Global Day of Action Kicks Off Campaign for Governments to Make Budgets Public NOW!

Oct 02, 2013

This post was written by Helena Hofbauer, Director of Partnership Development and Innovation at the International Budget Partnership.

btapAs part of International Right to Know Day on 28 September, the Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability, and Participation’s (BTAP)’s Day of Action officially kicked off a flurry of activities across the globe to call on governments to improve their standards and practices related to budget transparency, participation, and accountability. Civil society organizations (CSOs) in more than 40 countries will demand that their governments “Make Budgets Public NOW!” The activity and momentum launched this past Saturday will carry on long after the Day of Action.

The BTAP movement is made up of CSOs with a long history in their country and region of championing the right to know how governments raise and spend money and empowering citizens to demand budget information and shape budget decisions. On the BTAP website, you can read the movement’s unified Declaration of Principles and use the interactive map to check out how the efforts and activities of BTAP’s first global campaign unfold in countries across the world.

Activities planned for the BTAP global campaign include:

  • Philippines: trainings on project monitoring by communities in the Metro Naga area and workshops on citizen report cards in Mindanao
  • India: civil society has called for a “fortnight of action” during which a national charter of demands for BTAP will be released, with similar charters and events in over 10 states
  • Televised debates, roundtables, and public forums, as well as radio talk shows will take place in the Dominican Republic, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Uganda, and Ukraine, among others
  • Budget transparency indices, citizen’s guides to budgets, and budget reports will be published in several countries
  • Innovative tools and activities like student debates in Kazakhstan, a hotline for budget information inquiries in Indonesia, and a public petition demanding budget transparency and public hearings in Ukraine
  • Kazakhstan: a helium balloon with the Make Budgets Public NOW! logo will fly high in the sky

This campaign — and the entire BTAP movement — is about the power that comes to ordinary people who have access to critical information that they can use to hold government to account. And, when it comes to the challenges that countries face, whether it be maternal mortality, climate change mitigation, hunger, or poverty, there is no more critical information than that on what the government is doing with public money to tackle these issues. This is too important a fight to sit on the sidelines — we all need to demand that governments Make Budgets Public NOW!

Open Government Road Block

Sep 26, 2013

This post was written by Warren Krafchik, Director of the International Budget Partnership, and cross posted on the Open Government Partnership blog. Earlier this week, on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly, I was privileged to attend an extraordinary meeting. On the stage and in the audience were the presidents of the U.S., Mongolia, […]

Using mobile phones to fix the holes in local government

Sep 16, 2013

This post was written by Prof. Hannah Thinyane, Professor of Computer Science at Rhodes University in South Africa. I live in Makana Municipality, one like many others in South Africa that is struggling to provide adequate basic services, such as water, sanitation, and electricity, to its residents. After a particularly bad spell of water service […]

Constitutional Changes Present a Window of Opportunity for County Level Participatory Budgeting in Kenya

Sep 03, 2013

This post was written by Claire Mitchell, Open Budget Initiative Intern at the International Budget Partnership.

Participatory budgeting is the process by which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources. Participatory budgeting programs are implemented at the behest of governments, citizens, NGOs, and civil society organizations to give citizens a direct role in deciding how and where public resources should be spent. These programs create opportunities for engaging, educating, and empowering citizens, and help to promote transparency and reduce corruption. This post focuses on a pilot participatory budgeting project led by International Budget Partnership (IBP) civil society partner the National Taxpayers Association (NTA) in Kenya. The aim of the project is to improve upon an earlier government plan to increase citizen participation in service delivery monitoring and implementation.

What Was Wrong with the System?

In 2000, the Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan (LASDAP) was established in Kenya to enhance citizen participation in the monitoring and implementation of local funds and services. On paper, the Plan provided an impressive and groundbreaking set of guidelines for public participation in the budget process. In reality, the Plan failed to live up to expectations; citizen participation was low and the majority of funds were used for the financing of personnel, administrative overhead, and debts rather than poverty reduction.

In 2010, a new constitution ushered in significant changes including a transition to a decentralized system of a national government and 47 county governments. Both the national government and each of the 47 counties will propose and implement individual budgets. According to the IBP’s Jason Lakin, who is the senior program officer in Kenya, “The hope is that with decentralization officials are closer to constituents, which will enable the public to hold authorities accountable and will ensure that resources are used more transparently and services are delivered more efficiently.”

What Did the NTA Do?

