New Frontiers in Open Government: Forging New Alliances for Accountability

New Frontiers in Open Government: Forging New Alliances for Accountability

 

By Claire Schouten, Senior Program Officer, International Budget Partnership and Joe Powell, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership

 

Serikat Perjuangan Rakyat Indonesia (SPRI) staff member conducts social audit data collection with communities in Indonesia. Credit: SPRI

 

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.

 

Beatrice, an informal settlement resident from the International Budget Partnership (IBP)’s Asivikelane campaign, which collects weekly data on service delivery in South Africa. Credit: IBP

 

In Sierra Leone, the Audit Service used real-time auditing approaches honed during the Ebola crisis to publish a report on COVID-19 spending that led to the Anti-Corruption Commission taking up a number of investigations and detaining top government officials.

 

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.

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

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

 

Flickr

By Eka Iakobishvili, Program Officer, Open Society Foundations

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

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

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

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

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

Some groups are already taking a lead:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FSAPH and the fight for social inclusion of people with disabilities

FSAPH and the fight for social inclusion of people with disabilities

 

For many years disability has, in theory, been a policy priority of the Senegalese government. Officially, people with disabilities (PWDs) represent 5.9% of the Senegalese population.1 This data, however, is contested and many argue that it is closer to 15.5% of the total population.  In 2010, the Social Orientation Act (SOA)2 was adopted to protect the rights of PWDs and remove barriers to their empowerment and inclusion. The Equal Opportunity Card (EOC) program was introduced to provide PWDs free health care, transportation, employment and other assistance. However, officials were failing to provide the cards to eligible people, and even those who did receive a card were having trouble accessing benefits. Out of 50,000 people who had registered for a card, only 19 230 were enrolled in the Universal Health Coverage plan and even those who were enrolled experienced gaps in services as the state regularly failed to pay the insurer.

 

In just over a year, the Senegalese Federation of Associations of People with Disabilities (FSAPH), with our support, facilitated access to basic services and benefits for more than 100,000 of its members. FSAPH helped 15,000 people get access to EOC cards and helped increase the number of PWDs enrolled in the Universal Health Coverage program from 38.5% in 2019 to 42% in 2020. They also ensured that 100,000 of its members received COVID relief. Importantly, they influenced key Senegalese government ministries to commit to improving three programs focused on facilitating employment, vocational training, and social protection opportunities for PWDs. The process of fighting for and achieving these changes have transformed how government sees and listens to people with disabilities and have lasting impact on how PWDs see themselves and their place in Senegal.

 

Background

 

FSAPH was founded in 1997 to guide national and state governments in creating opportunities for PWDs. It is a nationwide, independent umbrella organization—with a secretariat and 29 branches and regional representations— that brings together PWD associations of all disability types.

 

Thanks to FSAPH’s advocacy over more than two decades, the government first introduced the Equal Opportunity Card (EOC) program in 2017 and included card holders in social safety net programs, such as the Family Allowance Program3 and Universal Health Coverage plan. However, they were struggling to get the program properly implemented so that it could lead to tangible improvements in the lives of its members. It faces two key challenges. Firstly, there is an insufficient production of cards – with no cards at all being produced in 2018. Secondly, even with a card, accessing the benefits is difficult.  Both challenges were related to budget execution (the budget had been cut by two-thirds for instance in 2018) and FSAPH lacked knowledge of the budget system or how to influence it. After discussions with FSAPH’s leadership, we stepped in to build their ability to add effective budget advocacy as an additional tool to bring about the change they sought.

 

FSAPH’s path to results

 

Joining of technical and political power

 

We and our technical partners— OSIDEA4 and ONG 3D5 — helped FSAPH build budget analysis skills and navigate political institutions to identify and address the resource challenges that were keeping the EOC program from being properly implemented and to open the door for PWDs to have a say in policies that impact them.

 

FSAPH pursued a two-pronged strategy to navigate the ecosystem of actors, roles, institutions and contexts that influence budget decisions affecting their community. First, they worked hard to reinforce and improve already strong ties with members of parliament and local elected officials. Second, they leveraged those relationships to monitor how the relevant programs were being implemented and to gain insights on shortcomings. The nationwide membership structure of FSAPH has provided a distinct organizing advantage. They have a deep and wide enough base to mobilize members, engage officials and influence decisions that are being made at all levels of government. IBP, ONG 3D and OSIDEA have also lent our political know-how to help FSAPH navigate these channels and sometimes contradictory positions from officials at different levels.

 

Strengthening FSAPH’s “collectiveness”

 

It quickly became apparent that a crucial first step to effective campaigning was improving FSAPH’s internal governance. FSAPH was struggling with inclusion and representation of women and different disability types in its governing structures. Regional branches felt isolated due to lack of communication from the leadership.

 

IBP facilitated a series of workshops with FSAPH’s members to help improve their governance, communication and cohesion. They agreed to a more robust downward and upward accountability chain for the program management committee; weekly email chains to regional structures to keep them informed of plans and progress; and a commitment to have at least one woman and different disability types represented in their regional COVID-monitoring and evaluation committees.

 

FSAPH also identified strong regional groups that could drive some of the work forward. The Pikine and Ziguinchor groups quickly stood out as active and competent. FSAPH leadership turned to these two groups for strategic planning of advocacy actions, which reinforced their sense of inclusion, ownership and purpose.

 

Building budget and political advocacy skills

 

While FSAPH had been at the forefront of disability inclusion advocacy for a number of years, they lacked the budget knowledge to address why services were not flowing to their members and were therefore not yet seen as a credible partner by government. To get there, we and our technical partners supported FSAPH through workshops and activities that built their budget understanding and empowered them to know what they were looking for, whom to address, what to expect and what to ask for. We trained 110 of their members from various regional groups to analyze budgets and advocate for better allocation of resources in the budget.

 

 

The budget training allowed us to better understand budget processes. Since then, we have improved relations between local officials and our regional FSAPH structure.”

 

– Pikine training participant

 

Generating and leveraging data to make demands

 

In 2019, FSAPH collected information from the EOC implementing agency to understand why so many people with disabilities had not been issued a card and why those who had were struggling to access benefits. The data showed that only about a third of EOC recipients were enrolled in the Universal Health Coverage plan. Those enrolled were struggling to get consistent care because the government was not paying the insurer. FSAPH brought this evidence— which government did not have and could not gather— to meetings IBP and technical partners set up with key institutions and agencies.6 When they brought this issue to the attention of officials, they helped uncover the fact that the failure to deliver on the promise of the EOC program was not due to reluctance on the part of decisionmakers. Rather it was due to several impediments: 1) the government was not allocating sufficient funds for the EOC program; 2) the government was behind in paying the Universal Health Coverage plan premiums; 3) officials implementing the Universal Health Coverage plan were not adequately targeting PWDs; and 4) other key ministries were not incorporating and prioritizing PWDs in their budgets.

