Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we talked with Romulo Emmanuel Miral, Jr. PhD, Director General of the Philippines Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department.
Q: What is the role of the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) in strengthening accountability in public spending, and who have been its key allies in these efforts?
A: All legislation on appropriations emanates from the House of Representatives, as it holds the purse strings. That said, ultimately, the House and the Senate jointly enact all such legislation. In addition to legislation, Congress is also vested with the oversight function over the implementation of legislation, the national budget included.
As the socioeconomic think tank of the House, CPBRD provides technical assistance to the legislation and oversight processes involved in the national budget and other appropriations through research and information support. The department’s main budget-related outputs are Budget Briefs; Agency Budget Notes; the Legislative Agenda, which is formulated for each Regular Session and with the support of the Committee Affairs Bureau; and occasional research monographs, such as the Legislator’s Guide in Analyzing the National Budget. Underlying all research and information support are the principles of transparency and accountability in public spending.
We also provide context for budget and appropriation legislation and oversight. In the area of the national budget and other appropriations, CPBRD articulates this context in its research outputs by:
Elaborating on the goals of public spending, namely, macroeconomic stability; redistribution; sustainable and inclusive development; and efficient, effective and predictable allocation of limited public funds through correspondence between national priorities and long-term spending plans; and alignment with strategic national and sectoral priorities, and
Discussing and illustrating the underlying principles of transparency, accountability, fiscal discipline, and evidence-based decision making.
CPBRD works with the Committee on Appropriations and other House Committees in providing support for the legislation of the national budget and other appropriations. It is also tapped by the Speaker’s Office for information support. Externally, CPBRD worked with the Commission on Audit and Social Watch Philippines, a civil society organization working towards the creation of the House Committee on Public Accounts. For purposes of knowledge sharing, policy dialogue, and capacity building, occasional collaborations have been pursued with multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank; other government institutions, such as the Philippine Institute for Development Studies; and civil society organizations, such as the Institute for Autonomy and Governance.
Of late, CPBRD has explored the institutionalization of public participation in the preparation of the national budget, which will allow the public more avenues to strengthen transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the use of public funds.
We also support the state’s oversight function, which increases the probability of success of the legislation of the national budget and other appropriations. It ensures that laws are implemented as they are intended and that outputs and outcomes in public spending are achieved. Our support is articulated in three ways: First, attempting to put forward the policies, parameters, and standards involved in budget implementation by the executive. Second, defining policies on the use of unutilized funds. And third, emphasizing the importance of the executive’s submission of periodic execution reports to Congress.
Recently CPBRD introduced legislative evaluations as an integral component in the implementation of laws.
Q: What are the main PFM challenges you have seen and are trying to address, as far as your role is concerned?
A: CPBRD sees the following as the main problems in public financial management in the country: A lack of efficiency in the allocation and utilization of limited public funds; a lack of fiscal transparency and accountability on the part of government agencies for their outputs and outcomes; and inadequate systems for monitoring budget execution and budget accountability.
Two of the more specific and notable problems include the wide discretion of the executive in budget execution and unavailability of complete and timely monitoring and evaluation information to guide budget legislation and oversight functions.
CPBRD has proposed the following solutions to these challenges:
The establishment of a Government Integrated Financial Management Information System that will generate real-time information on budget execution and results.
Greater access by Congress of the executive’s budget monitoring systems.
Strengthening the institutional capacity of Congress to monitor and evaluate the fiscal performance of national government agencies, such as through the creation of a public accounts committee, enactment of the Budget Reform Act, and the establishment of an independent congressional budget office similar to that of the US Congressional Budget Office that serves both houses of Congress.
Q: Has your agency benefitted from IBP and what we do? How has IBP influenced your work?
A: CPBRD monitors the Open Budget Survey because it provides an independent assessment of the extent that the country exercises transparency and accountability at each stage of the budget cycle. Through the OBS, we are able to monitor whether the Philippines has made improvements over the years in comparison with other countries. Highlights of the survey are featured in CPBRD’s Facts in Figures.
The OBS also provides assessments of Congress’ exercise of its oversight function. Where oversight is perceived to be low, CPBRD is prompted to produce outputs that underscore the importance of mainstreaming oversight in the work of the legislative and to provide our principals with the basis to initiate reviews of executive agency or program performance.