The recent shift to devolved government presents an opportunity to pick up where LASDAP fell short and the NTA is poised to seize this window of opportunity. In 2012, the NTA, with support from the IBP, launched its pilot participatory budgeting project at the local authority level. Through this project, the NTA sought to enhance quality citizen participation within the context of the LASDAP. The ultimate goal was to inform its future advocacy in the context of devolution. The pilot was administered in five local authorities, where a model for subnational participatory budgeting was tested. To help start the pilot, project leaders turned to Jules Nguebou, a participatory budgeting expert from Cameroon, a country where participatory budgeting programs are thriving. NTA Participatory Budgeting Project Officer Caroline Othim explains, “Our staff visited Cameroon where they could witness first hand a successful model of participatory budgeting. They met citizens and local officials who are actively engaged in participatory budgeting processes, and were able to see how specific community projects flourished as a result of the participatory budgeting cycle.” The visit gave NTA key insights, including that building political will is crucial to the process, and successful participatory budgeting is paramount to cultivating a sense of community ownership over local development projects.

IBP - NTA Project Report

With this knowledge, the NTA began implementing its project with a concerted effort to build relationships with key local authorities and introduce them to participatory budgeting. Officials in all five local authorities were eager to facilitate citizen participation when they learned of the good will and media attention it would generate. The NTA also began establishing citizen budget monitoring groups in response to low citizen participation in existing community budget forums. The groups received training based on a NTA-developed budget literacy training toolkit and were linked to local authorities to ensure effective collaboration.

Outcomes of the NTA Project

The NTA’s work with government officials and community members resulted in several positive developments. First, the NTA used its relationships with local authorities to successfully educate public officials on the intricacies of the budget cycle and provide guidance on maximizing community involvement. Meanwhile, the citizen budget monitoring groups were able to successfully mobilize citizens to actively participate in established consultative and consensus meetings. As a result, citizens were for the first time involved in identifying community priorities and necessary projects.

With the knowledge gained from its project and lessons from the shortcomings of the Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan, the NTA developed the Citizen Participation and Budget Transparency Guide. The Guide seeks to inform citizens and county governments how to navigate budget processes and encourage effective citizen engagement. Some key points from the Guide include:

  • Formation of functioning partnerships with government officials is crucial to success;
  • The definition of and mechanisms for citizen participation must be clear and comprehensive;
  • Capacity building, education, and training on budget processes for both government officials and citizens is vital;
  • Mechanisms for citizen feedback on service and project delivery must be in place;
  • Effective means for dispute resolution must be in place in order to resolve conflicts that arise during the budget process;
  • Counties should capitalize on the ICT revolution to provide information and encourage citizen participation;
  • Governments should commit to timely disclosure of budget-related information to the public; and
  • Fostering collaboration between the national and county governments will ensure priorities are met and development outcomes are achieved.

What’s Next?

Othim notes that the NTA is heeding its own advice. “We are currently applying these guidelines to a project aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in service provision by the new county governments through strengthened and increased citizen participation.” The NTA has established County Accountability Networks in 12 counties with the aspiration of scaling the project across Kenya’s 47 counties. The NTA will focus on building the capacity and technical skills of the Networks and county officials, and will help produce county citizens report cards to be used as tools for social accountability. The NTA will also assist the Networks in building relationships with the county executive committees and county finance executives, who are charged with establishing constitutionally mandated County Budget & Economic Forums. The forums will bring together government and citizens to discuss plans and budgets. The NTA, in collaboration with the IBP, is planning to implement a pilot project in Busia County by facilitating and supporting the set-up of itsBudget and Economic Forum and related processes in a way that encourages citizen participation in all stages of planning and budgeting.

Although Kenya is facing some obstacles and delays in its transition to decentralization, the NTA is not waiting to take action. They are seizing this window of opportunity to help ensure that this time, participatory budgeting becomes a reality for Kenyans across the country.

For more information on the National Taxpayers Association and their projects, visit their website.

Embedded learning? New case studies on civil society and the politics of government finance accountability

Aug 26, 2013

This post was written by Albert van Zyl, Research Manager at the International Budget Partnership. In the governance field too many learning efforts are based on selective and retrospective documentation of success stories or on politically blind “treatments” parachuted into random contexts. Both approaches undermine the learning potential of governance research. This is why in 2009 […]

It Takes a Village: Lessons Learned from Citizen Budget Engagement in Kyrgyzstan

Aug 08, 2013

This blog post is by Jyldyz T. Kasymova, Assistant Professor at the Political Science Department, Buffalo State (SUNY) and Professor L. Schachter, Professor at the School of Management, New Jersey Institute of Technology. It is excerpted from their recent article “Bringing Participatory Tools to a Different Level: a Case Study of Local Participatory Practices in Kyrgyzstan.”

