Help our children make it through COVID-19: we need transparent budgets

Help our children make it through COVID-19: we need transparent budgets

Most children in the world are not attending school. Millions are unlikely to return. Disruptions to cash, food, health, protection and other programs leave hundreds of millions of children exposed to hunger, violence, sickness and even death. Such risks are magnified where household income has fallen due to job loss, lower earnings and/or fewer remittances.

“If you are not infected, you are affected.” Once commonly used when referring to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, this same phrase can now be applied to the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic. While younger children are not considered at high risk of direct health complications due to the virus, the epidemic is having an indelible and devastating impact on their current and future lives.

COVID-19 has significantly overstretched the capacity of many governments to finance the delivery of essential services to children and their families. Well before the pandemic, many countries were failing to invest sufficient resources in programs that improve the wellbeing of vulnerable populations, including children. With the collapse of government revenue alongside the surge in demand for spending in recent months, fiscal deficits are widening to historic proportions. In this context, governments must ensure that massive budget reallocations and fiscal stimulus packages do not crowd out spending on goods and services that often serve as a lifeline.

Government spending decisions have life and death consequences. A study by The Lancet shows that a modest disruption of health systems and decreased access to food is likely to kill an additional 1.1 million children and 56,000 mothers over the next six months as an indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that public finance decisions taken today will have a profound impact on the trajectory of the world’s 2.4 billion children and their caregivers, especially those living in developing countries.

Public oversight of government spending is imperative

At all times, but clearly even more so during periods of crisis, creating opportunities for the public to provide input and monitor how governments allocate public funds is crucial. Yet, we know from the results of the latest Open Budget Survey (OBS 2019) that most countries fall short of this. As the world’s only independent, fact-based, and comparative assessment of public budget accountability — transparency, oversight, and public engagement — the OBS offers insight into how inaccessible government budgets can perpetuate poverty and inequality.

For example, recent research by UNICEF and the International Budget Partnership found that one-third of the budget for immunization programs in 22 countries went unspent during the period from 2009 – 2017, the most recent years for which data was available. Without an open budget process, it is unclear what happened to these resources. While poor budget transparency practices are a major concern for children during normal times, the stakes have never been higher than in 2020.

As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to intensify across the globe, there is a danger that the open budget agenda will reverse and close. Normal budgeting and spending processes have already been upended as emergency packages move forward with limited or no consultation from the public. Parliamentary oversight functions have been significantly reduced in many countries, and lockdowns have created new public finance planning and implementation challenges. The year 2020 is likely to be characterized by the largest public spending deviations in all of history.

Open budgets can be an effective tool in creating a better future for our children

As we cope with this crisis, we also see an opportunity to shape the future — where citizens and government are in active dialogue about the best way to invest scarce resources. Open budgets help align government spending with the needs of vulnerable communities.

Producing comprehensive, useful, and timely budget information enables different groups to assess the impact of government spending and hold governments accountable. In addition, higher credit ratings from improved transparency allow governments to borrow more and cheaper funds, while also attracting greater budget support from donors. This increases the overall pot of resources and potential impact of national budgets on people’s lives.

We’ve seen firsthand how information from the OBS empowers governments and civil society to quickly improve budget openness.

Using results from OBS 2017, UNICEF and IBP supported finance ministries in implementing budget transparency improvement action plans, which catalyzed the publication of more budget information and created new spaces for citizens to contribute to public finance decisions. As a result of these efforts, 15 of the 19 countries in Eastern and Southern African that participated in the latest rounds of the OBS recorded significant improvements in their scores.

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, we must advocate for and keep the pressure on governments to conduct proper consultations in forming their budgets, carefully document what is being funded, and report on the impact of that funding to hold them accountable.

In recent days, IBP and UNICEF convened a conversation on the transparency of health and education budgets with over 150 participants from government and civil society around the world as well as a discussion with finance ministry officials and civil society organizations from more than a dozen countries in Eastern and Southern Africa to discuss the latest Open Budget Survey results.