CPBRD also produces and distributes the Agency Budget Notes annually during the budget season. The Notes present analyses of the budget utilization performance or absorptive capacities of agencies. Indicators on the achievement of targets and relevant findings by the Commission on Audit are also given. We intend to improve on these outputs because they are widely used even outside the House of Representatives.
Q: How crucial was CPBRD’s role in providing oversight functions for COVID funds? Can you share about specific steps your office took to ensure accountability of COVID spending by the government?
A: As a research and information support unit, CPBRD provided House Members with a total of 40 weekly monitoring reports on the Republic Act No. 11469, which declared COVID a national emergency and gave the president the powers necessary to carry out the declared national policy. The reports were organized along the four areas covered in the law, namely, social amelioration, economic stimulus, health and COVID-19, and peace and order.
After the expiration of said law, CPBRD published ‘A Results-based Assessment of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act’. The report summarized the results of the implementation of the law, identified factors that affected implementation results, and offered recommendations for improving the design and implementation of COVID-19 measures.
With the extraordinary budgetary powers given to the president under RA 11469, it was important that Congress was apprised with the extent to which agencies/departments and their respective programs were affected by discontinuances and reallocations for COVID-19 Initiatives. During the deliberations of the national budget in 2020 and 2021, CPBRD incorporated in the Agency Budget Notes updates on discontinuances and the status of COVID-19 releases, thereby highlighting the utilization performance of COVID-19 releases by the recipient agency.
Lastly, Special Issues of CPBRD Budget Briefs analyzed executive issuances affecting the agency budgets and the implementation of COVID-19 measures. Financial reports by the executive were examined and in a more simplified manner, fund releases were reported by expenditure purpose and recipient agency. Other fund sources were also covered, such as pooled savings from discontinued agency programs and unprogrammed appropriations, particularly from loan proceeds for foreign-assisted projects and Treasury-certified additional revenues. The budget briefs identified challenges to budget accountability, such as downscaled, postponed, or abandoned projects authorized in the General Appropriations Act, weak compliance by agencies to the reportorial requirements on utilization of COVID-19 releases, and proper accounting and audit of donations for COVID-19.
Q: What specific impact has your office achieved in the last two years?
A: During the pandemic, CPBRD temporarily stopped the production of our publications in hard copy and made considerable improvements to our website for online publications. Notably, there was increased demand for the Agency Budget Notes from House Members. CPBRD will resume printing of limited hard copies because of requests from the staff of House Members.
Congressional review of the budget has taken up more issues relating to operational efficiency of agencies and the overall efficiency in allocating limited public resources. It was observed that during recent budget deliberations, House Members asked executive agencies about their budget utilization performance or absorptive capacities. Also, budget proposals for the creation of new positions were also reviewed against unfilled positions of the agencies.
Online fora on the formulation of a national evaluation policy conducted by CPBRD in partnership with the Senate Economic Planning Office and the United Nations Children Fund UNICEF were well attended. The need for a culture of evaluation is now better appreciated.
Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we talked with John Oluwafemi Olla, communications officer at the Justice Development and Peace Commission in Nigeria, who recently participated in a learning session with IBP staff and partners to reflect on program learnings from 2021.
Q: What is the Justice Development and Peace Commission and what are your areas of focus?
A: The JDPC is the social branch of the Catholic Church. The Commission is responsible for promoting social justice, which includes addressing issues concerning human rights, democracy, good governance, agricultural assistance, food security, poverty reduction, sustainable development, humanitarian service, and disaster management.
Q: What are the main problems you and JDPC are working to address in your communities?
A: Many of the challenges that we encounter stem from issues of exclusion from governance and development, such as poor service delivery in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation, and infrastructure development.
Q: How has IBP supported your work? How has the collaboration improved your work and the ways you engage your target audiences?
A: IBP has been incredibly supportive in many areas including data gathering, research, and documentation. This has helped us with citizen engagement concerning primary health care services, effective budget tracking, and advocacy.
Q: How are you able to leverage social media to get the government to focus attention on primary health care needs?
A: Social media is a critical device in our toolbox because it allows us to develop effective communication across many sectors of society in a simplified form while corresponding with citizens and government organizations. For example, we are able to connect citizens to the government and share government responses to questions asked. We have also managed to secure the government’s commitment by engaging online through our social media pages. For example, when we share photos of public health facilities on Twitter and Facebook, it gives us an opportunity to engage with duty bearers on the ongoing upgrades of facilities. We evidence-based information and data to back up our posts. We also use Zoom to interact and share feedback with officials.
