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department.
Q: What is the role of the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) in strengthening accountability in public spending, and who have been its key allies in these efforts?
A: All legislation on appropriations emanates from the House of Representatives, as it holds the purse strings. That said, ultimately, the House and the Senate jointly enact all such legislation. In addition to legislation, Congress is also vested with the oversight function over the implementation of legislation, the national budget included.
As the socioeconomic think tank of the House, CPBRD provides technical assistance to the legislation and oversight processes involved in the national budget and other appropriations through research and information support. The department’s main budget-related outputs are Budget Briefs; Agency Budget Notes; the Legislative Agenda, which is formulated for each Regular Session and with the support of the Committee Affairs Bureau; and occasional research monographs, such as the Legislator’s Guide in Analyzing the National Budget. Underlying all research and information support are the principles of transparency and accountability in public spending.
We also provide context for budget and appropriation legislation and oversight. In the area of the national budget and other appropriations, CPBRD articulates this context in its research outputs by:
Elaborating on the goals of public spending, namely, macroeconomic stability; redistribution; sustainable and inclusive development; and efficient, effective and predictable allocation of limited public funds through correspondence between national priorities and long-term spending plans; and alignment with strategic national and sectoral priorities, and
Discussing and illustrating the underlying principles of transparency, accountability, fiscal discipline, and evidence-based decision making.
CPBRD works with the Committee on Appropriations and other House Committees in providing support for the legislation of the national budget and other appropriations. It is also tapped by the Speaker’s Office for information support. Externally, CPBRD worked with the Commission on Audit and Social Watch Philippines, a civil society organization working towards the creation of the House Committee on Public Accounts. For purposes of knowledge sharing, policy dialogue, and capacity building, occasional collaborations have been pursued with multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank; other government institutions, such as the Philippine Institute for Development Studies; and civil society organizations, such as the Institute for Autonomy and Governance.
Of late, CPBRD has explored the institutionalization of public participation in the preparation of the national budget, which will allow the public more avenues to strengthen transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the use of public funds.
We also support the state’s oversight function, which increases the probability of success of the legislation of the national budget and other appropriations. It ensures that laws are implemented as they are intended and that outputs and outcomes in public spending are achieved. Our support is articulated in three ways: First, attempting to put forward the policies, parameters, and standards involved in budget implementation by the executive. Second, defining policies on the use of unutilized funds. And third, emphasizing the importance of the executive’s submission of periodic execution reports to Congress.
Recently CPBRD introduced legislative evaluations as an integral component in the implementation of laws.
Q: What are the main PFM challenges you have seen and are trying to address, as far as your role is concerned?
A: CPBRD sees the following as the main problems in public financial management in the country: A lack of efficiency in the allocation and utilization of limited public funds; a lack of fiscal transparency and accountability on the part of government agencies for their outputs and outcomes; and inadequate systems for monitoring budget execution and budget accountability.
Two of the more specific and notable problems include the wide discretion of the executive in budget execution and unavailability of complete and timely monitoring and evaluation information to guide budget legislation and oversight functions.
CPBRD has proposed the following solutions to these challenges:
The establishment of a Government Integrated Financial Management Information System that will generate real-time information on budget execution and results.
Greater access by Congress of the executive’s budget monitoring systems.
Strengthening the institutional capacity of Congress to monitor and evaluate the fiscal performance of national government agencies, such as through the creation of a public accounts committee, enactment of the Budget Reform Act, and the establishment of an independent congressional budget office similar to that of the US Congressional Budget Office that serves both houses of Congress.
Q: Has your agency benefitted from IBP and what we do? How has IBP influenced your work?
A: CPBRD monitors the Open Budget Survey because it provides an independent assessment of the extent that the country exercises transparency and accountability at each stage of the budget cycle. Through the OBS, we are able to monitor whether the Philippines has made improvements over the years in comparison with other countries. Highlights of the survey are featured in CPBRD’s Facts in Figures.
The OBS also provides assessments of Congress’ exercise of its oversight function. Where oversight is perceived to be low, CPBRD is prompted to produce outputs that underscore the importance of mainstreaming oversight in the work of the legislative and to provide our principals with the basis to initiate reviews of executive agency or program performance.
