Indonesia has made steady advances in open budgeting in recent years, as demonstrated by the International Budget Partnership (IBP)’s biennial Open Budget Survey (OBS), where the country now scores 70 out of 100 on budget transparency.
In a recent interview with IBP’s Cosette Highfill, IGA Krisna Murti RS — the most recent OBS government reviewer for Indonesia — reflected on how the government used the OBS and input from civil society to help spur change.
Cosette: How has the government used the OBS results to encourage open budgeting?
IGA Krisna Murti RS: TheOBS is very strong for improving budget transparency. Actually, we do not focus on the score, but on using the results to get leadership support to increase the transparency of the budget. For example, the Indonesian finance minister gave a speech at the 2017 OBS launch via video which demonstrated we are paying attention to budget transparency.
When preparing budget proposals, the directorate general of the budget considers what information should be made public. We always evaluate and compare this with the results of past surveys. For example, if the previous OBS found that debt was not available in the financial memorandum, we will work to include debt information in this year’s financial memorandum.
There are other evaluationsof budget transparency in Indonesia, such as PEFA and the IMF’s Fiscal Transparency Evaluation. The ministry of finance is also involved in these assessments. But the value of the OBS is that it is widely known to the public, it can be compared with other countries, and it is based on publicly available evidence.
Cosette: In 2016, the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) invited Indonesia’s ministry of finance to meet with the Mexican government and PEMNA in Korea to share information. The following year, Indonesia launched a budget portal, enabling greater access to budget data. Why 2016?
IGA Krisna:Actually, 2016 was a special year for Indonesia on the budget transparency initiative. Starting with the GIFT invitation to Indonesia’s ministry of finance in 2016, we expanded our understanding that transparency is important for improving the quality of budgeting, and that open budgeting is vital for improving the quality of people’s lives in Indonesia.
When attending the GIFT meeting in Mexico, we ventured to host the next meeting, which GIFT welcomed and then occurred in 2017. We took advantage of this opportunity to launch another tool on the portal – data in spatial formats – which we also showed when invited by PEMNA in Korea. Participation in these meetings gave us insight into increasing budget transparency.
Who are OBS government reviewers?
IBP invites government representatives of the countries assessed by the OBS to review the draft results and provide comments. In the most recent OBS round, officials from 94 governments accepted IBP’s invitation and reviewed their country’s survey questionnaire, a document that includes responses on more than 200 indicators.
Cosette: How does the ministry spread awareness of the importance of transparency within the government?
IGA Krisna: The ministry of finance can only encourage other ministries to provide data – as the ministry of finance has done for the data portal. We also recommend providing a wider range of data for local budgets so that the public knows about the activities carried out by local governments.
Some ministries also have action plans with targets to be achieved at the national level, such as the publication of education and health budgets in the data portal or signing a memorandum among ministries on commitments to publish budget data.
Cosette: Has the OBS research partner Seknas Fitra also joined your meetings to discuss budget transparency?
IGA Krisna: Yes. We, assisted by Seknas Fitra, are trying to show the public that we have tried to publish data through the portal in a format that is easily understood. We always say that every ministry should have the same mission – budget transparency.
Cosette: Can you speak more about Open Data Day, Budget Goes to Campus and the Budget Olympics, which encourage public input into the formulation and implementation of the national budget?
IGA Krisna: This is a very pleasant part of carrying out budget transparency activities. We learned to communicate and discuss with the public about the budgeting process, even though we are not teachers or publicists. We shared knowledge and opened up opportunities to talk about the budget. The Budget Goes to Campus event is to communicate with students and lecturers, and the Open Data Day and Budget Olympics are competitions around the public’s ability to use budget information. All have the same objective: public understanding of the budgeting process in Indonesia. When people understand the budget process, they can provide information to the government on their needs. We highly appreciate public input and even criticism of the government, but it is more useful if criticism or input to the government is based on knowledge and is in a form we can use.
In one year, we held events in several universities and at around 15 senior high schools. We plan to continue these activities every year and hope to reach many other schools and universities. Especially this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we held these activities online. We are hopeful that the dissemination of budget information online can reach a greater audience.
Kasih, 72, lives alone in the alleys of Jakarta, supporting herself by cleaning other people’s homes. That is, until COVID-19 hit. With social-distancing requirements in place, she saw her meager business dry up. Despite a government social-protection program (called Family Hope) that offered conditional cash payments for people like her, she received nothing.
