The World Bank/International Monetary Fund spring meetings and the United Nations’ Financing for Development (FFD) forum cast a worrying glance at the global economic outlook – highlighting the urgent need for reform and innovative ways to spur development.
With surging global debt, the climate crisis, and other stresses setting back progress on the global goals, the need for accountable public spending has never been more important. As policymakers and civil society converged in Washington and New York for these two gatherings, we focused attention on how more inclusive and accountable budgets can propel progress.
Ensuring governments spend credibly, or according to what they promise in their approved budgets, is a little understood but important issue that has a direct impact on the global goals and an area in which civil society can be part of the solution. In a New York Times letter, our policy manager Sally Torbert explained how discrepancies between what budgets promise and actual outcomes affect how money is spent – and who it’s spent on. Much too often governments underspend on health, agriculture and other social sectors that most impact underserved communities.
In the leadup to FFD, we released several policy briefs as part of a research series with nine partners examining deviations in 13 countries across seven sectors related to 10 global goals. In a video series, we broke down why we see these deviations, the unfortunate outcomes, and what we’ve learned in our budget credibility work to make its pitfalls top of mind for governments and advocates going forward.
We also teamed up with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to host a panel discussion side event at Financing for Development featuring our Executive Director, Ana Patricia Muñoz, UNICEF Director of Social Policy and Social Protection Natalia Winder Rossi, UNDP Sustainable Finance Hub Chief of Program Tom Beloe, UNDESA Economic Affairs Officer Peter Chowla and government and civil society leaders from Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and Indonesia who shared key insights on how they’re working to address budget credibility issues in their countries. Below are a few key highlights.
Ghana’s government is working towards budget credibility by linking its national and local budgets, and by meticulously tracking how much – and exactly how – the money is actually spent. That wasn’t always the case. “After we presented our first budget report, we noticed that most of the allocations that had been made, it was almost impossible to track if these resources were going to achieve the various goals and targets that we outlined,” said Nana Yaw Minta Botwe, head of Budget Technical Assistance and Support for the Ghanaian government. So, the government resolved to make the process more transparent and to better track resources at every step in the process. They aligned the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets to the national and subnational chart of accounts and updated their financial systems. Now the entire process is public and transparent so that the government and the public can see in real time whether the government budget is credible and achieving its intended goals.
Nigeria’s officials and civil society have been studying how insufficient budget allocations, red tape and bottlenecks leading to underspending are affecting the quality of overall health care in rural areas like Oyo state. Dr. Muideen Babatunde Olatunji, Executive Secretary of the Oyo State Primary Health Care Board talked about the progress following the enactment of Nigeria’s Basic Healthcare Provision Fund, signed into law for the 2019 budget. This federal and state-funded initiative provides free minimum basic healthcare to the poorest Nigerians through primary health centers in the state. The disbursements (and the process) have been closely tracked and have already shown results. One hundred new midwives have been recruited (and paid monthly), the number of funded facilities has increased from 214 to 342 and the state is continuously renovating and upgrading their flagship healthcare facilities.
In Senegal, Magatte Diouf, program coordinator for UrbaSEN, said that through sanitation budget analysis, data collection and training with IBP, the group has shown that the sanitation sector routinely delayed the release of funds and cut critical funds from the approved budget.
After identifying these issues, UrbaSEN is now meeting directly with government officials to advocate for better sanitation services and is partnering with the national sanitation office for better inclusion of informal settlement residents’ needs in sanitation programs and services.
Thopan Aji Pratama, Senior Auditor at the Audit Board of the Republic of Indonesia (BPK), checks and reports on the legality, accuracy, and credibility of public accounts to ensure that the government delivers on its promises. Pratama’s work has led to better fiscal governance, including aligning planning and budgeting, and strengthening Indonesia’s progress towards the global goals. The Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) also conducts in-depth analyses and continually builds capacity and partnerships with other stakeholders, including on a budget credibility handbook. The handbook is designed to support SAIs globally in conducting analyses of the credibility of government budgets through external audits.
On the heels of these forums, our executive director Ana Patricia Muñoz also took part in a World Bank panel on the importance of social sustainability for the climate agenda. Joined by speakers from the Bezos Earth Fund, the Global Climate Cooperation Environmental Defense Fund, the World Bank and others she made the case for expanding the role of the public and other oversight actors in ensuring climate funds are informed by and spent as promised to the benefit of communities that are most impacted.
As these conversations around reshaping development continue, we will keep shining a light on the importance of bringing civil society, government and oversight actors together to ensure public spending reflects the needs of people.