We join hundreds of signatories from organizations around the world to call on governments to adopt open budget practices now. Together, we can use budgets as the ultimate tool to champion the voices of our children when they need it most.

Blind Budgets: How governments hide the impact of fiscal policies on poverty and inequality (and what they could do instead)

Blind Budgets: How governments hide the impact of fiscal policies on poverty and inequality (and what they could do instead)

One of the key questions ordinary citizens ask about government budgets is “how will it affect me?” This is a particularly important question for people who live in poverty or are part of disadvantaged and marginalized groups. For them, how much tax they pay or what public services they receive can make the difference between deprivation and well-being. This is even more relevant during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, when poverty and inequality worsen, and governments are called on to provide assistance to those most in need.

The World Bank estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to push between 71 and 100 million people into extreme poverty by the end of 2020. Other estimates put the global tally at around half a billion people, and the likelihood of reversing recent gains in reducing global poverty all but certain. Inequality was already on the rise before COVID-19, and the pandemic will likely make the gap bigger, in rich and poor countries alike. The virus magnifies pre-existing differences in economic and social conditions by disproportionately disrupting the livelihoods of those at the lower end of the income scale who cannot self-isolate, have less job security and are more exposed to possible contagion.

Therefore, it is critical to understand how governments are providing the public with adequate information about the impact of budget policies on poverty and inequality to tackle these social ills.

We started looking at this issue in a brief published in early 2019, which used data from the 2017 Open Budget Survey to show that most governments publish very limited information on these topics. The information that is made available, our research showed, is often scattered and incomplete, and reporting back on implementation of relevant budget policies is weaker still.

Unfortunately, the results of the 2019 Open Budget Survey show little improvement, if any.

For people and organizations interested in knowing what policies governments are putting in place to reduce poverty, the annual budget proposal prepared by the executive is the first place to look. However, only less than half of the governments in our survey that publish such a document present information on funds allocated to those policies—and only about a third explain what the numbers actually mean. Among these, here are some interesting examples:

  • In Thailand, the Budget in Brief document includes details about one of the guiding strategies for the government’s 2019 budget, called “Poverty alleviation, inequality reduction and internal growth creation,” through which resources are allocated to areas such as social protection, health insurance and old age pensions.
  • Rwanda’s Budget Framework Paper brings together information on government interventions for the “Social Transformation Pillar”—which includes as one of its objectives a “poverty free Rwanda”—ranging from eradicating malnutrition to improving access to health and education services.
  • New Zealand introduced a new Well-Being Budget approach which links public spending to a series of well-being indicators, focusing government action on priority areas such as addressing child poverty and improving the living conditions of the Māori population.

Monitoring how those funds are spent is even more difficult, with less than a fifth of governments including detailed reporting on pro-poor policies in their year-end reports. In South Africa and Brazil, governments publish detailed reports on the actual spending and performance of various programs related to poverty reduction, even though these are not compiled in an easy-to-access manner.

In order to understand how public spending affects vulnerable groups (i.e. women, the elderly, ethnic minorities, etc.)—and therefore what impact it has on inequality across various dimensions—the budget proposal needs to provide information organized for that specific purpose. Unfortunately, only about a third of the budget proposals analyzed in our survey include such alternative displays of expenditure. The finance ministry in Bangladesh, for example, has regularly published gender budgets and child budgets as part of its budget proposal. And in Ecuador, the medium-term budget programming document includes tables that summarize spending aimed at “closing equity gaps” along various dimensions, including gender, disability, age groups, etc.

