Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month we’re spotlighting Julius Kapwepwe, director of programs at the Uganda Debt Network. This interview is supported by the European Commission.
1. What is the Uganda Debt Network (UDN)?
UDN’s vision is a Uganda where public resources are prudently, sustainably and equitably managed.
2. What drew you to budget and advocacy work?
From an early age, I was interested in the public and economic affairs of my country. My parents were ordinary people—traders and farmers—but they were always politically aware, so I was naturally attracted to the public sector. My parents baptized me with the names “Kapwepwe” after the former vice-president of Zambia, and “Julius” after Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania. They were both African liberation giants. So, I grew up Pan-African oriented, believing that African countries have the legroom and the space to finance their development priorities.
3. What is UDN’s connection to the International Budget Partnership (IBP)? And how has the partnership affected financial transparency in Uganda over time?
UDN has partnered on the Open Budget Survey (OBS) since 2006. The survey is an evidence-based process that visibly adds value for the government. They [the government] would say, “Oh, we thought we’re connecting with people, but now I see that there’s a gap [in communication] here and there.” Or, “Oh, we have generated this [budget] publication, but have not been conscious to upload it in time for the public to meaningfully engage with it.” The OBS has contributed to quicker uploading of key documents in Uganda such as the pre-budget statements.
4. How is UDN working towards greater transparency in the acquisition and management of government debt?
When the government is looking to acquire debt, we want to look at the quality of the terms of the proposed loan and the conditions for the loan. Through the national parliament (our legislative body) there is a regular window for stakeholders to offer input in the loan management process. We are seeing great activity now compared to where we were several years ago. We are in a much better position. The issue is that although we can provide input, our input is not always implemented. But we are moving toward a more open and inclusive process.
5. UDN has developed the kind of working relationship with Uganda’s government that other countries would love to replicate. For example, the 2021 OBS was launched in Uganda with the minister of finance at the Ministry of Finance. How did that relationship develop?
Budget advocacy has required a closer working relationship with select government institutions such as the Ministry of Finance, national parliament, inspectorate of government, auditor general and the Central Bank of Uganda. It goes back to the government’s recognition that evidence-based processes such as the OBS add value, which then builds value into the government’s budget processes.
6. What is still left for UDN to accomplish in Uganda?
Our OBS aspirations are progressive and broader democratization, poverty reduction and increased self-financing of our country’s budget and development priorities. If a country does not have its own financial muscle to determine its own budget priorities and actions, it cannot fully succeed in key areas of the OBS. We will therefore be pushing to increase our own revenue bases to finance our budget priorities, determine our own poverty reduction agenda and build our own capacities.
Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month we are spotlighting Andrea Larios, a researcher for Fundar in Mexico.
1. Give us a brief detail of your name, the organization you work at and what you do?
My name is Andrea Larios, I work at Fundar as a researcher for the Fiscal Justice Program. The focus of my work relies mainly on public expenditure and its impacts on human rights, gender equality and social justice.
2. What is the relationship between deviating from a country’s approved budget and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? In other words, how does budget credibility affect a country’s progress on these goals?
When the federal budget is approved, resources are allocated towards different objectives. However, as the fiscal year goes by, reallocations are made and, in some cases, resources are over or under spent. Underspending makes it difficult to achieve the SDGs, as in many cases we see budget cuts affecting social services that can propel progress towards these goals. As we know, the budget is the most concrete display of a government’s priorities, and in absence of budget credibility, the achievement of goals, specifically the SDGs, becomes harder to obtain. Furthermore, budget credibility is not a topic that is discussed enough in public debates in Mexico.
3. How is the Mexican government prioritizing resource allocations to accelerate progress on the SDGs? And in what ways is it missing the mark?
Mexico’s Federal government is not prioritizing resource allocations towards SDGs, except on social protection. There are specific sectors that are constantly under spent and face consistent budget cuts. This raises concerns about the government’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda. In the health and education sectors, the government’s level of spending is below internationally recommended standards. There is an underinvestment of resources towards achieving gender equity goals and no clear methodology in place to attain them. Resources directed towards environmental protection have also been consistently falling since 2019.
