Part Two – From challenge to advocacy: how Social Justice put children at the heart of the budget

by Deidre Huntington, IBP consultant— Oct 30, 2020

This is part two of a three-part series on the budget analysis and advocacy learning journey of IBP’s civil society partner, Social Justice, in Cote d’Ivoire. Part one is available here.

This post is also available in French

Service delivery challenges are often the impetus for a civil society group or movement to start engaging in budget work. Gaps in services such as health care, education or sanitation can be obvious signals that something is wrong but determining if the root problem is related to the budget requires specific skills and competencies.

Stretching to learn new skills
Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire, a civil society group focused on transparency and good governance in Cote d’Ivoire, had already been engaged in budget work – specifically budget monitoring – and has been a longtime partner of the International Budget Partnership (IBP). As an Open Budget Survey (OBS) researcher, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire is already well-versed in assessing the components of the budget accountability system including public availability of budget information; opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process; and the role of formal oversight institutions, including the legislature and the national audit office. However, it’s important to note that this was the first time Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had practiced budget analysis and that no other civil society group in the country had embarked on such analysis. Analyzing data in the context of a specific problem to arrive at an advocacy strategy was a shortcoming that limited their contribution to fiscal policy. With our more focused partnership with Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire as part of the Francophone Africa Network (FAN), we supported them in sharpening their vision, focus and skills.

Meeting with the Minister of the Budget

Once Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had focused on the issue of insufficient or non-working school canteens, the next step was to identify if the challenges were in fact due to a budget problem and if engaging in the budget ecosystem was an effective solution. Public finance systems are often complex, sprawling and bureaucratic labyrinths that can be difficult to understand and penetrate, even for an experienced group like Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire. Combine that with the unique system of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and a highly centralized service delivery process and it’s easy to understand how complex it can be to find a root cause. But Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire was determined to do the analysis to understand why the school canteens were failing the community’s children. IBP’s support in this area was two-pronged : 1) direct capacity building around how to determine if there’s a budget problem (i.e., mismanagement, lack of resources, lack of value for money) and 2) through IBP’s grant, working with a former Ministry of Finance official who strengthened their capacity to understand budget processes, documents and relevant actors and stakeholders.

This learning process was essential for Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire to not only analyze an important aspect of social policy in relation to the government’s budgetary policy, but to also highlight service delivery gaps and make constructive proposals for improvement. Additionally, this learning benefits the entire field of civil society as Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire shares its learning and helps build a field of groups experienced in budget analysis.

Is this a budget problem?

Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire initially set out to examine the national education sector since it’s such a vital part of society and is a strategic lever for sustainable development, specifically achieving quality education as part of the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations. Additionally, the Ministry of National Education has the largest budget in the state – about 17.6 percent as of 2017. Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire wanted to explore how the Ministry’s budget was impacting essential services within the education sector.

To explore this issue, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire conducted a survey of primary education directorates, civil society groups working in education and parents’ associations in three targeted regions to identify important services that are underfunded. On the whole, school canteens emerged as an important means to keeping children in school. With additional analysis of certain budget documents, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire discovered dismaying facts about school canteens, including: 67 out of 100 schools do not have canteens and of those that do, only 10 percent are functional. According to the survey respondents, these issues are a result of a lack of funding resources and served as a starting point for Social Justice’s budget analysis.

The start of budget analysis

The next phase of Social Justice’s work was to inform a budget analysis report through the identification of localities to focus their analysis and the stakeholders and issue areas they would need to engage in the process.

As part of their budget monitoring work, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had five committees in place for monitoring public policies at the local level. They knew that the budget analysis would need to include localities, so they decided to focus on three municipalities where they had planning committees that could contribute to information gathering and advocacy: Bouaflé, Bondoukou and Hiré. The local committees already had budget tracking and advocacy experience, however they also received additional training in local budget analysis. Additionally, these localities are mining areas which benefit from a Local Development Fund financed by 0.5 percent of the revenues of each mining company. The fund is managed by a committee) comprised of local authorities, representatives of village heads and young community members) in charge of using the funds to carry out community projects. Geographical distribution was also an important consideration in choosing where to focus their work to ensure a diverse scope of the challenge.

Once Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had their local budget analysis for the three localities, they were able to start working on the high-level report that would inform their advocacy strategy to address the school canteen issue. This work included conducting a literature review on national education, school canteens and the state budget and a field survey phase for interviews and discussions. Drawing on the training from IBP and other partners, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire was able to extract statistical data, process and analyze it and draw conclusions to formulate their final budget analysis report.

Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire knew the country’s children faced a problem with a lack of sufficient and operational school canteens and went from budget monitoring to budget analysis to get to the heart of the issue. Embarking on a learning journey with IBP and other partners, they were able to engage stakeholders and analyze the gaps affecting this critical infrastructure to help keep kids in school.

In the third and final post in this series, learn more about what Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire uncovered in their budget analysis and how they built public awareness around the school canteen issue.

The author would like to thank Carol Kiangura, IBP Senior Program Officer, Sub-Saharan Africa, Training, Technical Assistance & Networking and the Social Justice staff for their invaluable help in writing this post.

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