In summary, many governments do not seem to consider their budgets’ impacts on poverty and inequality as something worth explaining or reporting on, keeping citizens in the dark. In fact, they do not seem to consider the needs and opinions of vulnerable and marginalized groups as relevant in the budget process at all. Out of 117 countries covered in our survey, just half (56) offer opportunities for citizen engagement during budget formulation. Among these, only six make some effort to include vulnerable groups in those discussions. The situation is even worse during budget execution, with only one government out of 31 making a similar effort. Interesting examples include countries like India and Zimbabwe, where finance ministries hold pre-budget consultations where representatives of disadvantaged groups are invited to participate and present their views. Mexico is the only country that promotes participation of vulnerable and under-represented groups during budget execution, through social audits that involve beneficiaries of social programs targeted to disadvantaged groups. If more countries followed their example, public spending could be better targeted and therefore more effective, a very important plus during crises, when resources are scarce and needs great.

While citizens are frustrated with governments for many reasons, this lack of attention and consideration for the poor and disadvantaged will likely fuel continued dissatisfaction. As successive waves of protests—both before and during the pandemic—have shown, citizens are increasingly and more forcefully demanding that governments chart a new course, one that takes their needs and interests into account, takes concrete steps to address long-standing structural inequalities and builds back trust by reshaping the social contract between governments and citizens. The enormous challenges that governments will face in the remaining stages of the pandemic, and its aftermath, make these demands more pressing, as choices about how to raise and spend public resources become more contentious and directly impact people’s lives.

Public policy processes—and the yearly budget cycle that underpins them—are one of the arenas where a renewal of the social contract can take place. Governments wanting to heed citizens’ calls could do worse than follow some of the positive examples highlighted above, lifting the veil of opacity around the impacts of their budgets.

These positive examples demonstrate how governments can take immediate and concrete steps to provide information on the budget’s impacts on poverty and inequality and involve citizens in formulating and monitoring the implementation of better budget policies that put reducing poverty and inequality at the heart of government action. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect economies and societies, it is fundamental for governments to take these efforts more seriously. The ongoing formulation of their budgets for 2021 could be the perfect opportunity to get started.

Un appel à l’action sur les budgets ouverts pendant la réaction au COVID-19

Un appel à l’action sur les budgets ouverts pendant la réaction au COVID-19

Cet article figure également sur le Blog Poverty to Power d’Oxfam.

De vastes sommes d’argent public sont mobilisées et réaffectées pour financer des mesures d’urgence contre le COVID-19. Les gouvernements doivent définir, approuver et mettre en œuvre un financement d’urgence le plus rapidement possible. Même si cette rapidité n’implique pas nécessairement une moindre responsabilité, le risque que des ressources publiques soient mal utilisées et gaspillées est important.

Les politiques et actions gouvernementales détermineront le nombre de vies sauvées, le nombre de personnes qui tomberont dans la pauvreté et l’aspect global de la société qui émergera de cette crise. Ces décisions sont trop importantes pour être prises de manière opaque et sans contribution du public, en particulier à une période où les inégalités et la corruption perçue ont déjà mis à mal la confiance du public en de nombreux gouvernements. De plus, l’histoire nous montre que les crises peuvent aussi être des périodes de renouveau politique, et qu’une transparence et une responsabilité plus fortes permettent de renforcer le contrat social. Le FMI a résumé ses conseils en matière de rapidité et de responsabilité de la réaction en une seule phrase : « Faites tout le nécessaire, mais gardez les reçus. »

Mais le public est en droit de commencer à demander, et le plus tôt possible, car ces reçus commencent déjà à s’accumuler : « Pouvons-nous voir ces reçus ? »

Ned Snowman /

Les systèmes de responsabilité budgétaire de la plupart des pays présentent des lacunes même lorsqu’ils fonctionnent dans des conditions moins extrêmes. La dernière enquête sur le budget ouvert (OBS), publiée la semaine dernière, constate que certains des aspects les plus fragiles en matière de transparence budgétaire et de suivi sont ceux qui seront les plus critiques pour le suivi des ressources publiques pendant cette urgence. Parmi ceux-ci figurent :