Engaging citizens in budget decision making is increasingly recognized as an important function of governments around the world. Many western-financed NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) are encouraging citizen participation when states transition from authoritarian to democratic governments, as is the case with Kyrgyzstan. After its independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan adopted several legal tools for budget transparency, including the Law on Basic Principles of Budgetary Law in the Kyrgyz Republic, which requires governments at the local and national levels to make budget documents available to the public. In addition, article 12 of that law stresses that the parliament, village, district, and city councils openly and publicly review and adopt the national and local budgets. By the end of the 1990s Kyrgyzstan, with the help of international donors, started conducting public budget hearings in rural and urban municipalities. Today almost all urban, and many rural, municipalities in the country conduct annual budget hearings.

SAM_1044But, as in many countries, the existence of laws providing access to budget information does not guarantee that this access exists in practice. In 2009 the Open Society Institute evaluated access to public finance information in several countries. The study found that Kyrgyzstan had laws enabling citizens to demand budget information from state authorities but they were not widely used due to a lack of awareness among citizens about these legislative tools. Additionally, recent experience has demonstrated that budget hearings alone do not guarantee “authentic participation.” A lack of financial literacy among the population, low levels of interest in budgeting, and a lack of skills among local leaders in moderating budget hearings are some of the documented problems. Most important, there is no oversight mechanism that mandates the government to incorporate citizens’ feedback in final budget decisions. To address these challenges a new approach was undertaken.

In 2012 Shaidan and Aral — two smaller rural municipalities in southern Kyrgyzstan — merged budget hearings with citizen evaluation cards on veterinary, library, education, and cultural services. It was a three-stage interaction process that included focus group interviews with residents, public administrators, and community leaders; evaluation report cards; and open budget hearings. This approach emphasized the engagement of an experienced local community organization with residents before and after the budget hearing. The local governments in both Shaidan and Aral reported a high number of participants and active discussions during the hearings. The experience of Shaidan and Aral demonstrated that using multiple tools to engage residents in budgeting processes can be very successful, especially when combined with large-scale preparation of residents prior to the budget hearing. Presenting both citizen-generated evaluations of government services and government-generated budget information at the hearing allowed citizens and administrators to compare and contrast their perceptions of the cost effectiveness of various local services. Direct interaction between residents and department administrators created a sense of empowerment among the residents, as questions were answered in a timely manner by the administrators.

Public administrators in Kyrgyzstan are enthusiastic about citizen budget engagement and the success of the exercises in Shaidan and Aral. Budget transparency and participation is particularly useful for poorer municipalities as administrators are able to better focus limited resources on more urgent projects with direct input from residents about priorities and needs. Furthermore, as we’ve seen in other countries citizen engagement also helped to improve the local tax collection in poor municipalities because residents began understanding financial difficulties faced by municipalities and were willing to contribute and be involved. Finally, best practices, such as in Shaidan and Aral, are being promoted to other villages though invitations of villagers and administrators from other areas to observe the conduct of successful budget involvement. It is also reported that in 2011, over 140 rural municipalities (out of 459) have been exposed to trainings related to various forms of citizen engagement in budget decision making.

Open Budget Index 2012 Regional Event Generates Latin American Commitments to Improve Budget Transparency

Aug 01, 2013

This post was written by Michael Castro, Program Officer for the Open Budget Initiative at the International Budget Partnership. On 18-19 July in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the International Budget Partnership (IBP), the government of the Dominican Republic, and the Inter-American Development Bank convened government officials and civil society representatives for “Opening Public Budgets in […]

Place Your Bets: How Can Publicity and Political Agency Take us from Transparency to Accountability?

Jul 31, 2013

This post was written by Albert van Zyl, Research Manager at the International Budget Partnership. In a recent response to an article by Yu and Robinson, the World Bank’s Tiago Peixoto repeats the now common refrain that transparency of government information is a necessary but insufficient condition for accountability. The real value of his contribution lies in his effort […]

The IBP Joins in The Guardian’s Global Chat on What Effective Transparency Looks Like

Jul 18, 2013

This post was written by Deidre Huntington, Communications Program Officer at the International Budget Partnership. In June the IBP was a panelist in The Guardian’s Global Development Professional Network’s live chat that sought to answer two questions: 1) what does transparency that leads to accountability look like? and 2) how do you build capacity for […]