4. Which sectors in Mexico’s economy routinely underspend and why is underspending a concern for reaching SDG milestones?
Society expects that when a public budget is approved, it is executed in a timely and appropriate manner. However, governments do not always comply with this by over or under spending. Underspending can cause delays in the achievement of goals as the delivery of public services and goods, as well as investments, is insufficient and not effective. When previously approved funds are not fully spent, the effectiveness of public programs and projects diminishes. Furthermore, government’s does not explain why these deviations take place. In Mexico, there has been recent underspending in food and agriculture and environmental protection. And while underspending for health, social protection, and water and sanitation is not the norm, it happened in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
5. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted spending patterns in Mexico, particularly when it comes to social protection?
The government outlined its economic plan to face the pandemic in 2020, and in it, austerity measures were put in place. This led to resources being taken from some sectors to increase the budget of others that the government considered more strategically important. Across the sectors we have examined, budget deviations were mostly found in health, social protection, environment and water and sanitation.: While resources were increased for health, water and sanitation, the environment suffered budget cuts, as did social protection. Underspending in social protection stands out as it happened amid the peak of the pandemic in 2020, a year in which household income dropped drastically and millions of people lost their jobs. This was counterintuitive and had a negative effect on the well-being of individuals and the economy as a whole and may have influenced the increase in the number of people living in poverty that year.
6. What has the Mexican government done to affirm its commitment to achieving the SDGs? And what more can it do?
While Mexico’s government has outlined its commitment towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda through reforming the country’s Planning Law and the creation of documents and strategies to implement the agenda, in practice, it won’t be so easy to achieve. Public expenditure data, socioeconomic indicators and advances per SDG show that the allocation of resources towards the sectors that are aligned to SDGs has been insufficient, particularly in education, health and the environment. Mexico’s administration still has work to do to achieve the goals in the 2030 Agenda, including:
- The government should explain budget reallocations to prove its commitment to transparency and accountability
- Public debate around budget credibility and its impact on achieving SDGs should first focus on the need for progressive fiscal reform that enables the federal government to collect enough tax income to support the operation of public and social programs directly related to SDGs
- Improve transparency and data access related to programs and SDGs, specifically on the public database that links SDGs with public programs but does not disclose budget allocations per SDG.
Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month we are spotlighting Edil Eraliev, the Chief Executive Officer at Precedent Partners, in Kyrgyz Republic, a partner of our European Commission funded project Collaborating for Open and Accountable Budgets.
1. Describe your organization’s role and how your mission advances open budgets in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Part of Precedent’s mission is to promote access to information and budget transparency. An open budget is one of Precedent’s key priorities. We have been working to promote open budgets since 2008 when we collaborated with IBP to conduct the first analysis under the Open Budget Survey. Kyrgyzstan received 8 out of 100 points on budget transparency at that time, but the country has steadily improved its transparency score and in the 2021 OBS, it earned 62 points.
Since the end of 2015, Precedent has been actively working with the Coalition for the Budget in the healthcare field, which encompasses more than 50 civil society organizations in Kyrgyzstan. Precedent prepares Coalition members for public and parliamentary budget hearings, monitors budget expenditures by ministries, and helps monitor public procurement plans. Precedent is actively working to educate the Coalition on the national budget and public procurement, thus expanding public engagement and expertise in budget matters and facilitating the participation of civil society organizations (CSO) in state decision-making.
Precedent’s role in promoting open budgets is to promote civil society and activists’ participation in the budget process and encourage citizens to actively engage with government and parliament.
At the core of each of our four areas of activity is solving specific problems and challenges. These four areas include: transparency (access to information, public procurement, and budget transparency), justice (campaigning for judicial reform and providing legal support to citizens), governance (developing connections to and actively engaging with the government) and civic education.
