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 talked with Nomfundiso Joseph, coordinator of Small Projects Foundation, in South Africa.
A: My organization, Small Projects Foundation (SPF), is an NGO operating nationally throughout South Africa, particularly in the Eastern Cape province. We monitor the availability and delivery of basic health services to residents in informal settlements and rural areas. We collect anonymous feedback from 10 patients each month about the quality of services they received, after which the answers are analyzed and the results shared with each clinic.
Q: What are the main challenges faced by residents of the informal settlements you reach out to?
A: Rural areas often suffer from a lack of access to healthcare, and the healthcare needs of individuals living in rural informal settlements are different from those living in urban areas. Informal settlements are densely populated and have inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. Individuals have to walk long distances to reach health services, and a clinic often serves 6-7 villages, resulting in long queues and sometimes a shortage of medications. Rural areas have critical shortages of all health care providers and professionals, particularly primary care professionals.
Q: Describe how your partnership with IBP is yielding results in providing access to healthcare for excluded informal communities.
A: SPF’s partnership with IBP gives us access to a wider range of strategic connections and facilitates meetings with the Department of Health, key government stakeholders, and community members. We use these meetings to emphasize the importance of data accuracy and analysis. Giving feedback to health facilities is the most crucial step because it helps improve the delivery of health services.
Q: Is there a specific focus or consideration for women and girls in these communities as a target for government intervention?
A: Discrimination against women and girls occurs in many forms through gender-based violence, economic discrimination, reproductive health inequities, and harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, to name just a few. Women and girls of all ages have a right to live with dignity, free of cultural oppression. Empowered women generally choose to have smaller families, which benefits the health and productivity of whole communities and improves the prospects for both people and the environment. Asivikelane Health assists communities to learn more about the health services available to them like family planning and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. It is important to target women with these educational interventions.
Q: What are the key strategies that you employ in galvanizing these communities to advocate for inclusion in government spending?
A: We give feedback to health facilities and work with stakeholders to improve access to health services. We also draw on community engagement strategies to share knowledge directly with communities so they are better equipped to manage their health and to evaluate the quality of the health services they receive. We also emphasize that measures to achieve inclusive health services must include training of health care professionals on the rights of persons with disabilities and marginalized groups.
Q: What does the future look like for these communities?
A: The future looks bright if communities are included in health service delivery and are educated about the benefits and facilities available to them. The future looks positive if communities are mobilized and empowered to take control of their health. It goes a long way when clinic committees take part in community meetings and listen to what communities need.
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.
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.
By Eka Iakobishvili, Program Officer, Open Society Foundations
In August this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to issue the equivalent of $650 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to boost global financial liquidity in what IMF president Kristalina Georgieva called “a shot in the arm for the global economy at a time of unprecedented crisis.”
The SDRs are a reserve asset issued by the IMF to each of its 190 member countries, which can be exchanged for hard currency as required, or used as reserves, or swapped or on-lent. For countries suffering fiscal pressures because of the economic impact of the COVID pandemic on exports, or tourism, or increased healthcare costs, new SDRs can help balance the books.
The use of SDRs can be an attractive option for a country, if hard currency is needed. Although a small interest rate applies, it is by far the lowest available to Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) and this is why SDRs are often referred to as free money or a reserve asset that is without conditions.
There is a lack of transparency about how SDRs are used and regrettably, very few governments globally have sought dialogue with the public on SDRs spending. In most countries, particularly in Africa, use of the SDRs resources and consequent accountability have been left solely to the discretion of the central bank and a few technocrats within the finance ministry with limited to no involvement or dialogue with the general population. This raises concerns over the decisions made: central banks might opt to prioritize debt repayment to international creditors, as opposed to using the funds to support recovery efforts.
For poor and middle-income countries, SDRs are going to be vital in the post-pandemic recovery. In this process, civil society has a vital role to play. Civic activists and established civil society organizations (CSOs) have the power and capacity to advocate and push for people-centered economic models that were not possible before, building the capacity for resilience but also playing the oversight role.
Some groups are already taking a lead:
In Africa, some suggestions by Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) already have been made for SDRs use in a multi-year framework that can finance social services and/or infrastructure projects within the country.
CSOs can assist central banks and governments to ensure broader public participation in dialogue with technocrats and high-level policy makers. In Uganda, Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) has been pushing for such policy engagement with the government by providing policy recommendations and calling for wider public participation and oversight on debt debates in the country.
CSOs can also support efforts by legislators to strengthen debt management procedures and engage in advocacy around oversight procedures where they exist.
Finally, the CSOs should work in coalition with cross country and cross regional groups to apply pressure on institutions (IMF, or regional banks) and high income countries involved in on-lending, to include transparency and accountability safeguards in SDR-related concessional loans – all in the spirit of democratic ownership, strengthening independent scrutiny, and creating space for participation and accountability to citizens.
It is important that calls for putting such mechanisms in place come from both national groups and international CSOs to ensure governments are held accountable and follow through on these commitments. For CSOs to be effective in holding government to account, they need access to information on the use of SDRs. International organizations, including the IMF, can and should facilitate disclosure of such information and enable public dialogue at the national level.
The international community and national governments can benefit greatly from opening the space for civil society voices and expertise to inform decision making around and oversight of SDRs. Smart partnerships between international organizations, governments and CSOs can ensure these critical funds help fuel more efficient, resilient and inclusive post-COVID recoveries.
For more on this topic, watch the recording of a recent event co-hosted by the International Budget Partnership on Promoting Equity and Accountability in IMF Special Drawing Rights in English and Spanish.