Q: How do you mobilize different community development groups to form a united force to advocate the government on your needs?
A: We have found that mapping stakeholders along with sensitization and political education workshops are an effective tool for mobilizing communities to join together and press the government on their core needs.
Q: What specific impact have you achieved in the last two years?
A: Citizens are now included and their voices are heard in new ways during budget deliberations. For example, 15 policies and laws at the legislative arm of government received input from grassroots organizations. We’ve seen the gap reduced in communication between duty bearers and citizens through various town hall meetings at the state and local level. This increase in citizen participation is encouraging.
On October 26, 2020, Ghanaian civil society organizations took the government to court. They argued that the president had illegally interfered with the work of the Auditor General (AG) – who is tasked with reporting on the government’s operations. As the Auditor was finalizing his 2019 report a few months prior, the president essentially forced him to take accumulated leave, and appointed an “acting” Auditor General in his place. Activists argued that this contravened Ghana’s constitution, which, like many other constitutions, gives independent constitutional offices broad autonomy to carry out their functions. The government argued, by contrast, that the constitution (in article 297) allows anyone who appoints a public officer to also “exercise disciplinary control” over that officer.
This case has of course not been decided yet, but it affords an opportunity to reflect on the extent to which African advocates and courts have helped to reshape the contours of what we mean by democratic, accountable government in recent years. This dispute, which has echoes of a similar conflict over Kenya’s Public Audit Bill in 2014 (when the Kenyan Auditor General argued for independence over human resource management), entails a critical decision about the extent to which formal oversight bodies can act independently. The Ghanaian case will help to set precedence for the way in which we currently understand the working of democratic institutions, the separation of powers and the rule of law.
Groundbreaking examples across Africa
The case draws on and reminds us of another important precedent from Ghana, Occupy Ghana v. Attorney General, decided in 2017. This case concerned the powers of the Auditor General to disallow illegal expenditures and surcharge officials for their actions (or lack of action) in causing public revenue losses – powers which existed on paper but were seldom used. The AG at the time argued that the office’s responsibility was met “simply by auditing and pointing out financial irregularities in the accounts of a public entity” and did not require him to impose surcharges.
Remarkably, the case sought to force the AG to use these powers, arguing that systematic failure to do so was a violation of the constitution. Perhaps even more remarkably, the courts agreed. Arguing that “the tendency where public accounts are considered as a fattened cow to be milked by all and sundry must stop,” the courts ordered the AG to surcharge officers found to have condoned illegal expenditure, and to take steps to ensure that these surcharges were paid. This novel case tested the boundaries of the meaning of accountability in modern states by requiring constitutional offices to rise to their oversight responsibilities. Its singular importance justifies its inclusion in the International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) recent global assessment of oversight systems, published in partnership with the INTOSAI Development Initiative.
Building space for public participation in tax and budget decisions
Groundbreaking cases from Africa related to the nature of modern democracy and accountability are not limited to issues surrounding auditors. For example, the South African courts have blazed new trails in defining public participation. In 2007, the courts elaborated on a theory of the state’s “duty to facilitate public participation” in Doctors for Life International v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others, claiming inadequate participation in the passage of health legislation. A critical aspect of this decision was the burden it placed on the government to provide citizens not only with opportunities to participate, but with the means, including the capacity (developed through education) to participate meaningfully. Attention was particularly drawn to the need to include marginalized voices in legislative decisions that affect them and the courts found that speedy resolution of policy issues was insufficient on its own to justify curtailing participation.
As I have noted in this space before, Kenyan courts, drawing on local and international jurisprudence, have breathed further life into legal requirements for public participation. They have in part drawn on South African cases like Doctors for Life when tackling participation in public finance matters. For example, in 2013, the courts found that the enactment of a county tax law (the Kiambu County Finance Act) was unconstitutional, as the county had failed to undertake meaningful public participation prior to its enactment. In this case, the court held that the County Assembly had a duty to “exhort its constituents to participate in the process of the enactment of such legislation by making use of as many fora as possible such as churches, mosques, temples, public barazas national and vernacular radio broadcasting stations.”
The South African and Kenyan courts’ interpretation of the meaning of participation—that the people’s representatives have a duty to “exhort” them to participate in tax legislation, among other policy areas—is quite novel, and certainly at odds with a more traditional pluralist view, which assumes that the problem of democracy is how legislators can manage the contradictory pressures emanating from participation. As in South Africa, these cases emphasize the state’s special duty to encourage participation for a broader public that has traditionally been excluded from decision-making.
The Kenyan courts have gone further still in permitting public interest legislation that has overturned tax policies. I have previously discussed Tax Justice Network Africa’s (TJNA) case against the Double Taxation Agreement with Mauritius in this space. That case was decided on narrow grounds that did not substantially expand the meaning of modern democracy, but it did show that civil society could establish standing in tax policy cases. This opened the door to more substantive petitions, including a more recent lawsuit by TJNA against the Government of Kenya over ten tax treaties on both procedural and substantive grounds. A 2020 case in Zambia confirms that African revenue authorities are increasingly able to confront multinational corporations over tax evasion related to transfer pricing; thus the courts are not only increasing the power of ordinary citizen influence over policy, they are also limiting the extraordinary power of corporate interests.
Returning to Kenya, in 2017, activists successfully sued the government over an increase in excise tax on beverages. The Kenyan courts invalidated the tax increase, holding that there was inadequate public participation to inform it. They specifically found that “[t]axation or any legislation or policy that creates a financial burden upon citizens must as of necessity be subjected to adequate public participation wide enough to cover a reasonably high percentage of population in the country.” It is not enough to “to rely on attendance sheets for two meetings attended by a few persons with no supporting minutes” held in the capital, on an issue affecting most Kenyans.
This establishes a fairly high bar for what participation requires. Moreover, the same case found that, in the case of water taxation, the government had a constitutional obligation to justify this tax as reasonable, taking into account the potential impact on the constitutional right to both water and property. The government, should it wish to reintroduce this tax with proper participation, would still need to provide this justification. The South African, Zambian and Kenyan cases discussed here demonstrate that traditional areas of executive privilege around treaty-making and taxation are not immune from modern demands for greater public participation in democratic settings.
Redefining accountable democratic governance
Taken together, this emerging body of law across Africa has altered our understanding of what accountable democratic government means. African courts have pushed the boundaries of our understanding of oversight and participation, normalizing participatory democracy above and beyond representative democracy, and demanding that public officials clear a higher bar in making decisions without public oversight. There is of course much more work to be done, but this is a narrative that deserves wider recognition.
On March 13, 2020 Kenya recorded its first COVID-19 infection. Two days later, the government restricted movement and meetings in a bid to contain the disease. The move was critical to preventing rapid community spread of the virus. However, the decision also threw the work of governance advocates into disarray.
This is especially true for those who work by mobilizing people to engage their governments at local and national levels. IBP Kenya and partners were not exempt from the effect of the restrictions. Over the last three years, we have worked to build the capacity of community groups to advocate for services that matter to them. Two main areas of interest are water services for marginalized communities in Baringo County and primary health care in Busia County.
Together with our partners, we developed a response designed to allow us to engage virtually with budget and service-delivery processes. We were worried, and still are, about the potential for the COVID-19 pandemic, and the measures adopted to manage through it to significantly and adversely affect our work. We knew we could see a reversal in the gains we have made in transparency, accountability, public participation and equity.
Transparency: In times of desperation, policymakers frequently act in ways that are opaque, justifying a lack of transparency as necessary due to the emergency. We do appreciate that decisions at times like this must be made quickly, and that governments need leeway to adjust some processes. For example, procurement of personal protective equipment may need to be single-sourced to save time. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t dilute accountability measures, key among them transparency. Yet, transparency in how decisions are made and implemented at all levels of government too often has been a casualty. Decisions on which the public should be engaged are only announced when dialogue is no longer possible.
Accountability: The national government has not performed well in either transparency or accountability, and the response to COVID-19 has not improved the situation. A case in point is the questions raised by both Parliament and the Auditor General about monies allocated for prevention and treatment of tuberculosis and malaria, construction of dams and the COVID pandemic response. It is unclear how these funds have actually been spent.