La déconnexion entre les politiques et les budgets. À l’heure où les gouvernements annoncent de nouvelles politiques d’urgence, ils doivent également expliquer comment ces politiques seront financées. Même avant cette crise, un tiers des 117 pays évalués dans l’OBS n’indiquaient pas comment les nouvelles politiques proposées se traduisaient en allocations budgétaires. Aujourd’hui, de nombreux gouvernements font transiter les financements d’urgence par des fonds extrabudgétaires qui ne relèvent pas du processus budgétaire normal et disposent de leurs propres systèmes de déclaration et de gestion. Cela comporte des risques, car, une fois créées, les sources de financement gérées séparément peuvent ne pas être utilisées conformément aux priorités gouvernementales. En outre, moins d’un quart des pays de l’OBS divulguent des informations complètes sur les fonds extrabudgétaires dans leurs propositions budgétaires.

La réduction de la transparence et du contrôle de l’exécution du budget. Lorsque le financement d’urgence est approuvé avec un contrôle législatif accéléré ou restreint, cela rend plus important le fait de « conserver les reçus » pour renforcer le suivi de l’exécution du budget. Pourtant, l’OBS constate qu’un pays interrogé sur quatre ne publie pas de rapports en temps opportun sur l’exécution du budget. Alors que les gouvernements ajustent les dépenses grâce à des budgets complémentaires, des réaffectations et des virements, les deux tiers des pays étudiés ne publient pas en temps voulu un bilan de milieu d’année indiquant les changements dans les dépenses prévues en raison de la révision des prévisions de recettes et de dépenses. Le contrôle législatif sur l’exécution du budget est limité : moins d’une législature sur cinq publie des rapports sur ses conclusions au sujet de l’exécution du budget. La supervision de l’audit présente également des lacunes : un tiers des pays interrogés ne publie pas le rapport d’audit des finances du gouvernement dans les 18 mois suivant la fin de l’année budgétaire, et les trois quarts des pays interrogés n’auditent pas la totalité des dépenses publiques des fonds extrabudgétaires.

Le manque d’informations sur la dette et les nouveaux engagements. Les gouvernements contractent des dettes supplémentaires pour financer des dépenses alors qu’ils sont confrontés à une perte de revenus, et beaucoup d’entre eux garantissent également la dette des entreprises et des marchés financiers. Pourtant, une augmentation des remboursements de la dette, en particulier sur les marchés émergents, peut prendre la place de dépenses consacrées à des services essentiels, et le fait de garantir la dette peut être particulièrement risqué en période de crise financière. Ces risques devraient faire partie des débats sur le budget, mais l’OBS constate que dans les propositions budgétaires, seul un quart des pays étudiés divulguent leur dette totale et la composition de cette dette, et seuls 13 % des pays divulguent pleinement leurs passifs éventuels.

Un appel à l’action pour renforcer l’ouverture des budgets pendant la réaction au COVID-19

Malgré ces défis, l’utilisation abusive des fonds d’urgence n’est pas inéluctable. Les gouvernements qui se sont engagés à faire preuve de transparence dès le début de leur réaction à la crise ont créé un précédent en faveur d’une responsabilisation plus forte tout au long de leur reprise.

Dans le cadre du lancement de l’OBS 2019, l’International Budget Partnership a publié un Appel à l’action pour que les gouvernements atteignent quatre objectifs d’ouverture budgétaire au cours des cinq prochaines années. Les gouvernements ne peuvent pas attendre la fin de cette crise pour progresser vers ces objectifs : ils doivent prendre dès maintenant des mesures pour préserver nos ressources publiques. En se basant sur les quatre objectifs de l’appel à l’action, voici comment les gouvernements peuvent non seulement « conserver les reçus », mais aussi publier et utiliser ces reçus pour promouvoir la responsabilité :

