This post was written by the Uganda Debt Network.
A key factor in translating budget transparency into better policies, implementation, and outcomes is for the executive branch of government to engage with civil society, the legislature, and other stakeholders throughout the budget process, including during budget formulation. International best practice says that government should actively seek input from these relevant actors, but there can be other catalysts for this engagement. Here is a recent example in Uganda where such discussions were actually led by civil society and included the active participation of both executive and legislative officials.
On 15 April 2014 Uganda Debt Network (UDN) and partners from the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) coalition hosted the annual Pre-Budget Dialogue to discuss the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014/15 National Budget proposals in Kampala.
A total of 235 people attended the half-day meeting, including members of civil society organizations (CSOs), the private sector, academia, 18 Members of Parliament, Ministry of Finance officials, as well as small-scale farmers and community monitors from different parts of the country. The theme of the dialogue was “Every Shilling Counts: Are the FY 2014/15 Budget Proposals Efficient and Effective to Deliver Us from Poverty?”
The CSBAG presented a statement of civil society’s perspectives on the budget strategy and priorities for FY 2014/15, highlighting some major concerns, including those over proposed funding cuts to the education sector and public sector management. Other critical activities identified as being underfunded in the proposed budget included wage enhancement for health workers who are not medical officers at subcounty- and county-level health centers. The CSBAG also raised the issue of the need to invest more in recruiting health workers at the local government level and at the Ministry of Health headquarters because of the persistent problem of understaffing.
In contrast to the objections civil society raised around proposed cuts, they applauded increases in funding to the Agriculture, Health, Water and Environment, and Works and Transport sectors. They also recommended that in cases where government entities are ordered by the courts to compensate victims of human rights violations, the monetary awards be paid by the individual public official responsible rather than using public funds, which is the current practice.
In addition to these and other inputs from civil society at the event, government officials from the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning, and Development noted that the public should be more engaged in discussions and exercises related to how sector budgets will be allocated to ensure that their views are accounted for and included in the National Budget. Legislators recommended that the FY 2014/15 budget should focus on improving the human resources available to the public sector to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to complete funded projects — like the construction of schools, health centers, and roads — and improve service delivery.
After the Pre-Budget Dialogue, UDN and other CSBAG members held a retreat to develop alternative budget proposals that would provide greater benefit to the citizenry and improve social service delivery. During the retreat, CSBAG members took time to critically analyze the government’s proposed budget allocations to various sectors in the National Budget Framework Paper for 2014/15. The alternative proposals developed during the retreat were presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Budget on 29 April. UDN will also present the alternative proposals to Sector Working Groups from different government ministries, departments, and agencies, as well as other parliamentary committees charged with evaluating sectoral budget allocations, before they make final recommendations to the cabinet for finalizing the National Budget that then will be submitted to parliament for approval by 15 June.
Though there are still several steps to go before seeing the government’s final budget proposal, these kinds of discussions make it more likely that it will be built from more complete information about the public’s priorities and needs and that civil society, citizens, and formal oversight actors have an opportunity to shape the policies for the upcoming year.