 

COVID-19 was particularly challenging for people with disabilities and threatened FSAPH’s ability to organize and mobilize. Nevertheless, they took the data analysis skills and relationships we helped them forge to pivot quickly to get their members relief. In March 2020, FSAPH set up a COVID-19 monitoring and evaluation initiative and used its regional structures to collect data from 820 PWDs. The data revealed that most respondents had not received COVID-19 assistance because PWDs were not included in the national registry of poor households that was used to target recipients. FSAPH wrote a letter to the Director of Community Development and Social Equity. As a result, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Equity decided to include FSAPH members in formal national and local COVID technical committees. They also provided COVID-related food and utility assistance to 100,000 PWDs.

 

 

My participation in this [norms and discourse on disability] study has been life-changing… Seeing my contribution is valued has helped me regain my confidence. I am now more determined to advocate for our rights.

 

– Study peer-researcher from the regional research team of Ziguinchor

 

 

Shifting narratives on disability

 

FSAPH broadcasts public service announcements highlighting the exclusion of PWDs.

We helped FSAPH partner with the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar who provided them technical support to undertake a participatory study on norms and discourse on disabilities. FSAPH leaders invited 65 of its trained regional members to participate as peer-researchers in the study.

 

1,025 PWDs responded to the study’s quantitative survey, which documented for the first time the stigmatizing practices PWDs face at the family, community and institutional levels.7 It also generated rich qualitative insights from life stories and testimonies respondents shared about the various ways they have felt marginalized.

 

FSAPH used the study’s insights, and the data on budget challenges that were keeping programs for PWDs underfunded (for instance arrears in government payments to the Universal Health Coverage plan and poor targeting of PWDs in that plan), to shift the narrative and raise public awareness about the need to better support PWDs. FSAPH spearheaded traditional and digital media campaigns to shed light on the lived experience of PWDs and urge the public and government to be more responsive to their needs. For the first time, PWDs occupied media spaces and broadcast their data on prime-time television, urging viewers to hold government accountable and officials to reach out to them for collaboration. The most popular television channel in Senegal, RTS, broadcast public service announcements highlighting the exclusion of PWDs in 7 official languages. FSAPH held a press conference that was well attended by news channels and high-profile journalists. Three of the most popular national radio stations (RFM, RSI and SUD FM) hosted shows with FSAPH members, which were retransmitted by local radio channels.

 

 

PWDs around the country are facing barriers to unemployment and employability. Government must put in place a global strategy for their recruitment in the public sector.

 

– Recommendation from the study

 

 

Formal and informal engagement and participation

 

Yatma Fall, FSAPH President, during a press briefing on the effective implementation of the Social Orientation Act.

We helped FSAPH leverage informal and formal opportunities to engage government officials. FSAPH established regular contact with: the Director of Social Action in the Ministry of Health and Social Action; the Director of Social Equity in the Ministry of Community Development; the Director of Community Development in the Ministry of Community Development; the Director of Employment; and the Minister of Urban Planning, Housing and Public Hygiene.

 

Incrementally, they leveraged these contacts to get more formal commitments. The Ministry of Community Development, Social and Territorial Equity invited them to help draft the Program for Economic and Social Inclusion (PAIES), which seeks to ensure the effective inclusion of PWDs.8 The Director of Employment9 invited FSAPH to discuss PWD access to employment and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them for long-term collaboration. The Director of Development and Social Equity committed to collaborate with FSAPH to better integrate PWDs in its programs. The Minister of Community Development recognized that PWDs are a priority group and made assurances that they would be included in social programs implemented by the ministry.

 

Working with oversight institutions

 

FSAPH has strengthened its watchdog role by leveraging the power of the National Assembly’s “checks and balances” to bring government to account. Towards the end of 2019, we supported FSAPH in the organization of an advocacy dinner with members of the National Assembly Health and Social Affairs Commission. On that occasion, FSAPH gave a memorandum to parliamentarians to inform their interventions during the budget preparation debates. Several parliamentarians, mostly female, including the president of the Health Commission, went on to question the Ministry of Health on why his ministry had not issued EOCs and called for an evaluation of the Social Orientation Law. FSAPH continued to engage with parliamentarians in 2020, who remained important allies to make sure government delivered on its various commitments, for instance putting pressure on the Ministry of Health to continue the production of EOCs and improve the enrollment of PWDs in the Universal Health Coverage Program.

 

FSAPH’s main successes to date

 

Parliamentarians receiving FSAPH’s memorandum during a 2019 advocacy dinner.

Thanks to FSAPH’s efforts, 100,000 PWD households who were initially excluded from the national resilience program have now received COVID relief kits. State institutions such as the Ministry of Health and Social Action, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Culture have distributed relief kits to FSAPH or dedicated a quota of their sectoral resilience funds to PWDs.

 

Our collective advocacy helped 15,000 people access EOC cards in 2019 and 2020 and increased the number of PWDs enrolled in the Universal Health Coverage program from 38.5% in 2019 to 42% in 2020.

 

FSAPH also secured important commitments from government institutions to expand opportunities for PWDs. The Director of Employment signed an agreement with FSAPH to ensure a 5% quota for PWDs to receive internship placement through the State-Employers’ Agreement (CNEE). FSAPH also secured an allocation for the Vocational and Technical Training Fund (3FPT) to include training for prosthetic specialists. Many national and regional orthopedic centers lacked trained specialists who could provide quality prosthetic care to PWDs, so this fund will help fill this gap. The Ministry of Community Development has reaffirmed its commitment to PWD inclusion as it finalizes the Support Program for the Social and Economic Inclusion of PWDs (PAIES) with contributions from FSAPH.

 

Conclusion

 

With our help, FSAPH has improved its governance and forged valuable relationships with government decisionmakers. By building their budget literacy and gathering data they are now able to support their demands with facts. They have also been empowered as individuals and as a force to be reckoned with in Senegal. They have built their credibility as a valuable source of information and partner for government and the media and have shifted public narratives and perceptions about PWDs and their needs.

