The Post-2015 Agenda: Good Progress but Room for Improvement

**This post was updated on 20 May 2015 to reflect updated links and language. Please contact the authors if you have any questions about these changes.

This article was written by Claire Schouten and Ryan Flynn, International Budget Partnership.

The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are now more or less finalized. However, two big questions remain: How will the SDGs be paid for? And how should progress towards their achievement be measured?

In the last few weeks, two draft documents speaking to each of these questions have been published. On the first, the United Nations General Assembly released a “zero draft” of the Financing for Development Outcome Document. On the second, the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) has released a set of draft indicators (PDF) for measuring progress towards achieving the SDGs and targets.

There is much to like in both of the drafts, with budget transparency and participation explicitly included in each. Crucial details, however, are missing in both documents and we have recommendations for ways to improve future iterations.

Financing for Development

The “revised draft” addresses the not insignificant question of how global development – including achieving the SDGs – will be financed. It also seeks to ensure that resources are used effectively.

Paragraph 27 of the draft contains some welcome language pledging to “increase transparency and participation in all aspects of the budgeting process, and encourage those who have not yet done so to join the Open Government Partnership.” This focus should be upheld by the member states in the outcome document and in practice. It is nevertheless essential to articulate the steps needed to achieve this. In other words, how to deliver on the commitments.

Building on the lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and 20 years of development and budget experience, IBP and our partners recommend strengthening these commitments as follows:

  • Specify that budget documents covering each stage of the budget cycle should be published in a regular and timely manner. The Open Budget Survey Tracker has demonstrated that many governments are failing this basic test, leaving serious gaps in our understanding of how budgets are being planned, executed, and audited.
  • Spell out practical and accessible public participation mechanisms, such as public hearings, for the public to engage in all stages of the budget process and governments to report on how public inputs have been taken into account.
  • Connect resources with development outcomes by pledging to track both spending and results at the global and national level. This information should be made publically available to ensure all stakeholders can monitor progress.
  • Join the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and deliver on the High Level Principles enshrined in UN Resolution 67/218.

Measuring Commitments: The Indicators Framework

The UN Statistical Commission has published a draft of the indicators that will be used to monitor progress toward achieving the SDGs and targets. As a part of this process, national statistical offices around the world were asked to grade each of the indicators according to their feasibility, suitability and relevance.

While we welcome the inclusion of budget indicators in the draft, much like the Financing for Development draft, the devil is in the details. Three indicators under Goal 16 could be greatly improved by firming up how transparency and participation are measured (see Table below).

Improving the Indicators for SDG 16

Target 16.6
Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.

Actual primary expenditures per sector and revenues as a percentage of the original approved budget of the government.

Ratings from National Statistics Offices
B) Feasible with strong effort B) We need to discuss and/or consider other indicators B) Somewhat relevant.

IBP Comment
This is difficult to assess when fiscal reports are not produced and made available. It is also difficult to define “primary expenditures” and “sector.”

Suggested Indicator
Regular reporting on budgeted vs. actual revenues and expenditures, disaggregated by type of revenue and by sector/sub-sector.

Target 16.7
Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels.
Indicator 1
Diversity in representation in key decision-making bodies (legislature, executive, and judiciary).

Ratings from National Statistics Offices
B) Feasible with strong effort B) We need to discuss and/or consider other indicators A) Very relevant.

Indicator 2
Percentage of population who believe decision-making at all levels is inclusive and responsive.

Ratings from National Statistics Offices
C) Difficult, even with strong effort B) We need to discuss and/or consider other indicators B) Somewhat relevant

IBP Comment on Both Indicators
There is growing consensus that public participation in budgeting is an essential component of any public finance management system and decision-making process. This consensus is affirmed by the High Level Principles on Fiscal Transparency issued by the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), endorsed by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 67/218. This consensus is also supported by the International Monetary Fund, which recently included public participation as an indicator in its revised Fiscal Transparency Code, and by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has similarly included public participation in its Principles of Budgetary Governance.

Suggested New Indicator
Extent to which the executive and/or the legislature receive inputs through written submissions or public meetings from citizens during the budget cycle, and provide feedback on the use of such inputs.

Target 16.10
Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

Percentage of actual government budget, procurement, revenues, and natural resource concessions that are publicly available and easily accessible.

Ratings from National Statistics Offices
B) Feasible with strong effort B) We need to discuss and/or consider other indicators A) Very relevant.

IBP Comment
Bundling these elements together makes it difficult to measure their public availability and accessibility as a percentage. On budgets, at least five budget documents should be made publically available (Executive’s Budget Proposal, Enacted Budget, Year-End Report, Audit Report, and Citizens Budget). Each should provide breakdowns according to expenditure allocated and spent towards each of the SDGs.

Suggested Indicator
Extent to which budget information, including expected and actual on-budget and off-budget revenue and expenditure, procurement, and natural resource concessions, is publicly available and easily accessible in open data format.

What’s Next?

Humanity has sufficient resources at its disposal to make substantial progress toward eradicating extreme poverty and achieve each of the SDGs. But only if these resources are managed effectively and allocated equitably. We welcome the recognition, in each of these draft documents, that transparency and participation are means by which we can ensure global resources are managed well. But without further detail – and firmer commitments for measuring and financing these lofty goals – we risk merely articulating good intentions, rather than ensuring good policies and actions.

Both documents remain, of course, in draft form. So we’ll be looking out for the next iterations.

On Financing for Development, the next consultations will be 26-29 May and 1-5 June, and the next drafting session will be in New York from 15-19 June. We hope participants will seize this opportunity to firm up commitments to transparency and participation as per our recommendations above.

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