  1. Commencer par une transparence totale : augmenter la fréquence de publication et l’exhaustivité des informations sur l’exécution du budget, y compris les transactions des marchés publics et les déclarations sur les fonds extrabudgétaires. Ces informations doivent être diffusées sur des sites Internet ou des portails existants, ou, s’il n’en existe pas encore, en utilisant les outils et ressources disponibles pour publier des données. Ces informations doivent également expliquer les ajustements budgétaires, notamment les augmentations et les réductions des dépenses prévues, les sources de financement, les détails sur le total des dettes et les nouveaux passifs éventuels. Les gouvernements doivent également publier les lignes directrices et les politiques qui orienteront les dépenses, tels que les critères pour bénéficier des plans d’assistance, les règles ajustées pour les dépenses gouvernementales et les marchés publics.
  2. Rechercher la contribution et l’engagement du public : élargir la collaboration avec la société civile concernant le suivi de la mise en œuvre des mesures d’urgence et de relance. La société civile peut aider les gouvernements à effectuer des contrôles ponctuels pour s’assurer que le financement et les services parviennent aux bénéficiaires visés. Des audits sociaux ont été utilisés pour contrôler les régimes de garantie de l’emploi en Inde, et servent actuellement au bureau sud-africain de l’IBP pour suivre les services dans les zones d’habitation informelle. Les gouvernements peuvent activement solliciter les contributions du public en matière de politiques fiscales et budgétaires, ainsi que sur les difficultés d’accès aux programmes d’urgence et de soutien économique.
  3. Renforcer le contrôle lors de l’exécution du budget : s’engager à accélérer l’audit des financements d’urgence et de relance, y compris les financements extrabudgétaires. Les institutions supérieures de contrôle peuvent rappeler aux gouvernements les règles à suivre, et rendre les rapports et les conclusions de l’audit accessibles au public et aux législatures aussi rapidement que possible afin que ceux-ci puissent résoudre les problèmes de mise en œuvre gouvernementale pendant la réaction à la crise.
  4. Soutenir les améliorations des pratiques de responsabilisation : des progrès vers une meilleure ouverture budgétaire sont possibles, même pendant cette crise, grâce à des outils qui existent déjà et à des données que les gouvernements produisent déjà, mais les gouvernements ne doivent pas en rester là. Les gouvernements doivent s’engager à sortir de cette crise en faisant preuve de davantage de responsabilité en matière d’utilisation des ressources publiques qu’auparavant.

Les pays doivent désormais choisir sur quoi débouchera leur réponse à cette crise : sur moins de transparence et de confiance, ou sur plus d’ouverture et de responsabilité. Avec les plus de 100 organisations déjà signataires de l’Appel à l’action, nous exhortons les gouvernements à choisir la voie de l’ouverture.

Making the Most of the Budget Cycle: The Budget Oversight Stage

Making the Most of the Budget Cycle: The Budget Oversight Stage

This post is the last in a series looking at the budget cycle and how civil society can most effectively engage at each stage of it.

The previous post in this series addressed how civil society can play an important accountability role in the budget execution phase, in which the Enacted Budget is executed. This post will focus on the budget oversight stage.

What Happens at the Budget Oversight Stage?

Budget oversight includes a number of activities that aim to measure whether public resources have been used appropriately, effectively, and efficiently. At the end of the fiscal year, the executive branch should report its financial activities to the legislature and the public, as well as to an independent and professional supreme audit institution (SAI).

Nearly every country in the world has a functioning SAI that is mandated with checking whether public funds are being managed properly and in line with the law and sound financial management practices. Depending on the country, SAIs can be named the Office of the Auditor General (in Westminster systems), the Court of Accounts (in Napoleonic systems), or the Board or Commission of Audit (in parts of Asia and Latin America). SAIs assess the proper use of public funds by conducting financial audits that examine the legality of financial transactions, as well as the efficient and effective use through performance audits. SAIs then submit their findings and recommendations for addressing identified problems to the legislative committee responsible for oversight, which then should convene hearings to discuss the major findings and call on the executive to act on the recommendations. The SAI should also release its Audit Report to the public in a timely way after the end of the fiscal year.