 

Moving forward, FSAPH will focus on ensuring the commitments they obtained in 2020 are delivered. In particular, they will seek increases in budget allocations to the EOC program and access by PWDs, especially women with disabilities, to effective health services under the Universal Health Coverage plan. They will also continue to strengthen ties with government reformers that can influence budget outcomes to advance disability-sensitive policies and budgets.

 

 

Footnotes

 

Women smallholder farmers in Nigeria secure investments in agriculture

Women smallholder farmers in Nigeria secure investments in agriculture

 
In Nigeria, agriculture is responsible for roughly a quarter of the gross domestic product, the second-highest contributor in the country. Although the Nigerian government has reaffirmed its commitment to allocate 10% of its annual budget to agriculture as a signatory to the Maputo Declaration, it has not allocated more than 2.2% over the past 7 years. Women smallholder farmers especially are overlooked by officials overseeing agricultural policy and decision-making, which is surprising when they make up 70% of the workforce and produce 60% of the food Nigerians consume.
 

In just two and a half years the Smallholder Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON), with the support of IBP, secured three critical budgetary changes to bolster their livelihoods and contributions to the country’s agricultural sector. As a result of data-driven advocacy, the national government increased its spending on agriculture by 18.5% and made new federal budget allocations towards the sector in the five focus states targeted by the program. Crucially, 111,000 smallholder women farmers gained access to new or improved seeds and fertilizer to grow crops, and lighter and more modern equipment to increase production.
 

Background

 

Small-scale farmers are the poorest part of Nigeria’s agricultural sector due to longstanding underinvestment. Women farmers are especially hard hit. Women are not only five times less likely to own land than men, but they also do not have the financial resources to invest in farming supplies and services. This means that they cannot increase their yields or earn as much as their male counterparts.

 

To redress this injustice, SWOFON formed in 2012 with 500,000 women farmers across the 36 Nigerian states and Federal Capital Territory. SWOFON organizes and empowers women farmers’ associations and groups to demand their rights, spur rural village economic development and increase food production. Before their partnership with IBP, SWOFON already had a track record of mobilizing their massive member base and engaging and lobbying officials, but their demands were not being met. We believe this was due, at least in part, to the demands being very broad and lacking evidence about the impact that inadequate allocation decisions had on the sector. In 2018, IBP joined forces with SWOFON under the SPARK program. This program leverages the budget analysis expertise of IBP, and the organizing capacity and local legitimacy of grassroots movements, to advocate for budget decisions that reflect the needs and improve the lives of underserved communities.

 

No farmer, no food on the table. No food on the table, no nation. We advocate for more increase in the agriculture sector [and] that a percentage of that increase go to smallholder women farmers so that they can be able to produce the food we can feed this nation with.

 

Mrs. Mary Afan
National President, SWOFON
During a press briefing after their submission of a mass application for assistance to the federal Ministry of Agriculture in February 2020.

 

Together, IBP, SWOFON and other support organizations1 pursue three main goals in five focus states:2 address the budgetary causes that are leading to underinvestment in agriculture; support equitable access to fertilizer, seeds, and lighter and more modern equipment; and encourage rural economic development and an increase in food production.

 

SWOFON’s path to results

 

IBP helped SWOFON advance their budget agenda through different tactics to reach those who could impact decision-making on the agricultural budget. These included mobilizing their members en masse during general elections; leveraging their nationwide presence to participate in formal and informal channels to influence budget decisions at the national, state, and local level; and working with the legislature and the media to raise attention to their issues (and the political costs of ignoring them).

 

Joining of technical and political power

 

It was important from the start of the program, as well as the subsequent annual planning phases, to focus on building IBP and partners’ understanding of the ecosystem of actors, roles, institutions and contexts that influence budget decisions in the agricultural sector. By understanding the political economy, SWOFON was able to design a purposeful and focused series of campaigns.

For instance, like all federal states, Nigeria’s agriculture budgeting and spending decisions and powers are spread across the federal, state and local level. This can be problematic as decision-making is often decentralized, which results in uneven reform. However, SWOFON’s nationwide membership structure provides a distinct organizing advantage, as well as the necessary political weight required to tackle this challenge: they have a deep and wide enough membership base to mobilize members, engage officials and influence decisions that are being made at all three levels.

IBP and SWOFON also benefitted from strong connections with key government agencies and institutions when the program started. This political power, combined with IBP’s fiscal governance expertise, is the foundation of SWOFON’s success, since it has allowed them to navigate the political aspects of this program with great skill.

 

Building budget and political advocacy skills

 

Smallholder women farmers marching for access to agricultural inputs in Lafia, Nasarawa State.

Budget processes in Nigeria, as in most countries, are hidden, opaque and dominated by men. IBP and technical partners assisted SWOFON in improving their budget and political advocacy skills so that they knew what they were looking for, whom to address, what to expect and what to ask for. Armed with these new skills to examine and navigate the budget and the actors who influence it, SWOFON’s state and national networks led mass actions, including marches across 3 focus states. They also organized mass applications from over 379,000 women for access to fertilizer, seed and equipment. This strategy exerted electoral pressure on state actors during general elections, since SWOFON represents more than 500,000 women farmers with the power to influence election outcomes through their votes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had always thought that Jigawa State had little or no women farmers – the reason being that most of the agricultural projects implemented by the State Government [are] male-dominated, but with the engagements, meetings and advocacy visits from SWOFON, I am happy to recognize SWOFON as an organized structure of small-scale women farmers. Therefore, I want to support and ensure that SWOFON farmers are officially part of the Agriculture Initiative currently being implemented in the state.

 

– Barrister Ibrahim Hadejia, Former Deputy Governor Jigawa State, while granting audience to SWOFON during the campaign march in the state.

 

Generating and leveraging data to make demands

 

Nigeria’s government generally lacks robust data about how its policies impact underserved communities. IBP seized on this opportunity to help SWOFON fundamentally shift its advocacy strategy to be more data driven. This shift proved critical to landing key wins and gaining buy-in from officials who began to recognize SWOFON as a credible, knowledgeable partner. Since 2018, IBP has helped SWOFON draft community charters of demands and organize its members to submit mass applications for seed, fertilizer and equipment that were informed by women’s priorities and accurate estimates of the volume of supplies they needed. IBP also helped them conduct ongoing research on the agriculture sector budget and related spending and allocations to supplies and equipment. In 2020, SWOFON participated in the Budget Office of the Federation’s public budget forum and found out that the agriculture budget would likely be cut. IBP and technical partners quickly drafted an assessment on the probable effects of the proposed cuts on women farmers in particular and national food security more broadly. SWOFON successfully leveraged this research to advocate against the cuts.

In the words of a SWOFON member:

 

 

We now understand that to have a voice, we need to be part of the process that puts together the budget. We need to know and engage about how much is being allocated to the agricultural sector – and how much of that goes to women farmers.

 

– SWOFON Member

 

 

Formal and informal engagement and participation

 

IBP and other technical partners supported SWOFON to identify and seize informal and formal opportunities to engage government and participate in the budget planning processes at all levels. Offices and institutions that they engaged with included local government chairpersons, state governors’ offices, state Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development permanent secretaries, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development at state and national level, the Budget Office of the Federation, and National Assembly legislators from the focus states. For instance, SWOFON members submitted the community charters of demands to local officials to inform local government budget planning processes. They also submitted position papers to national agriculture and women affairs’ ministries and legislators.

After one such engagement, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Oyo State said:

 

Women are the driving force of food production and agriculture in our State. My doors are open to hear their voices and demands. We will do our best to increase investment and allocation to the Agriculture budget as a state during my tenure in office.

 

– Commissioner for Agriculture, Oyo State

 

 

Working with oversight institutions

 

A particularly powerful moment came in 2020 after SWOFON gave a technical presentation to the National Assembly during the national 2020 budget revision process, which highlighted the effects of proposed COVID-induced cuts for agriculture on smallholder farmers and on national food security. By building relationships with parliamentarians from the focus states and providing the often data-poor National Assembly with robust evidence at the right time during budget appropriation sessions, SWOFON was able to ensure parliamentarians made evidence-informed decisions as part of their oversight role in the budget process. This strategy paid off.

 

Amplifying SWOFON’s voice

 

To exert public pressure on government, SWOFON and IBP also allied themselves with broader public and civil society agricultural campaigns in respective states and used them to put forward their women members and their issues. This was vital in helping identify and build relationships with influential decision-makers and legislators.

Prime time news coverage of SWOFON’s campaign on Nigerian television.

To build public support for these behind-the-scenes government engagements, the campaign also involved the media. Radio, national and state television, and social media increasingly broadcast compelling stories about the situation faced by individual women smallholders or about the sector as a whole. Newspapers and magazines published similar information

in articles and interviews. This brought the everyday plight of women small-scale farmers to the fore. The public became more aware of their needs, the impact of COVID, and the consequences of proposed budget cuts on food security – as previously these issues had been hidden or ignored.

 

 

 

SWOFON’s main successes to date

 

The strategic shifts SWOFON were able to make with support from IBP and other technical partners have helped Nigeria’s smallholder women farmers reclaim their voice and power. Now they can be heard and are able to contribute constructively to consequential government decisions over resources that impact their livelihoods and the nation’s food security.

SWOFON members receive fertilizer.

Not only did SWOFON get much needed fertilizer, seed, equipment and COVID relief into the hands of more than 111,000 women farmers in the five focus states, but they also played a part in the federal government’s decision to increase spending for the agricultural sector by 18.5% over the amount earlier proposed by the Executive Arm of Government in its revised 2020 budget, bringing Nigeria closer to meeting its commitments under the 2011 Maputo Declaration. SWOFON members receive fertilizer.

 

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development also followed through with the 35% affirmative action provision for women farmers stipulated in the Gender in Agriculture Policy. It made new budgetary allocations worth just over 800 million naira (approximately $2 million USD) for seeds, fertilizer and light and modern equipment across the program’s five focus states in the 2020 revised federal budget.

 

Moving Forward

 

Inauguration of the high-level Technical Working Group on Agriculture and Related Sectors with SWOFON members.

Laying the foundation for longer term influence and sustainable change, SWOFON has also gained legitimacy as a valuable partner for government officials by demonstrating their knowledge of budgets and using that knowledge to help officials make more informed decisions.

 

This legitimacy has led to them becoming a key player when it comes to national decision-making. As a result, SWOFON can positively influence service delivery for its members and other women. Examples of these inroads include the fact that the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning invited SWOFON to become a member of the Technical Working Group on Agriculture and Related Sectors. In addition, the SWOFON State- level Coordinators in both Jigawa and Kaduna states have been included on the state committee responsible for fertilizer distribution.

 

 

 

 

 

For Nigerian women farmers to come out to the federal capital and make known to government what their demands are is a very commendable thing. I have to assure you that your comments have been noted and I assure you on behalf of the Ministry [of Agriculture] that we are going to take actions going forward. Now we are going to work with women on a larger scale.

The Ministry has also taken note of your demands, especially in the area of agricultural inputs as regards seeds and equipment. The narrative now has changed in the Ministry, that whatever interventions we are doing, whatever support we are going to give to farmers it should be demand-driven. We are going to procure what the farmers say they want, and we are going to start from the smallholder women farmers.

 

Mrs. Karima Babandiga.
Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, during a press briefing with SWOFON in February 2020.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Change is a gradual process. It is not easy to alter entrenched norms that influence who has a seat at the decision-making table. Through continuous engagement with government, communities and traditional leaders, women are shifting their role in agriculture at all levels. SWOFON have been energized by this process and have increased their membership across the country. They are finding their voices and are being heard.

KNTI: Fisherfolk advocate for fuel subsidies and COVID relief in Indonesia

KNTI: Fisherfolk advocate for fuel subsidies and COVID relief in Indonesia

 

Indonesia is the world’s second-largest fisheries producer, and small-scale fisherfolk make up 95% of the sector. These fishers depend heavily on fuel which represents 60% of their production costs. When President Joko Widodo came to power, he promised to prioritize assistance to the marine and fisheries sector and issued a plan calling for the central government to subsidize fuel for fishers. However, many small-scale fishers have not been able to benefit from this program due to weak implementation of fuel subsidy budgets by state governments and cumbersome administrative procedures.

 

We have helped Kesatuan Nelayan Tradisional Indonesia (KNTI) – which represents 300,000 small-scale fisherfolk – hone their budget literacy, strengthen their networks, and better influence government decisions to turn these dynamics around and gain much-needed relief for their members. As a result, in just the last two years, the union has secured access to US$95 million in COVID-19 social assistance for 1.1 million fishers and US$4.2 million in credit facilities to protect the livelihoods of fisherfolk impacted by the pandemic. Moreover, KNTI has convinced officials who oversee the implementation of the fuel subsidy program to simplify the registration process – a crucial reform that will allow 2.6 million traditional fisherfolk to access these subsidies.

 

Beyond these immediate gains, the government now sees KNTI as an influential player in informing fiscal policies for smallholder fisherfolk, which will allow KNTI to continue building community power over resources in the long term.

 

 

Background

 

A social auditor collecting data on fishers’ challenges in accessing the fuel subsidy program.

Indonesia is the world’s second-largest fisheries producer. The sector generates approximately US$4.1 billion in annual export earnings and supports more than 7 million jobs. Small-scale fisherfolk make up 95% of the sector and depend heavily on fuel, which represents 60% of their production costs. Until 2014, the marine and fisheries sector was not a government priority, but President Joko Widodo has pledged to support this critical sector. Part of his new plan calls for the central government to subsidize fuel for all fishers.

 

Despite the new plan, small-scale fishers have struggled to benefit from these subsidies for various reasons. The government has consistently failed to allocate enough funds for fuel subsidies in its annual budget, and what it has allocated has not been distributed properly. In 2019, for example, authorities only distributed 25.6% of the subsidies they had allocated in the budget. Poor execution is mainly due to weak capacity among state governments to manage their fuel subsidy budgets.

 

Different state institutions are responsible for implementing the subsidies, which has resulted in complex and sometimes conflicting regulations. Fisherfolk must pay the local marine and fisheries office for a written recommendation that is only valid for a single purchase of subsidized fuel. Many small-scale fishers lack credentials, such as ship registration letters or business “Kusuka” cards that expedite the registration process to receive subsidies. Insufficient distribution points compound the problem. Authorities do not sufficiently monitor the distribution of fuel, so large vessels often drain existing allocations. In short, those who need the subsidy the most are least likely to receive it.

 

Kesatuan Nelayan Tradisional Indonesia (KNTI) is a community-based organization composed of 300,000 small-scale and traditional fisherfolk across Indonesia. It was established in 2008 to better represent the community’s interests and increase their access to subsidies and other assistance to keep the sector viable. KNTI had experience mobilizing its members but lacked knowledge about the budget process. Their members did not know what they were entitled to and did not understand the causes of underinvestment in their sector. The group was not impacting policy change, as it lacked the data to pinpoint the problem and propose solutions to decision-makers.

 

 

Path to KNTI’s results

 

Joining of technical and political power through building budget advocacy skills

 

KNTI has a large membership base across the country. It also has longstanding connections with local and national decision-makers. However, the group struggled to secure much- needed relief for their members due to a lack of understanding about how budget decisions impact resource allocations. Moreover, while KNTI has a strong, competent, well-connected and dynamic national secretariat, local level chapters lacked the leadership and dynamism to keep fisherfolk members interested in advocacy campaigns and motivated to mobilize.

 

We worked closely with two in-country technical partners, the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) and Perkumpulan Inisiatif to build up KNTI’s budget analysis skills and shore up their members’ interest in budget advocacy through trainings (22 training sessions have been held since 2020) and ongoing budget analysis support.1 As a result, union members understood where the government budget was falling short and who to target to seek reforms in the fuel subsidy program.

 

 

Generating and leveraging data to support demands

 

Generally, the Indonesian government lacks strong data on how its policies impact underserved communities. IBP seized the opportunity to help KNTI fundamentally shift its advocacy strategy and leverage data to propose policy solutions. This shift proved critical to landing key wins and gained buy-in from officials who began to recognize KNTI as a credible and knowledgeable partner in their decision-making.

 

In the first year of our project, KNTI set up Community Information and Complaint Centers (POSKOs) where fisher communities could discuss their difficulties in accessing the fuel subsidy program. In 2020, the first two centers established in Medan and Semarang provinces held six meetings and shared around 500 complaints with local and regional officials from fisherfolk who had experienced difficulties accessing the subsidies. In Medan, the mayor, legislators and other stakeholders visited the center, while in Semarang the center’s regular kampung (neighborhood) discussion with fisherfolk received media attention.

 

KNTI also conducted social audits in Medan and Semarang on the main impediments fisherfolk face in accessing the subsidies.2 As COVID-19 set in, KNTI also assessed the impacts of the pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of the fishers. More than 3,500 fisherfolk from five cities responded to the online survey at the height of the pandemic. Considering this was the very first activity of its kind, and those who participated represented broader communities, the response rate was promising.

 

While published government statistics showed very high fuel disbursement levels close to 100%, the data collected through KNTI’s surveys indicated that 69% of respondents did not receive this fuel. Furthermore, the data showed that more than 95% of respondents in Medan and 82% in Semarang could not obtain recommendation letters to access fuel.

 

KNTI took the valuable information collected in the online survey to key government officials. The organization held a gathering with the Governor of Central Java and more than 70 fisherfolk to discuss the findings and challenges fisherfolk faced in accessing the fuel subsidies. The live meeting was broadcast on KNTI’s Facebook page and viewed by approximately 800 people.

 

 

The social audit done by KNTI is very good. I need evidence from the field and this social audit provided me with the portrait from the field. We will follow up this result. The government will invite the KNTI representative (KNTI in Semarang) to discuss further about this with the line local offices.

 

– Ganjar Pranowo, Governor of Central Java 

 

 

Generating and leveraging data to support demands

 

Early in the project, we knew that helping KNTI transform its engagement with government would be critical to the organization’s success. We helped it forge new ties with local and national officials that could impact the reforms it sought and take a more data-driven approach with new and existing relationships in target institutions.
 

KNTI successfully leveraged the data collected by the POSKOs and social audits to engage the local Medan and Semarang governments, including local Marine and Fisheries Affairs offices that are now more willing to discuss issues directly with small-scale fisherfolk. By moving these engagements online during the pandemic, KNTI was able to engage even more local fisherfolk in these convenings.

 

KNTI also advocated for reform nationally by engaging the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAaF), the President’s office and two enterprises that the government tasked with implementing the subsidized fuel program.3 KNTI offered officials concrete budget and policy recommendations to improve fuel subsidy service delivery at the national and local level based on evidence from the ground. Recognizing that KNTI had valuable and unique data to inform policy, the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries reached out to the group for its findings on access and availability of subsidized fuel and the impact of the pandemic on small-scale fishers. He publicly voiced his appreciation for their work, met with their leadership, and even hosted a ministerial hearing with their members across Indonesia to discuss the challenges they face.

 

We knew that improving the effectiveness of the fuel subsidy program was a priority for President Widodo, so we helped KNTI forge ties with the President’s office. With our support, KNTI and an alliance of fisheries-focused civil society organizations convened a meeting with the President’s office to share the challenges fisherfolk face in accessing the subsidy and the threats they faced during the pandemic. The President’s office subsequently engaged with the implementing authorities to address inefficiencies in how subsidies are allocated and simplify the process to receive assistance.

 

 

We need new initiatives to solve the existing problem in which fuel subsidy mostly benefited the mafia, not traditional fisherfolks. [The] survey done by KNTI is very useful and we will use this to discuss with other institutions and the ministry will simplify regulation and cancel the regulation that requires letters of recommendation for fisherfolks to access the fuel subsidy.

 

– Edhy Prabowo, former Minister, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Affairs

 

 

Working with oversight institutions

 

Headline of Indonesian news outlet merdeka.com: “KNTI: 90 Percent of Fishermen Do Not Have a Ship.”

 

In much of our work, IBP has found that accountability requires all-hands-on-deck. When civil society comes together with oversight actors like auditors and legislators, they can collectively check executive power and ensure governments follow through on promises. When auditors collaborate with civil society, for instance by scaling up and formalizing social audits such as the one KNTI spearheaded, they can also collect valuable information only communities have.

 

With our support, KNTI forged a relationship with the Audit Board of Indonesia (BPK). They met with senior officials of the audit board who committed to collaborate more strategically with civil society groups that conduct social audits on subsidized fuel and the Social Assistance scheme (PKH). We also helped KNTI forge relationships with oversight institutions like the ombudsmen in Medan and Semarang, the Corruption Eradication Commission and national parliamentary members. Regional ombudsmen play a critical role in monitoring and providing recommendations to local governments.

 

As a result of these engagements, the ombudsmen in Semarang and Central Java prioritized the distribution of subsidized fuel for fishers as part of their monitoring agenda. In Medan, the ombudsman, KNTI and FITRA went on a joint visit to a fisher settlement to assess the situation and hear from the fisherfolk directly.

 

 

Amplifying KNTI’s voice

 

Indonesia has Facebook’s fourth-largest global audience and one of the world’s largest media markets. KNTI leveraged Indonesia’s active digital and traditional media landscape to amplify its message, engage officials and garner attention for the challenges fisherfolk face.
 

In the second half of 2020 alone, KNTI launched 12 publications about the challenges their members were facing in accessing fuel subsidies and the need for pandemic-related relief. National and local media outlets covered KNTI’s findings and statements, as well as the online forums they held, such as the Facebook Live meeting with the Governor of Central Java.

 

 

Coastal Fishermen in the City of Semarang Can Report Corona Social Assistance Deviations to the KNTI Post.

 

– Headline from the Semarang TribunJateng.com news outlet

 

 

In November 2020, the fisheries minister and several top officials were arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission on charges related to lobster exports. Widespread media coverage of the scandal provided an opportunity for IBP and KNTI to direct attention to the plight of small fisherfolk and bring their issues and related accountability challenges to the forefront of the media and public’s mind (IBP had related coverage in outlets with broad reach such as Detik Finance and CNN Indonesia).

 

 

Main successes to date

 

KNTI has increased public attention to the needs of small-scale fishers and become a trusted broker with the government. At the height of the pandemic, the government yielded to pressure from KNTI and its partners and allocated COVID assistance to 1.1 million fisherfolk (mostly in the form of fuel assistance). The government also set up credit facilities worth US$4.2 million for two state-owned enterprises to buy fish from small-scale fishers to mitigate their losses and bolster food security.

 

 

We had a meeting with PT Pertamina and the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Affairs to discuss the issue of subsidized fuel for small fisherfolks based on reports from the coalition submitted to [the President’s office]. [The office] urged the government to accelerate the issuance of Kusuka cards as an instrument for the distribution of fuel subsidies. [The office] will also issue an affirmation letter, through the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Affairs, for fisherfolk’s easier access to fuel subsidy.

 

– Alan Korompitan, Special Advisor, President’s office

 

 

As a result of KNTI’s activism, the government has substantially simplified the paperwork requirements to access subsidized fuel, especially for small-scale fisherfolk, by shifting responsibility from the MMaFA to the Oil and Gas Regulatory Agency (BPH Migas). More than 2.6 million traditional fisherfolk will now benefit from the simplified registration process BPH has put in place. In 2021, KNTI began monitoring the extent to which these reforms have improved subsidy access for small-scale fishers in its expanded focus areas. The government has also asked KNTI to work with it to help fisherfolk navigate the procedural requirements so that more of them can access subsidized fuel. To date, the government also distributed 1,066 Kusuka Cards (Fisherfolk Cards) to fishers and marine businessmen in Semarang so that they are now formally documented as fisherfolk and can access the fuel subsidy and other assistance. In addition, KNTI received 200 recommendation letters to access subsidized fuel in Bireun, Aceh province. One recommendation letter allows KNTI to access 100 liters of subsidized fuel for further distribution to KNTI members.

 

The MMaFA together with the President’s office plans to pilot a project on fuel subsidy stations in Semarang, Medan, and Padang. If successful, the pilot could pave the way for a fuel station infrastructure development project that would improve fuel access.

 

 

Conclusion

 

In a short period of time, KNTI has leveraged its strength in numbers, networks and newly acquired budget literacy to significantly improve access to subsidized fuel for its members. It has built a relationship with the government in which it now has a say in how budgets are distributed and who they will benefit. Moving forward, KNTI will follow up on the government’s commitments, closely monitor fuel subsidy access by small-scale fisherfolk, and engage local and national budget planning processes to further improve the fuel subsidy program’s budget allocations and execution challenges.

NCDHR: Empowering students from India’s scheduled castes and tribes

NCDHR: Empowering students from India’s scheduled castes and tribes

 

The Post Matric Scholarship (PMS) program is India’s largest tertiary education scholarship program for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe (SC/ST) students. The PMS program provides financial assistance to students from historically marginalized Dalit and Adivasi communities to complete their tertiary education. However, many students are unable to access the scholarship due to opaque application guidelines and timelines. Students who have managed to enroll encounter delays in the transfer of their scholarship funds as a result of the program’s chronic underfunding and poor implementation.

