The executive branch plays the most significant role in the formulation stage in the budget process. It sets the parameters of the budget (revenue and expenditure levels, debt and deficit limits, etc.) and drafts the final budget proposal that will go to the legislature for approval. The formulation stage tends to be relatively closed, with participation being limited to the executive, Ministry/Department of Finance, and various government department heads. In some instances, CSOs or individual legislators may be consulted as the proposal is developed.

There are many countries in which the legislature has limited authority to make changes to the executive’s budget proposal during the enactment stage. Therefore, although direct access to the process may be limited at the formulation stage, it may be the only opportunity CSOs have to influence the final budget.

CSOs can engage the executive during formulation through a variety of channels.

  1. Raise overall questions about the parameters of the budget

    In countries that issue a Pre-Budget Statement that lays out the assumptions behind the budget’s parameters, CSOs can analyze this information to identify faulty assumptions. They can then present this evidence to the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and argue for adjustments. In contexts where CSOs do not have access to the MOF, they can raise their questions in the media, as a means of indirectly exerting pressure on the executive.

    For example, the IBP’s partner Idasa, based in South Africa, regularly analyzes the government’s macroeconomic and budget forecasts and submits the results of its analysis and policy recommendations to the Ministry of Finance. Idasa identified a trend of underestimating revenues for several budget years and raised questions about the potential negative impact this conservative approach could have on the economy and the government’s policy and development priorities.

  2. Seek allies in key ministries or departments

    As part of the formulation process, heads of the various ministries or departments that administer government programs and activities submit proposals for their sector or scope of responsibility. By establishing sustained relationships with staff, especially decision-making staff, in these administrative units, CSOs can seek to have their advocacy objective incorporated into the ministry’s budget proposals.

  3. Generate media coverage and public pressure during the budget formation stage

    Because public budgets tend to build on prior years’ policies and programs, CSOs can often anticipate what will be in the Executive’s Budget Proposal and what space there might be for new policies or activities. This provides an opportunity for CSOs to begin to engage in public education and organizing around their issues. It is also a great time to try to generate media coverage on the need for their budget recommendations.

    For example, if a CSO wanted to ensure that funding for immunizations for children is included in the budget, it could engage parents, school officials, health care providers, and other CSOs interested in children or public health to reach out to the government with their concerns. The CSO could also seek to place media stories about the dangers of inadequate immunization to children and the costs of potential public health repercussions.

  4. Seek to be a representative on task teams, planning commissions, and other formal consultative forums

    A good strategy is to be in regular communication with officials during the planning stages of the budget. One way to ensure this is to participate in formal government-led consultation processes, which often inform the planning of policies, budgets, and service delivery debates, updates, and reforms.

    At the subnational level, there is growing evidence that multi-stakeholder consultation processes have been responsive to civil society recommendations for the budget. A key lesson for some groups has been to ensure that the information provided at the local government level is included in national level discussions. Including this information in the national budget planning processes helps to ensure that budgets across levels of government are aligned and, to some degree, extends the benefit of these consultations to other local governments.

In addition to budget formulation, the executive also participates in the enactment stage (advocating for its proposed budget in the legislature), is responsible for budget implementation, and does an internal budget implementation evaluation. Therefore, CSOs will want to build relationships with the executive, establish credibility, and continue their engagement with this branch throughout the budget cycle.

For instance, a CSO engaging in monitoring budget execution can alert the executive to problems in program implementation and encourage the administration to address them immediately or investigate them during the government’s internal audit.

IBP’s partner in Mexico, Fundar, formed a coalition with other CSOs interested in HIV/AIDS and women’s health to investigate the diversion of funds that had been allocated to HIV/AIDS to 10 centers to assist women. The coalition’s investigation found that the centers were a front for a conservative, pro-life organization, Provida, whose activities ran counter to the Mexican government’s policies on HIV/AIDS and population. In addition to this conflict, the investigation also discovered blatant misuse of the funds. By presenting its findings to the government, the coalition succeeded in encouraging the government to conduct its own audit, which confirmed the coalition’s findings and resulted in the money being recovered and Provida being fined.