Then a community volunteer trained by IBP partner SPRI (Indonesian People’s Struggle) checked in on her neighborhood and discovered her situation. The volunteer photographed the conditions of the woman’s home and sent the documentation to the neighborhood leader—who merely said, “she’s not on my list.” So, SPRI went higher, to the village leader. This process went back and forth for a bit, but in the end, the organization was successful.
“Not only did the elderly woman receive the aid she needed, but also her neighbors, around 15 of them,” says Dika Muhammad, general secretary of SPRI. “It takes persistence.”
The mission of SPRI is to do just that: assure that eligible individuals and families get the social protection benefits they deserve, such as health care, food, education and a basic income. COVID-19 has made that more essential, and even more of a challenge.
The Indonesian government issued social-distancing orders March 16 and since then, the pandemic has spread to almost all provinces, with Jakarta the most affected (nearly 50% of the 24,538 confirmed cases at the time of this writing, including 1,496 deaths). SPRI typically works by organizing mass mobilizations and focus groups with policymakers. In addition, members had just completed IBP’s training on how to conduct a community social audit using an approach supported by Perkumpulan Inisiatif. But since such intensive outreach is now no longer possible, IBP is helping the organization pursue its mission in other ways.
For example, SPRI conducted an online survey of about 4,000 people from urban poor families in 36 Jakarta villages to determine who is not receiving the benefits but should be, as well as the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19. As a follow-up, SPRI is monitoring implementation of the government social-assistance programs. The results of the survey and monitoring will be displayed on a visual “needs map,” then sent to policymakers at the provincial and national levels to reform the social-assistance programs.
For those who don’t have internet, SPRI uses WhatsApp groups and paper forms that can be completed at a new Community Information and Complaint Center. Staffed by SPRI members and volunteers who have been trained as social auditors, the center educates those who could benefit from Family Hope and documents complaints from those who are not getting the assistance they need. The auditors also are being trained in citizen journalism so they can effectively tell the stories of COVID’s socioeconomic impact in their communities.
“The government data is not very complete or even credible, so many eligible poor people who should get help do not get it,” explains Mulyanah, a community center manager in Kramat Jati. “That’s why SPRI fights for this community. We don’t just focus on basic income, but also health care and education.”
For example, SPRI works in 36 urban villages in Jakarta. Before COVID, it had identified about 2,000 families needing assistance who were not receiving it. After the pandemic hit and the economic fallout became apparent, the online survey showed that 78.8% of urban poor residents had worked in the informal sector and now had minimal if any income. Even among those who previously had formal jobs, 62% now were unemployed. Overall, more than 91% had no cash assets at all.
“After COVID, the government slightly increased the amount given to recipient families, depending on the number of children,” says Tri, a community auditor in Duri Kepa. “But it’s still not much—maybe around 250,000 rupiah (US$10) per month for a family with one child.”
In addition to cash transfers, these families also should receive nine food staples, such as rice. However even if households receive the food, it is often contaminated with insects. Likewise, the food delivered is supposed to cover one month but may be sufficient for only a week.
Another issue is the promised level of cash support vs. reality: For example, the government has said in the media that an average family of five would get 600,000 rupiah, but when it’s delivered, it’s maybe around 300,000—half what was promised. Or, sometimes families learn that the amount delivered must be shared with other households.
“Before SPRI established the complaint center, these families didn’t know to whom or how to report the problems,” explains Suryati, a community center manager in Tomang. “The government didn’t provide a channel for reporting or complaints. Now, they have someplace to go. They know that SPRI will take several steps to follow up on their complaints, including going to the appropriate line agency. We are their advocate.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the plans of governments, businesses and households around the world. The same is true for civil society organizations, including our global network of groups committed to budget-related advocacy. Ways of working have had to shift, and all of us have seen sudden adjustments in government fiscal and monetary policies that require us to rethink our focus.
Our partners have demonstrated a nimble response to the twin health and economic crises. As reports come in from the field, we have identified four areas of work in which partners are engaging: demanding transparency in the spending of new relief funds, promoting greater equity and inclusion in governments’ policy responses, advocating for the expansion or introduction of cash-transfer programs to support incomes, and encouraging more progressive taxation to fund the response (and investments in health and social security more broadly).
Transparency of relief funds. While many governments have introduced new or expanded policies to support the economy broadly, as well as programs for those living in poverty, small businesses and so on, they typically have not offered substantial detail on how these programs are supposed to work, how they target the intended beneficiaries or how they are to be financed. In some cases, new, off-budget funds are being set up (such as in India and Kenya), but the flow of resources in and out is opaque.