Engaging with Budget Oversight

Measuring how effective public spending has been in reaching desired outcomes requires identifying appropriate indicators of impact and collecting and correctly interpreting the data on these indicators. Although measuring outputs (i.e., the level of public goods and services produced for a given level of expenditure, such as the number of children immunized or the number of girls enrolled in primary school) requires an effective data collection system, it is a relatively straightforward exercise. Evaluating the impact, or outcomes, of expenditure is much more difficult and requires the capacity to identify the value added from a particular government policy or program. Although measuring impact of government spending can be difficult, it is critical as public finance systems use scarce public resources to meet the needs of a country’s people.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) can only effectively use Audit Reports if they’re published in a timely manner. An Audit Report can be a valuable source of information for assessing how well, or poorly, the budget was implemented. The report frequently discloses underspending or overspending in programs and agencies, and can therefore be used to uncover fraud, identify unauthorized or unsubstantiated expenditures, or highlight systemic weaknesses in financial management practices in public sector agencies. These reports can provide a wealth of information to CSOs that are interested in assessing problems in budget implementation. Audit Reports are often the only independent source of information on the government’s fiscal management, making them a critical source of information for civil society to assess whether the government is spending public funds appropriately and effectively.

For example, in Argentina, the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (Civil Association for Equality and Justice, or ACIJ), used an Audit Report to investigate government procurements made for the national airport. The Audit Report for the agency responsible for the procurements reported serious deficiencies in the agency’s management. The government, however, ignored the recommendations, taking no action to rectify the problems.  ACIJ demanded that it be allowed to attend meetings of the legislative committee (Comisión Mixta Revisora de Cuentas, or CMRC) responsible for reviewing audit reports, meetings that were traditionally closed to the public. CMRC staff not only denied ACIJ’s request but also told ACIJ that the committee did not actually meet to discuss the audit findings; instead, the committee secretary approved certain audit recommendations and then obtained signatures of consent from the other committee members.

ACIJ filed a lawsuit demanding that CMRC meetings be open to the public and obtained a favorable ruling. ACIJ then filed and won a second suit to gain access to minutes of previous CMRC meetings. The meeting reports were found to contain many irregularities; 17 of the 65 reports contained false information, including falsified meeting attendance records. ACIJ publicized these findings and demanded corrective action in national newspapers, and in turn spurred the CMRC to begin meeting regularly (and properly) to discuss Audit Reports. ACIJ’s strategic use of government documents, the legal system, and the media led to a positive outcome: a more transparent approach to legislative review of Audit Reports.

SAIs should be mindful of the positive impact that citizen and civil society engagement can have on budget oversight, thus contributing to a more an effective audit process that holds government to account for using public resources equitably and as intended. Likewise, CSOs should use available audit information to play an effective role in ensuring that public money is used to meet the needs of people.

More from the “Making the Most of the Budget Cycle” series

Further reading

For further guidance on civil society participation in the budget process, review some of IBP’s resources and guides, including:

Making the Most of the Budget Cycle: The Budget Execution Stage

Making the Most of the Budget Cycle: The Budget Execution Stage

This post is the third in a series looking at the budget cycle and how civil society can most effectively engage at each stage of it.

The previous post in this series addressed how civil society can influence the budget enactment phase, in which the Executive’s Budget Proposal is submitted to the legislature for debate, alterations, and approval of the final budget. This post will focus on the third stage of the budget cycle: the budget execution stage.

What happens at the budget execution stage?

Put simply, the budget execution stage is when funds are actually raised and spent to implement the policies, programs, and projects outlined in the enacted budget. This stage can be somewhat of a challenge for civil society groups looking to ensure the budget is implemented as intended, as they typically have limited options for engagement. Governments differ widely in how they regulate and monitor spending to ensure adherence to budgets. In some cases, the treasury (or finance ministry) exercises strong central control over spending. In cases where departments have more autonomy over managing their budgets, treasuries monitor expenditures through such requirements as regular reporting by each department of its spending.