 

With our support, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) reformed its strategy and built up a cadre of student leaders with the budget and political advocacy skills to advocate on their own behalf and unlock reforms. As a result, the NCDHR supported 4,802 PMS applications in three states and worked with the government to simplify the process so more students could apply. In Andhra Pradesh, the government ordered the release of US$870 million in arrears for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic years and US$90 million for FY2021-22, which will benefit 900,000 students. When the program came under threat of being cut, the NCDHR and a broad alliance of civil society partners convinced the government to not only maintain the program but also commit to an increased budget allocation of US$4.8 billion.

 

Background

 

Dalits and Adivasis constitute one-quarter of India’s population and make up 14.4% and 5.2% of the student population, respectively.1 However, the number of Dalit and Adivasi students drops substantially when they move from secondary and higher-secondary education to tertiary education (see Table 1). In recognizing the need to retain SC/ST students at the tertiary level, the Indian government introduced the PMS program for SC/ST students in 1944. Between 2014 and 2017, an average of 5.6 million students benefited from the program each year.

Table 1 – Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER)
All categoriesScheduled castesScheduled tribes
Secondary80.085.374.5
Higher Secondary56.256.843.1
Higher Education24.519.914.2

 Source: Educational statistics at a glance, 2018, Govt. of India. Data are of the year 2015-16.

 

Since the beginning, however, the program has been fraught with systemic and fiscal challenges. According to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Social Justice and Empowerment, the PMS program is “inconsistent, uneven and disjointed”.2 The committee stated that the PMS program was opaque in its operations, unaccountable, and under-resourced, which resulted in a variety of implementation challenges such as ineffective delivery of services to recipients, delays in funding flows from the Ministry of Finance to students’ bank accounts, and outstanding arrears. The Department of Social Justice and Empowerment noted that the funds allocated each year were substantially less than the amount requested, resulting in extensive arrears (see Chart 1). For example, the department submitted its request for US$1487 million to the Ministry of Finance but only received US$1045 million for 2018-19. Due to the accumulation of arrears year-on-year, thousands of eligible scholarship recipients have been excluded from the program or faced delays in receiving their scholarship funds.

 

Source: Departmentally Related standing Committee Report on DDGs of DSJE 2017-18, 2021-22 and the Union Budget Document.

 

The NCDHR was founded in 1998 by human rights activists, academics, and Dalit action groups involved in advancing the rights of India’s scheduled castes and tribes (Dalits and Adivasis). The organization works as a network in 14 states, representing more than 300 million members. It focuses on combatting deep-rooted caste and patriarchal structures in India that have resulted in inter-generational poverty and systemic deprivation in Dalit and Adivasi communities, particularly for women. For decades, the NCDHR prioritized SC/ST higher education as a key step towards addressing structural inequalities and discrimination but had limited success in PMS reform.

 

Through its partnership with IBP, the NCDHR has pushed for the PMS program to be redesigned based on feedback from the recipients themselves. They chose three focus states: Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh. These states were chosen because they have large populations of SC/ST communities, NCDHR already had strong networks there, and they provide geographical diversity across India.

 

 

The NCDHR’s path to results

 

Joining of technical skills and political power

 

Dalit and Adivasi communities represent a significant constituency and potential voting bloc for any national government, so in theory they should have political power. At the state level, however, it is more complex. Entrenched discrimination coupled with fragmentation within political parties makes it hard for the community to influence state governments.

 

The NCDHR has an impressive track record of training Dalit activists and community leaders across India, particularly in understanding budgets and public programs. It has achieved important policy and budget wins, such as the national government’s implementation of budget code 789 in 2010 to categorize funds for SC/ST communities to avoid funds being diverted to non-SC/ST activities. Despite policy reforms, however, change for communities on the ground has been slow.
 

 

Creating a student-led movement

 

Student youth camp in Jharkhand.

Early diagnostics carried out by IBP in partnership with the NCDHR revealed the need to strengthen the secretariat’s connection to its members and to build ownership among members to carry out the work in their own communities. This required a shift in strategy by the NCDHR secretariat, which was used to acting on behalf of members. We supported the NCDHR and its student networks to co-create a campaign to raise awareness among students about the political and budgetary context around the PMS program and equip them to lead their own advocacy to improve public service provision.

 

The NCDHR began with a student survey to understand the challenges students faced. It selected a core group of 193 student leaders across the three focus states, of which 51% were women. In the first half of 2020, these leaders organized 149 student meetings across three states with 3,149 students. From there, student leaders hosted 46 student camps with valuable support from tertiary institutions and government officials such as district welfare officers. In the camps, student leaders helped students and college officials to submit and process 2,850 online PMS applications.
 

The NCDHR’s next step was to build the student leaders’ knowledge of the PMS application process and bottlenecks. The students were also supported to conduct union and state-level budget analysis. In the second half of 2020, 19 training sessions were held to build the students’ political advocacy skills.

 

Students participating in social media training.

Armed with vital new skills, student leaders began developing good working relationships with college administrations, which had at times been strained. In Uttar Pradesh, district welfare officers conducted workshops across several districts to train college administrators and authorities to process PMS applications more efficiently.

 

Student leaders also used their new-found skills to file more than 125 Right to Information applications under the 2005 Right to Information Act to gather information on the status of student PMS applications and PMS fund disbursements. They also submitted tens of memorandums to colleges, district ministers, and magistrates to highlight issues in the PMS program.

 

 

Multi-level engagement with government

 

 

This is the first time I’ve participated in a training that taught us how to understand budgets. It was very interesting, as I had only heard of these big words but wasn’t able to understand them and how to use them. Now I am able to link the budget of the state and central government to my scholarship and why it’s important to stress on that budget so that I and others like me can get scholarships to continue studying.

 

– Abhishek, 12th grade student, Jharkhand

 

 

As with all SPARK projects, the campaign intentionally forged relationships with decision-makers and influential organizations across all tiers of government to bring about sustainable reform. These engagements were formal and informal. Student leaders in the three focus states engaged with the following state actors involved in PMS implementation: District Welfare Officer, District Collector, Department of Social Welfare, District Magistrate, Sub-District Magistrate, and State Coordinator Legislative Assembly Committee. Pro-reform actors were also identified and cultivated, such as the Andhra Pradesh District Welfare Officer and Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE). These informal engagements led to an early campaign achievement. In Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, the deadline for the online application process was extended by almost two months, allowing more students to apply. This decision bolstered student leaders’ confidence that they could impact change and motivated more SC/ST students to apply.

 

 

Every time there is a problem with the scholarship applications or distribution, it’s only the college authorities who come to meet me. But this is the first time that the Dalit students came to meet me on their own. I felt very touched. I knew of the work done by the NCDHR and DAAA, but this is the first time I saw these girls and boys coming to talk about the problems they face. I could understand how difficult it was for them, they all came from very marginalized families. I immediately took notice and have tried to help them in whatever way possible. They were facing problems in getting cast certificates and other such documents needed for the applications; it was fixed immediately.

 

– Kaushal Kumar Ashok, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Jalaun District, Andhra Pradesh

 

 

Furthermore, NCDHR state coordinators and other civil society organizations and civil liberties organizations (CSOs/CLOs) initiated pre-budget consultations with members of political parties prior to the 2020 state budget release. These consultations served to ensure that the PMS program was adequately provided for in the proposed budgets.

 

At the national level, the NCDHR facilitated engagements between SC/ST students and the national ministries responsible for implementing the PMS program, as well as members of parliament such as those in the Public Accounts Committee.3 For the first time, the NCDHR and MSJE jointly organized a national consultation in February 2020. Almost 10 national-level experts and representatives attended the consultation, and after several meetings, a draft accountability framework was developed for the PMS program day service delivery. to strengthen day-to-day service delivery.

 

At the start of the pandemic, the NCDHR state team in Jharkhand became a formal member of the influential NITI Aayog, the Government of India’s think tank that is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes all state Chief Ministers. Leveraging the Aayog’s influence, the NCDHR team held 40 virtual and physical meetings with community social organizations across India over a six-month period in which it raised PMS-related issues and demanded resolutions.

 

 

Working through coalitions

 

While the focus was always on bringing independence and agency to the students, their progress would not have been possible without a strong support network. To date, 113 CSOs/CLOs across the three focus states have helped to strengthen the reach of the campaign and engage with students and other like-minded individuals and networks.
 

To strengthen these networks, the NCDHR trained CSOs/CLOs to understand the PMS application guidelines and how to engage with the relevant officials at the state and district level. They delved into the process of PMS online applications and discussed the challenges students face in accessing higher education, particularly scholarships. In Andhra Pradesh, where funds have not been released for two academic years, CSOs/CLOs met to discuss unprocessed PMS tuition and hostel fees for Dalit and Adivasi students.

 

 

Engagement with the media

 

#SavePMS campaign press conference.

Working with the media was critical to NCDHR’s advocacy. For instance, the NCDHR’s pre-budget consultation with political leaders received widespread coverage from local media outlets. The positive media coverage raised public awareness and support for the NCDHR’s proposals for improving the PMS program.

 

When rumors circulated in November 2020 that the PMS program may be on the chopping block, the NCDHR launched the #SavePMS campaign and convinced the government to maintain the program and commit to an increased budget. The #SavePMS campaign reached almost 1 million users on social media, reinforcing in the minds of the public the importance of the PMS program and the need for reform.

 

 

Covid-19 pivot

There is no doubt that Covid-19 stalled the campaign’s progress. Working with the country’s most marginalized meant that the NCDHR had to pivot to focus on humanitarian work for the first four months of the crisis. A core group of 40 students was selected by the NCDHR to continue campaigning for PMS improvements, while other activities were temporarily put on hold to focus on pandemic relief.

 

 

Every time there is a problem with the scholarship applications or distribution, it’s only the college authorities who come to meet me. But this is the first time that the Dalit students came to meet me on their own. I felt very touched. I knew of the work done by the NCDHR and DAAA, but this is the first time I saw these girls and boys coming to talk about the problems they face. I could understand how difficult it was for them, they all came from very marginalized families. I immediately took notice and have tried to help them in whatever way possible. They were facing problems in getting cast certificates and other such documents needed for the applications; it was fixed immediately.

 

– Kaushal Kumar Ashok, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Jalaun District, Andhra Pradesh

 

 

Students conducted a survey to assist SC/ST communities receive relief packages from the government. The NCDHR developed an App called “WeClaim” to survey and locate communities that had not received government relief packages. Student volunteers spearheaded the relief monitoring, disseminated information about the relief packages, and set up a helpline to assist SC/ST communities. They facilitated application process for relief assistance alongside timely release of scholarships and in doing so emerged as leaders in their communities. New alliances were also forged in the states.

 

 

The NCDHR’s main successes to date

 

As a result of consistent advocacy efforts, the government of India took steps to improve the management of the PMS system. The MSJE established guidelines to strengthen day-to- day service delivery in the programs it funds by instituting a series of monitoring tools and oversight practices, such as strengthening grievance redress mechanisms for students; regular inspections of institutions; training of college heads on scholarship application processes; designated officials to register complaints; and an online portal to provide information on scholarship disbursements. The Welfare Department in the state of Andhra Pradesh also initiated a toll-free number (1902) to enable students to file complaints about the provision of basic services in boarding and college facilities, such as washrooms, libraries, and dining spaces.

 

The NCDHR also secured important wins to address underfunding of the PMS program and expand allocations. The #SavePMS campaign pressured the national government to allocate US$4.8 billion for 40 million SC/ST students over five years starting in 2021. The Andhra Pradesh government released approximately US$600 million in outstanding funds for the 2019/20 academic year; US$270 million for the 2018/19 academic year; and US$90 million for FY2021-22, which will benefit 900,000 students.

 

Thanks to the NCDHR’s advocacy and training, more students have submitted their PMS applications: 4,802 applications were filed across the three focus states, of which 1,557 (32%) were successful. However, Covid-19 has delayed the processing of some applications and disbursement of funds. The states of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh also significantly extended the PMS application deadline.

 

 

Conclusion

 

With IBP’s support, the NCDHR brought about significant change in a short period of time by empowering students. SC/ST students now have agency, are better able to access the application system for the PMS program, and can expect arrears to be paid. Moreover, when the program itself was threatened, the community banded together and lobbied the government to maintain the program, improve it, and commit further funds.

 

Students who once had limited knowledge of the Indian political context nor the skills to lead budget advocacy are now leading the change and engaging with decision-makers. This has positively impacted the Dalit community as a whole. Dalit students who previously lacked the confidence to bring their concerns to college authorities now believe in their power to enact change and access education. These passionate changemakers are using education to uplift themselves and their communities.