Partners have responded by demanding greater transparency and attempting to share information themselves. In Indonesia, a civil society coalition—including the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency, Indonesian Corruption Watch, Transparency International Indonesia and Indonesia Budget Center—explained in a public policy brief the need for a comprehensive and unified response to the pandemic that guarantees transparency and accountability in the use of public resources.
In Nigeria, BudgIT created the CovidFundTracka, a website that lists donations given to the federal and state governments by both private and public organizations. Likewise, SEND West Africa designed a digital hub that tracks government and CSO responses to the crisis. Each week, SEND compiles government reports regarding the COVID-19 response for different sectors, like agriculture. In Ecuador, Grupo FARO launched an initiative to “take the pulse of the economy during the pandemic,” designed to keep the public informed on how the government is responding to COVID-19. The site includes analysis of new/proposed policies and their financial implications.
More inclusive government responses. While many governments have introduced policies targeting the vulnerable, these are either seen as inadequate or they have not been fully implemented. Partners have highlighted the special needs of different groups, requested new or improved policies to address them, and tried to involve vulnerable groups in oversight.
ACIJ (Argentina) is promoting actions to address structural human rights problems that have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, like access to basic necessities for vulnerable populations. A special web page highlights ACIJ’s work in defense of groups like the homeless, children and people with disabilities.
In India, the National Coalition for Dalit Human Rights is calling for support for informal workers and manual scavengers through expansion of existing schemes or creation of new ones. It has also launched the app WeClaim to assist marginalized communities in securing state entitlements.
The Senegalese Federation of Disability Associations (FASPH) is urging the government to pay special attention to the needs of people with disabilities and are included in the oversight committee monitoring the response. Besides advocating on their behalf, FASPH is also disseminating information on the pandemic and distributing sanitation and food kits to people with disabilities.
In a joint statement signed by 30 civil society organizations in the Philippines, Action for Economic Reforms condemned the government’s decision to limit the number of beneficiaries of emergency cash relief, calling it unlawful and harmful. The organization wants the government to ensure relief is provided to all 18 million low-income households eligible under the law.
Expanded and properly targeted income support. There is widespread advocacy by partners to either expand existing cash-transfer schemes, better implement them or introduce new ones. In some cases, there is already a push for these programs to be converted into permanent basic-income programs.
INESC (Institute for Socioeconomic Studies, Brazil) led a successful campaign for an emergency basic income that will support millions of low-income Brazilians. The campaign included 160 national civil society organizations and garnered half a million signatures in support. Although the support is temporary, there have been growing calls in the region to create a permanent universal basic income, such as by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. In Central America, ICEFI (Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies) has also advocated for more robust social protection, including a guaranteed basic income, at least for the working age population (from 15 years old).
A press release from three Indonesian civil society organizations, including SEKNAS-FITRA, applauded the government’s cash-assistance measures, but stressed the importance of accelerating disbursement and ensuring proper targeting, thus benefiting migrant workers as well.
Center for Public Integrity (Mozambique) proposed a set of recommendations that would allow low-income people to safely self-isolate. Included among the proposals is emergency income support and food aid for informal workers, who make up 88 percent of the working population.
Sbilanciamoci (Italy) published a public petition with 10 points of action to ensure a healthy, just and sustainable country. Among its proposals, Sbilanciamoci urges the establishment of a permanent minimum income.
More progressive tax systems. A number of partners are advocating for wealth taxes or enhanced income taxes to help pay for the cost of programs. Some partners have also called for tax relief for lower- and middle-income groups and small businesses.
The Initiative for Human Rights Principles in Fiscal Policy, comprised of six civil society organizations in Latin America (including several IBP partners), released a statement calling for governments and other stakeholders in the region to immediately adopt redistributive fiscal policies that guarantee rights and reduce inequalities. The coalition’s proposals include taxes on wealth and corporate revenues from sectors that benefit from the pandemic, consultation with international financial institutions to restructure or cancel foreign debt, and implementation of policies that reduce tax avoidance and evasion.
FEMNET (Kenya) joined a collective of organizations to launch a website advocating principles to ensure “a just and resilient recovery” that protects human rights and gender equality. These principles include demands for financial transaction and wealth taxes, as well as debt relief.
Social Justice Ireland released a report with recommendations to make the tax code more progressive and raise revenues through measures like a minimum effective corporate tax rate, refundable tax credits and a windfall gains tax.
*Jason Lakin is a senior fellow at IBP and Guillermo Herrera is the program coordinator for IBP’s Addressing Credibility Project.
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