In practice, budgets generally are not implemented exactly as they were approved; in many cases funding levels in the budget are not adhered to and, through such practices as virement (i.e., the executive shifts funds that were allocated to one area to another during the budget year), authorized funds are not spent for the intended purposes. Deviations can result from conscious policy decisions or in reaction to changing economic conditions, but concerns arise when there are dramatic differences between the allocated budget and actual spending that do not correlate with any measurable policy. Sometimes these cases result from outright abuse by the executive, but they may also reflect the effects of a poor budget process and technical problems that make it difficult for the executive to implement the budget in line with what was enacted into law. For instance, the budget may not be clear about the intended purposes of particular funds, and weak monitoring and reporting systems can limit the availability of information that the executive needs to monitor the flow of expenditures.

Engaging with budget execution

Budget execution is an executive function. Unless the executive issues public reports regularly on the status of revenues and expenditures during the year, civil society organizations (CSOs) have limited ability to monitor the flow of funds.

However, CSOs have a strong interest in ensuring adherence to the budget and reducing mismanagement or corruption, which requires there to be an effective and transparent monitoring system. When such a system is not in place or not functioning well, these groups must bridge the gap. Using In-Year Reports and the Mid-Year Review, which communicate at regular points during the budget year actual spending figures versus budget allocations, CSOs can monitor whether funds allocated to specific projects, such as a school or a road, have actually been used for the intended purpose. Using the information provided by the government, and that they gathered through monitoring spending on the ground, CSOs can also assess the quality of the spending to see if the policy goals associated with the budget allocation are being met, and if government funds are being used effectively.

Clearly, access to timely and accurate information on disaggregated actual expenditure and government borrowing and debt service, primarily through the In-Year Reports and Mid-Year Review, are essential. Twice a year, IBP’s Open Budget Survey Document Availability Tracker records whether governments in countries around the world have made publicly available each of the eight key budget documents that international good practice standards require. (Publishing those budget documents that are produced is one of the easiest ways governments can improve their score on the Open Budget Survey!)

Campaign of Adivasis and Dalits for Rights on Education
A 2015 CADRE demonstration. Credit:

In order for CSOs to make a greater contribution to oversight of budget execution, they need the skills to analyze the data and present their findings, including those on who is benefitting from public spending compared to those who were supposed to benefit and those related to mismanagement at the point of service, as well as the relationships and opportunities to engage in formal oversight processes and with formal oversight institutions (i.e., the legislature and supreme audit institution). An example of effective civil society engagement in the budget execution stage comes from IBP partner the National Coalition on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) in India. As part of its Campaign for Adivasi and Dalit Right to Education (CADRE), NCDHR successfully involved student groups and faculty across 30 universities in 15 states to use government data on scholarship allocations and actual expenditures to monitor and follow up on fellowship awards for dalit and adivasi students, who have long suffered from deep institutional and societal discrimination. The CADRE campaign organized a student tribunal at the national level at which it presented over 200 documented cases of scholarships being denied to dalits and adivasis. (The CADRE campaign had already moved 14 members of the national parliament to raise questions on government spending on scholarships for dalit and adivasi students.) At the tribunal, it was revealed that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the two nodal ministries for scholarships for dalit and adivasis, had outstanding transfers to state governments amounting to Rs98 billion (US$1.5 billion).  As a result of the CADRE campaign’s monitoring and engagement in oversight, Rs65 billion (US$1 billion) has now been released. NCDHR is closely monitoring the pending releases for the scholarships, and will be continue to monitor how the resources released are spent.

While the governmental and civil society context is different in every country, and even among different sectors and localities within each country, CSOs can develop strategies to engage with their governments and make their voices heard. Governments should be mindful of the positive impact that citizen and civil society engagement can have on budget execution, and throughout the budget cycle, and provide access to comprehensive and timely execution data and to opportunities to participate in execution on the ground, in order to ensure that resources are used equitably and for their intended purpose.

Further Reading

For further guidance on civil society participation in the budget process, review some of IBP’s resources and guides, including: