Although there has been more civil society focus on budget processes, practices, and institutions at the national level, there is a lot of exciting budget advocacy happening at the subnational level, and it is an area of increasing attention. It is at this level that much of the advocacy related to budget execution occurs, as funds for programs are often transferred from national to state, provincial, or local governments for program administration and service delivery. CSOs monitoring budget execution at the local level have been able to identify breakdowns in these intergovernmental transfers and use the evidence to place pressure on national and subnational officials to address them.
For example, IBP’s partner Uganda Debt Network used community monitoring of a fund for building schools to identify poor management and substandard construction. The UDN used this evidence to raise awareness about the problem, put pressure on the government to respond, which ultimately strengthened procurement rules and practices and resulted in other measures to improve schools. Read other examples of how CSOs have monitored budget execution at the subnational level in Our Money, Our Responsibility: A Citizen’s Guide to Monitoring Government Expenditures.
In addition, CSOs can build on successful advocacy initiatives at the subnational level to create momentum and generate evidence in support of changes at the national level. This can be an effective way to address significant, overarching issues that impact policy processes and systems. For example, in order to engage effectively in public budget processes, advocates need to have access to comprehensive, useful, and timely budget information. However, many countries do not guarantee the public’s right to access government information, leaving the ability of civil society and the general public to participate effectively in decision-making processes to the whims of public officials. And passing Freedom of Information laws can be a daunting task.
One example of starting at the subnational level and moving to the national is that of ’IBP’s partner MKSS, a peasant and workers movement in India. Between 1995 and 2005, MKSS organized numerous hearings to build momentum around a right to information campaign at both the state (Rajasthan) and national levels. These hearings received a tremendous response, as thousands of demonstrators joined MKSS in demanding that Rajasthan enact a law giving citizens the right to information. The Rajasthan state legislature passed such a law in 2000. The right to information campaign then turned its attention to the national government, and five years later India’s parliament passed a national right to information law.
While the question of centralized (national) versus decentralized (subnational) budget policy is an issue in many countries, when decision making and resources are pushed down to the more local level, that offers special opportunities for budget advocates. At the subnational level the process is often more accessible and the issues closer to people’s day-to-day concerns. This context is an important opportunity for citizen and civil society engagement.