CPBRD also produces and distributes the Agency Budget Notes annually during the budget season. The Notes present analyses of the budget utilization performance or absorptive capacities of agencies. Indicators on the achievement of targets and relevant findings by the Commission on Audit are also given. We intend to improve on these outputs because they are widely used even outside the House of Representatives.
Q: How crucial was CPBRD’s role in providing oversight functions for COVID funds? Can you share about specific steps your office took to ensure accountability of COVID spending by the government?
A: As a research and information support unit, CPBRD provided House Members with a total of 40 weekly monitoring reports on the Republic Act No. 11469, which declared COVID a national emergency and gave the president the powers necessary to carry out the declared national policy. The reports were organized along the four areas covered in the law, namely, social amelioration, economic stimulus, health and COVID-19, and peace and order.
After the expiration of said law, CPBRD published ‘A Results-based Assessment of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act’. The report summarized the results of the implementation of the law, identified factors that affected implementation results, and offered recommendations for improving the design and implementation of COVID-19 measures.
With the extraordinary budgetary powers given to the president under RA 11469, it was important that Congress was apprised with the extent to which agencies/departments and their respective programs were affected by discontinuances and reallocations for COVID-19 Initiatives. During the deliberations of the national budget in 2020 and 2021, CPBRD incorporated in the Agency Budget Notes updates on discontinuances and the status of COVID-19 releases, thereby highlighting the utilization performance of COVID-19 releases by the recipient agency.
Lastly, Special Issues of CPBRD Budget Briefs analyzed executive issuances affecting the agency budgets and the implementation of COVID-19 measures. Financial reports by the executive were examined and in a more simplified manner, fund releases were reported by expenditure purpose and recipient agency. Other fund sources were also covered, such as pooled savings from discontinued agency programs and unprogrammed appropriations, particularly from loan proceeds for foreign-assisted projects and Treasury-certified additional revenues. The budget briefs identified challenges to budget accountability, such as downscaled, postponed, or abandoned projects authorized in the General Appropriations Act, weak compliance by agencies to the reportorial requirements on utilization of COVID-19 releases, and proper accounting and audit of donations for COVID-19.
Q: What specific impact has your office achieved in the last two years?
A: During the pandemic, CPBRD temporarily stopped the production of our publications in hard copy and made considerable improvements to our website for online publications. Notably, there was increased demand for the Agency Budget Notes from House Members. CPBRD will resume printing of limited hard copies because of requests from the staff of House Members.
Congressional review of the budget has taken up more issues relating to operational efficiency of agencies and the overall efficiency in allocating limited public resources. It was observed that during recent budget deliberations, House Members asked executive agencies about their budget utilization performance or absorptive capacities. Also, budget proposals for the creation of new positions were also reviewed against unfilled positions of the agencies.
Online fora on the formulation of a national evaluation policy conducted by CPBRD in partnership with the Senate Economic Planning Office and the United Nations Children Fund UNICEF were well attended. The need for a culture of evaluation is now better appreciated.
By Claire Schouten, Senior Program Officer, International Budget Partnership and Joe Powell, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership
Restoring the notion of government of, for and by the people will be essential as we seek to renew societies and build resilience in the post-pandemic global recovery. This crisis exacerbated and exposed inequality and injustice around the world, hitting the most vulnerable hardest. Now is the time for governments to make more robust investments in rebuilding societies.
These investments are too important to be made opaquely and without public input, especially when inequality and perceived corruption have already undermined public trust in many governments. In recent years, governments globally have made commitments to be open about what they’re doing with the public’s money.
Fiscal openness is a mainstay of the open government movement. In the last decade of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), over 90 percent of OGP members have made a total of 671 fiscal openness commitments – more than nearly any other policy area. Fiscal openness is not just a consistently popular policy area in OGP, it’s also one of the four core eligibility criteria for membership, based on data from the Open Budget Survey. Redoubling those commitments, and most essentially, making sure they translate into accountability – so that communities have a say in public spending and can ensure governments use scarce resources for the public good– has never been more important to our democratic future.
The good news is that these efforts are paying off. As per the Open Budget Survey, we’re at the highest level of transparency since the International Budget Partnership started assessing open budget practices more than fifteen years ago. In the 77 countries assessed in every round between 2008 and 2019, the average global score on budget transparency increased by 20 percent. The latest OGP Vital Signs research also shows that OGP countries that have made open budgeting commitments – especially if they are ambitious and over multiple action plans – have improved their scores more than other countries.
However, progress has also been inconsistent with fluctuating performance in too many countries. Among OGP members, there are now some countries that even risk falling below the core eligibility criteria because they have slipped on their fiscal transparency scores. COVID exacerbated this volatility as many governments have not been as transparent with relief spending as they could be. Despite all of this, there is room for quicker, more sustained progress. If countries around the world simply published budget documents that they already produce for internal use, there would be transparency gains globally of 20 percent. Governments can also focus on proactively providing information that citizens want, such as information on service delivery.
Going beyond transparency
There is also growing recognition that transparency alone is insufficient, that opportunities for public participation and strong oversight are also central to accountable government. Spaces are needed for informed public debate and for those most likely to be adversely affected by inequitable budgets to be involved. Strong oversight by both legislatures, national audit offices and other oversight actors is needed to hold the executive to account throughout the budget process and ensure budgets are fully implemented in line with stated objectives.
As governments launched massive spending measures to address the impacts of the pandemic, some countries have shown that a more transparent, inclusive and accountable way of managing the public purse, even during an emergency, is indeed possible.
In the Philippines, a commitment to hold a series of public consultations called Dagyaw 2020—promoted under the aegis of the Open Government Partnership—was repurposed to ensure continuing public dialogues during the COVID crisis on government response policies.
In South Africa, the civil society-led Asivikelane campaign has highlighted severe public service shortages in South Africa’s informal settlements. Using a simple but effective survey that is implemented via text messages and targeted advocacy, the campaign has already improved access to water, sanitation, and waste removal services from municipal governments affecting more than one million people.
These good practices demonstrate that speedy policy responses do not have to undermine accountability. They provide a useful roadmap for governments to include citizens and critical oversight institutions in deeply consequential spending decisions in emergency times and beyond. By planning and implementing spending in a more open and collaborative way, and keeping citizens informed, governments can ensure public spending is more effective and equitable. Perhaps most importantly, they can strengthen social capital and expand civic space so that all people feel heard and trust that public funds are spent in the public interest. Governments should take heed of these approaches in their ongoing relief efforts. For instance, the EU’s landmark Recovery and Resilience Facility – an essential mechanism to combat the challenges faced by EU member states as they rebuild economies and livelihoods in the wake of the pandemic – should model these good practices. Given the unprecedented size and scale of the funds, it will be crucial to embed enhanced transparency, accountability and civic participation mechanisms to ensure these funds have their intended impact.
We have an opportunity to forge new alliances and strategies that shift politics. It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to countering authoritarianism and promoting local accountability solutions. It consists of:
Refined political strategy. For public resources to contribute to a more just and equitable society, we need a deeper understanding and response to the political economy of public resource decision-making and implementation. Powerful interests that have built social, political, and economic structures that concentrate wealth and privilege and exclude marginalized groups are at the root causes of deprivation. Further opening up budget processes in meaningful ways requires developing alliances and partnerships that build countervailing power, so that public resources are spent to tackle poverty and inequity. Progress on open spending practices will also generate important information for combating corruption in public contracts and company ownership.
New spaces for impact. New spaces are emerging as opportunities for impact on big political issues of our time. They include meaningful civil society participation in revenue debates and spending monitoring; bridging budget and environmental actors to ensure that recovery funds contribute to a sustainable and green transition and that climate change funds serve vulnerable communities; and strong connections and real gains at the subnational level of government, with a focus on service delivery. Civil society has been a vanguard in carving out new spaces to inform government decisions in a meaningful way– now it is time for national and local governments to scale up and formalize channels for greater public participation on these mission critical issues.
New opportunities for powerful alliances. We can build a robust accountability ecosystem that fosters trust and strengthens democracy. Let’s bring together citizens, social movements, state accountability institutions such as national audit offices and executive ministries to foster a governance system that works for all.
As the Open Budget Survey and good practices above illustrate, it is notable that countries across income levels and geographies have been able to chart new directions to manage public funds in a more accountable and inclusive way. Where there is a will, there is a way. A more inclusive approach is not only possible, but desirable if we are to advance more resilient and democratic societies in which public funds advance the public interest. The Open Government Partnership can help by enlisting new allies, building broad coalitions across government and civic actors with legitimacy and power to rise to the challenges we face and are likely to face going forward.
This article also appears on the Open Government Partnership’s website. Read it here.