Citizen participation: At the national level, opportunities for public participation in budget and spending decisions have been poorly structured and often exclusive to the few who can make it to Nairobi. While the law is clear that mechanisms of participation should be cascaded to the lowest level possible, that has not been actualized in the 10 years since it was adopted. And the COVID-19 crisis has only created more reason to restrict people from participating. Even when opportunity for engagement is given, the time is often short and lacks clarity as to how input will be used in the decision-making processes.
Equity: A key danger is that in this period, areas of the country with sufficient provisions may receive more, while those with the greatest need are starved. Equity is the only way to ensure that every Kenyan has access to good-quality water, health care and food, the three most important needs as a result of COVID-19.
IBP Kenya is engaging partners in civil society, the private sector and government to make the case for safeguarding these four values. Our goal is to demonstrate how government and citizens can engage constructively in the current circumstances. A cornerstone strategy is a model we call the “budget-deliberation café,” which applies mechanisms for public participation at both national and county levels.
How the budget café works
The budget café is a space where citizens can collectively learn, analyze and generate proposals related to budget decisions. In regard to learning, the focus is on understanding the decisions at hand, who is responsible and what resources are required. For many participants, this provides an opportunity to understand where the government is in the budget cycle, how they can engage and who should be the focus of their “asks.” When government officials are present, they help facilitate the learning sessions by providing an insider’s view of how things work. For instance, a government pharmacist in Busia County helped participants understand how drugs are procured and delivered to a facility.
During the analysis phase, government proposals are interrogated in light of past trends in allocations and implementation. This is most effective when budget practitioners work hand in hand with sector experts, with an emphasis on use of verifiable, publicly available government data. All other data sources are used to triangulate government information. Participants conclude by discussing and prioritizing their asks and putting them into memos targeted to decision makers. Citizens send these proposals to the appropriate government offices or carry them to formal public-participation forums. We have held these events in different locations and stages of national and county budget deliberations. A key opportunity occurs when the national and county budgets are tabled on April 30 every year for debate and approval. But this year, we wondered how we were going to engage when a physical meeting was impossible. How would we bring people together to learn, analyze and propose ideas for consideration?
New ‘virtual’budget cafés due to COVID restrictions
While we debated these questions, we identified a great opportunity for not only bringing people together, but also reaching more people. We compiled a database of all of our budget practitioners and partners across the country, then emailed each, inviting them to register for an online event via Zoom. By the deadline, registration had reached 114 persons spanning 17 budget themes/sectors—almost three times the number who signed up for past such meetings. At least 24 of the 47 counties were represented (see map).
The first day of the cafe focused on learning. We discussed where we were in the budget process and why it was critical for civil society to engage. Speakers emphasized the need for government to be responsive to the needs of citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable who are at greatest risk of the effects of COVID-19.
Day two highlighted budget analysis. Small teams met in Zoom breakout rooms, with support by a team from IBP Kenya, our community budget facilitators and the Institute of Public Finance Kenya. Some groups took two hours to analyze their assigned themes, while others continued for six hours. The groups focused on themes ranging from health, to education, to water, to public debt and financing.
On the third day, each of the teams presented their analysis and the proposals they wished the National Assembly to discuss.
The teams then finalized and consolidated their proposals to send to the assembly’s Budget and Appropriations Committee, which met May 15. IBP and our partners will review the report from parliament to evaluate how responsive members were to input from the public and more specifically the budget café.
Lessons for public participation in a restricted environment
We have been successful in our search for a mechanism that links local realities and voices with national decision making.
However, we know there are limitations for those without access to technology, since they cannot join the virtual meeting. We will explore options to make this a more inclusive exercise.
In addition, we learned the following:
Internet and smart phone connectivity are all that is required to have national reach.
Nothing should be allowed to limit the reach of the national government in facilitating public participation across the country.
Communities need residents who are able to understand budget processes and documents. This includes knowledge of the budget cycle, the actors and their responsibilities, and the decisions that need to be taken at each step. In turn, these “champions” can facilitate engagement of many more people from their communities. IBP Kenya has invested the time needed to train budget facilitators, thus ensuring representation from 24 counties.
It is possible to include persons with disabilities. We enlisted the help of a sign language interpreter to assist those with hearing impairments. This was a learning moment for us; with innovation, even persons with other challenges such as vision impairments can be included in such discussions.
In the coming weeks, IBP is supporting its county partners as they engage with local budgets. We will continue engaging in budget implementation for the rest of this financial year and prepare for even more robust tracking of the approved 2020/21 budget.
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.