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 MagatteDiouf Cisse, program coordinator at Urbasen, a Senegalese organization bringing together professionals working in urban management in informal settlements. Urbasen works in close collaboration with the Federation of Senegalese Inhabitants, an umbrella organization of women’s associations and community leaders in informal settlements.
Fighting for safe water and sanitation in Senegal
Magatte walks the busy, unpaved streets of an informal settlement in Pikine, Senegal with one thing on her mind: water. This urban planner-geographer knows well that people living in Senegalese informal settlements have little access to basic sanitation services such as toilets and clean water. Without a way to evacuate rainwater, flooding is a constant problem and makes living conditions unsafe. “The homes of informal settlement residents have been built in a way that puts them at constant risk of flooding,” Magatte said. “Moreover, there are no individual toilets or communal toilet blocks, not to mention running water. These basic sanitation services are missing entirely, resulting in public health problems and a lack of dignity.”
The government launched the Ten Cities Program to connect these households to the sewage system at a subsidized rate and build toilets in public areas. However, at the beginning of 2021, hundreds of thousands of residents had not benefitted from the program because only those households that pay a subscription to the water provision and management company were included and most informal settlement residents cannot afford the subscription fee even when it is subsidized.
We partnered with Urbasen and FSH to conduct a social audit of sanitation services in informal settlements. The aim was to collect data that would shine a light on how many residents were not benefiting from the Ten Cities Program and to advocate for increased budget allocations for these essential services. IBP assisted Urbasen in strategizing how to collect and utilize the data in their advocacy campaigns. “IBP has helped us build the capacity of grassroots movements to better understand the budget process [and advocate for] municipalities to provide services to informal settlements,” Magatte said.
As a result of the social audit and engagements with public sanitation officials, 880,000 informal settlement inhabitants are now benefiting from improved flood management and public sanitation infrastructure installed in May and June 2021. Also, 20 km of the 28-km public sanitation network was rehabilitated, cleaned and prepared to evacuate rainwater, making the informal settlements safer and more flood-resistant “Urbasen’s participatory and inclusive approach in informal settlements, which are often overlooked by public policies, was a big reason for my decision to join this organization,” Magatte said. “Seeing people access essential services such as sanitation, supporting them in the management of their neighborhoods, and knowing that they are now capable of influencing government decisions gives me the strength to get up every day and fight to claim their right to the city,” she said.
Urbasen is continuing to use social audits – community mapping and field visits to collect qualitative and quantitative data – to ensure it has robust information to present to government when it makes demands for the provision of sanitation services. Through data it is now able to “make visible” communities that have long been ignored and denied due access to services municipal officials are meant to deliver, such as clean water and sanitation.
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 John Oluwafemi Olla, communications officer at the Justice Development and Peace Commission in Nigeria, who recently participated in a learning session with IBP staff and partners to reflect on program learnings from 2021.
Q: What is the Justice Development and Peace Commission and what are your areas of focus?
A: The JDPC is the social branch of the Catholic Church. The Commission is responsible for promoting social justice, which includes addressing issues concerning human rights, democracy, good governance, agricultural assistance, food security, poverty reduction, sustainable development, humanitarian service, and disaster management.
Q: What are the main problems you and JDPC are working to address in your communities?
A: Many of the challenges that we encounter stem from issues of exclusion from governance and development, such as poor service delivery in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation, and infrastructure development.
Q: How has IBP supported your work? How has the collaboration improved your work and the ways you engage your target audiences?
A: IBP has been incredibly supportive in many areas including data gathering, research, and documentation. This has helped us with citizen engagement concerning primary health care services, effective budget tracking, and advocacy.
Q: How are you able to leverage social media to get the government to focus attention on primary health care needs?
A: Social media is a critical device in our toolbox because it allows us to develop effective communication across many sectors of society in a simplified form while corresponding with citizens and government organizations. For example, we are able to connect citizens to the government and share government responses to questions asked. We have also managed to secure the government’s commitment by engaging online through our social media pages. For example, when we share photos of public health facilities on Twitter and Facebook, it gives us an opportunity to engage with duty bearers on the ongoing upgrades of facilities. We evidence-based information and data to back up our posts. We also use Zoom to interact and share feedback with officials.
Q: How do you mobilize different community development groups to form a united force to advocate the government on your needs?
A: We have found that mapping stakeholders along with sensitization and political education workshops are an effective tool for mobilizing communities to join together and press the government on their core needs.
Q: What specific impact have you achieved in the last two years?
A: Citizens are now included and their voices are heard in new ways during budget deliberations. For example, 15 policies and laws at the legislative arm of government received input from grassroots organizations. We’ve seen the gap reduced in communication between duty bearers and citizens through various town hall meetings at the state and local level. This increase in citizen participation is encouraging.
International climate finance is the main means of reconciling equity (developing countries have contributed little to climate change but are extremely vulnerable to its effects) with effectiveness and efficiency (a large share of the required mitigation is required in developing countries if global emissions targets are to be met).
Climate finance also presents a huge opportunity for developing countries to gain from win-win investments in adaptation and mitigation.
Transparency and accountability for climate finance is key to unlocking these gains. The International Budget Partnership recognizes that funds to respond to climate change are likely to be the single largest source of development finance for the foreseeable future and has initiated a program of activities to promote climate finance transparency and accountability.
Recognizing this, ‘climate budgeting’ by governments has developed over the last decade, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, with the support of development partners such as the UNDP and the World Bank. An important motivation has been to package public investment projects for external financing.
This requires new systems to track government climate-related expenditures because they cut across existing expenditure classification systems – in the same way that gender-related or poverty-reducing expenditures require specially designed tagging systems if a country wishes to identify and report all related spending.
Following the world’s first Climate Budget in Nepal in 2013, climate budget tagging (CBT) systems have been introduced in about 20 countries. Many have published climate budgets parallel to the government’s annual budget using a variety of specially designed CBT methodologies.
While CBT is not costless, the benefits in many countries are likely to far outweigh the costs given the scale of climate finance and the long-term nature of climate change.
However, two things are noteworthy.
First, no country that has published a climate budget to date has disclosed environmentally harmful expenditures. Climate budget reports only cover those expenditures that are intended to be favorable for the environment.
Yet governments around the world continue to spend vast sums on direct subsidies and tax concessions for brown activities while paying lip service to their green credentials.
Second, the nearly 40 countries that have issued sovereign green bonds are contractually committed to transparent project evaluation and selection criteria and to the regular publication of detailed reports on how the funds have been spent, and on their impacts e.g., reductions in greenhouse gases. They provide no such assurances regarding all their other environment-related spending.
This means that countries issuing green bonds are now committed to providing far more transparency on their environmental spending to private investors than they are to their own legislatures, taxpayers, and citizens.
How can this greenwashing be offset?
One approach recently advocated is for in-country civil society organizations to publish their own ‘Green Guide to the Budget’ using publicly available information in existing documents and reports.
In this way, a picture could be built of the volume and allocation of public resources directed both to environmentally favorable and harmful activities, set in the context of the government’s environmental commitments and framed by cross-national benchmark indicators.
A Green Guide to the Budget could also incorporate civil society recommendations on green tax and expenditure policies to improve environmental outcomes and environmental justice, and a push for more transparency. It could be a vehicle to give more voice to women, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups that are often the most adversely affected by climate change and would help to offset the inside influence of fossil fuel and other environmentally destructive lobbies.
There are obvious capacity challenges, but a civil society initiative of this type may have the potential to shift the needle in some countries on accountability for environmental stewardship.