2. The Kyrgyz Republic is one of the biggest improvers in transparency since 2008 in the Open Budget Survey. Can you give us a snapshot of how your organization and other activist groups engaged the government to achieve this result?
The main goal of Precedent is to work with CSO’s and activists to promote the transparency and accountability of public authorities. After all, there is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money. State authorities manage our money and the future of the country, and its residents depend on the effectiveness of their management.
Precedent has always followed the approach to build relationships with ministries, the government and the parliament in friendly and constructive ways. We continually improve our training programs with this in mind.
In working with Coalition members, Precedent pays close attention to the analysis of draft budgets. Based on that analysis, we prepare Coalition members to participate in hearings. In recent years alone, Coalition members have achieved incredible results, specifically:
In 2019, they prevented sequestering of the Mandatory Health Insurance Fund (MHIF) budget in the amount of 873 million soms.
In 2020, they helped boost Ministry of Finance funding for the health sector from 18 billion soms to 20 billion. In 2022, that allocation has now risen to 28 billion soms.
In 2021-2022, supported the Coalition’s request to the Government to allocate additional funding to the health sector by 1 billion soms for 2023-2024.
3. What role has IBP played in helping to improve budget advocacy and open budgets in the Kyrgyz Republic?
Since our collaboration on the OBS in 2008, IBP’s contribution to the transparency of Kyrgyz’s budget process and helping citizen advocacy has been significant. IBP has provided us with advocacy training and shared their experiences in other countries which helped persuade the Ministry of Finance to be more transparent with state budgets. In particular, an IBP training on budget transparency and accountability held at the end of 2021 and May 2022 which enabled Coalition members to use examples from other countries to improve their knowledge and new approaches and practices in their advocacy.
4. What role did your organization play in spotlighting the need for reform to expand public participation in the budget process? What has been achieved?
Since 2013, Precedent Partners has been actively working on budget transparency and participation through authoring such workbooks as Proactive Civic Control and the Budget Guide for Citizens. More importantly, our founder Nurbek Toktakunov is the co-author of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic (2010), and he promoted and defended an article of the Constitution which gives every citizen the right to access information.
Access to information is now recognized as an exceptionally important human right. State and local self-government authorities are called to work towards the fulfillment and improvement of this right of access to information. Work in the Kyrgyz Republic on transparency of the budget system started with the right of access to information. As part of our budget advocacy, we actively conduct training seminars on the basics of budget law, its structure, and content for our partners who work in the field of budget advocacy. Precedent prepares Coalition members for public and parliamentary budget hearings, monitors budget expenditures by ministries, and assists in monitoring public procurement plans.
5. How do you see the role of civil society in adding value to the budgeting process and accountability ecosystem?
Civil society organizations are central to the budget process and accountability. It is the CSOs in Kyrgyzstan that promote the values of these two words “transparency” and “accountability.” CSOs in the budget process should have the role of a partner, helping state agencies in the formation and spending of public funds. Precedent strengthens its work in training CSOs on the budget process and monitoring public procurement. Together with Open Contracting Partnership, Precedent is working on building an information platform that will provide training, analytics, and up-to-date information on public procurement in the Kyrgyz Republic.
6. What do you think are the critical next steps the government should take in improving open budgets in the Kyrgyz Republic?
In the 2021 Open Budget Survey, a number of recommendations were given to the Kyrgyz government to improve open budgets. Among the most critical are annually holding public hearings on the approval of the National budget as well as ensuring civil society representatives’ right to speak during hearings on the budget’s execution. (For more on the recommendations, download Kyrgyz’s country report here).
In addition to the OBS recommendations, we would like to add a proposal that the government should consider disclosing the law enforcement bodies’ budget. Currently, it is kept under the “confidential” classification. We also think the government should hold a discussion or hearing on making changes or additions to the current budget. The government does makes changes to the budget during the year, but does not hold any hearings on it, which leads to changes being made without public input.