The legislature is most active during the budget enactment stage of the budget process, when the Executive’s Budget Proposal is considered, amended (in countries where the legislature has that authority), and approved or rejected. Its other primary responsibility is budget oversight, specifically recommending audits of budget execution and following up on the findings and recommendations of these audits.
During the enactment stage, CSOs that seek to influence the final budget can engage the legislature in various ways.
Inform the budget deliberations
CSOs can submit written testimony with their recommendations based on the evidence generated through their analysis of the budget proposal and through efforts to monitor the execution of previous budgets. Alternatively, they can testify at legislative hearings and meet with individual legislators. These are good budget advocacy strategies but also effective ways to increase the legislature’s capacity to play their budget oversight role and improve the quality of the process. It is possible for budget groups to form alliances with lawmakers on an agenda to increase legislative power in the budget process, even among lawmakers who might not agree with the groups on specific spending issues.
Identify allies in the legislature
A CSO can identify individual legislators who support its positions or can persuade legislators to join its side. These allies can then help to deliver the CSO’s message and advocate for its proposals. To do this effectively, CSOs need to establish their credibility by making recommendations based on sound analysis and working to build relationships with legislators.
For example, a CSO seeking to increase funding for support to enable poor people to buy adequate food might reach out to legislators with high levels of poverty in their constituencies, and also might find support among legislators with significant agricultural or food production interests.
Bring public supporters and advocacy partners into the process
In countries that do not provide meaningful opportunities for the general public to participate in budget processes, CSOs can often use their access to individual legislators or legislative committees to bring this public voice into the process. In countries that have budget processes that provide for public input, CSOs can strengthen the public’s arguments with credible evidence.
Develop relationships with researcher/support services to legislative committees
Legislative committees often have research and support staff assigned to them. It could be useful for CSOs to establish relationships with these staff members and provide budget analyses and other relevant information to the committee via these relationships. CSOs can supplement the often limited budget information and knowledge to these staff for committee discussions on various issues, as well as influence the direction of these debates.
In some countries, legislators lack the ability and knowledge to effectively perform their budgeting roles. CSOs can provide trainings on the budget process, budget analysis, and key features of the budget; briefings on challenging issues; and other capacity-building support to legislators and their staff members. Not only does this help to strengthen the institution and overall budgeting and oversight system it also helps to establish the credibility of the CSO and build relationships.
During the audit and evaluation stage of the budget process, the legislature can recommend or request an audit but generally the supreme audit institution (SAI) will decide what and how to audit. The SAI is responsible for independently auditing the government’s budget execution and financial management and reporting back to the legislature. The legislature will debate the report, write their own report, and make recommendations to the executive.
Civil society budget advocates can influence both the ability and political will for legislatures to play their oversight role. CSOs whose advocacy includes monitoring budget execution can bring evidence of instances of mismanagement, poor service delivery, and misuse of public funds to the legislature’s attention and call on it to investigate. They also can monitor the legislature’s follow up on audit recommendations of the country’s SAI.
For example, IBP partner MUHURI monitors the use of local development resources that are disbursed through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), a troubling scheme that provides funds directly to legislators to use for development projects in their own constituencies. MUHURI involves community members directly in monitoring the use of these funds through a tool known as a Social Audit. The community members compare actual projects on the ground with documents and records reporting how CDF funds were spent. They then present these findings at a public hearing, usually attended by the legislator in question or his or her CDF representatives and covered by the media. The results of these hearings not only pressure the legislators to address mismanagement and corruption but also provide evidence for MUHURI’s advocacy to eliminate the CDF in its current form. Watch a documentary about MUHURI’s work to hold legislators accountable for the use of CDF funds:
An example of this relationship in reverse is the case of Fundar’s investigation into the Provida issue. Fundar was first alerted to the diversion of funds to Provida by a legislator with whom they had established a strong, credible relationship.