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 MagatteDiouf Cisse, program coordinator at Urbasen, a Senegalese organization bringing together professionals working in urban management in informal settlements. Urbasen works in close collaboration with the Federation of Senegalese Inhabitants, an umbrella organization of women’s associations and community leaders in informal settlements.
Fighting for safe water and sanitation in Senegal
Magatte walks the busy, unpaved streets of an informal settlement in Pikine, Senegal with one thing on her mind: water. This urban planner-geographer knows well that people living in Senegalese informal settlements have little access to basic sanitation services such as toilets and clean water. Without a way to evacuate rainwater, flooding is a constant problem and makes living conditions unsafe. “The homes of informal settlement residents have been built in a way that puts them at constant risk of flooding,” Magatte said. “Moreover, there are no individual toilets or communal toilet blocks, not to mention running water. These basic sanitation services are missing entirely, resulting in public health problems and a lack of dignity.”
The government launched the Ten Cities Program to connect these households to the sewage system at a subsidized rate and build toilets in public areas. However, at the beginning of 2021, hundreds of thousands of residents had not benefitted from the program because only those households that pay a subscription to the water provision and management company were included and most informal settlement residents cannot afford the subscription fee even when it is subsidized.
We partnered with Urbasen and FSH to conduct a social audit of sanitation services in informal settlements. The aim was to collect data that would shine a light on how many residents were not benefiting from the Ten Cities Program and to advocate for increased budget allocations for these essential services. IBP assisted Urbasen in strategizing how to collect and utilize the data in their advocacy campaigns. “IBP has helped us build the capacity of grassroots movements to better understand the budget process [and advocate for] municipalities to provide services to informal settlements,” Magatte said.
As a result of the social audit and engagements with public sanitation officials, 880,000 informal settlement inhabitants are now benefiting from improved flood management and public sanitation infrastructure installed in May and June 2021. Also, 20 km of the 28-km public sanitation network was rehabilitated, cleaned and prepared to evacuate rainwater, making the informal settlements safer and more flood-resistant “Urbasen’s participatory and inclusive approach in informal settlements, which are often overlooked by public policies, was a big reason for my decision to join this organization,” Magatte said. “Seeing people access essential services such as sanitation, supporting them in the management of their neighborhoods, and knowing that they are now capable of influencing government decisions gives me the strength to get up every day and fight to claim their right to the city,” she said.
Urbasen is continuing to use social audits – community mapping and field visits to collect qualitative and quantitative data – to ensure it has robust information to present to government when it makes demands for the provision of sanitation services. Through data it is now able to “make visible” communities that have long been ignored and denied due access to services municipal officials are meant to deliver, such as clean water and sanitation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is acting like a magnifying glass—exposing in sharp relief the inequalities that often fester in relative obscurity during other times.
In Senegal, one of those inequalities is the access of people with disabilities to even the most basic of social services, such as health care and education. Fortunately, this community has champions in Senegal: the Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities (FSAPH) and its partner, the IBP in-country team.
Even before COVID-19 hit, FSAPH had identified a major gap in the country’s social-protection network: thousands of people with disabilities were missing from the national registry of poor households used by the government to determine beneficiaries of welfare services such as transportation, health care and education. A 2010 law guaranteed people with disabilities access to these services via an “equal opportunity card”—of which more than 50,000 had been distributed in the first five years. However, the federation determined last year that no new cards had been issued since the end of 2017, due primarily to budget cuts, as well as an incomplete registry. A concerted effort by FSAPH and IBP Senegal (with the support of the Health, Population and Social Action Commission of the National Assembly) resulted in the issuance of more than 5,000 equal opportunity cards.
Senegal has been praised for its rapid response to the novel coronavirus. Senegalese health officials, trained in the “crucible” of Ebola, drafted a contingency plan in January after receiving an alert on January 10 from an international network of health agencies. The country’s relatively low death toll (41) is due in part to a strategy that includes rapid testing, an extensive system of contact tracing and a bed for every person with the virus – no matter how mild their symptoms.
But the economic fallout from the night-time curfew and other restrictions has been severe and once again, FSAPH—ever vigilant—found that people with disabilities were suffering disproportionately.
“Many of the people we serve must engage in begging to support themselves and their families,” explains Moussa Thiare, FSAPH general secretary, who is himself visually impaired. “So, their choice is to continue to beg and risk their health or stay inside and lose their income. Crises always seem to create or at least exacerbate existing inequalities.”
FSAPH created a mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the needs of disabled people and to advocate for them with the Ministry of Community Development and Social and Territorial Equity. A key success has been assuring that a representative from the organization is included in the national and regional coordinating bodies for the COVID-19 response. FSAPH acts both as a collaborator with the government and as a watchdog. The team participates in local and national COVID- 19 committees, documents shortcomings and advocates with relevant authorities for immediate action, via mass media campaigns and constant engagement with decisionmakers.
In fact, the FASPH Monitoring Committee and another IBP partner, ONG 3D, convened a press conference May 21, 2020 to publicize the challenges encountered by people with disabilities during the pandemic, as well as to highlight their contributions to the fight. One FASPH office was made available as a treatment center, and several people with disabilities made protective face masks. One woman made 500 masks for FASPH as well as many more for other organizations.“This is important; most of the time, persons with disabilities are treated like they can’t do anything,” Moussa notes. “But they just need support and opportunity; then they can prove their competence.”
Although events are limited to no more than 10 people, the press conference was broadcast over TV. A day later, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Equity announced that an additional 55,000 households with disabled people would be added to the registry of poor people and receive assistance, including those with individuals being treated for leprosy.
“If it were not for IBP (which provides funding and technical support), we would have been left behind in the COVID-19 response,” notes Moussa. “Very often, too often, the rights of minority groups are neglected during crises.”
When needed, FSAPH fills urgent gaps with its own resources. For example, it distributes hand sanitizer and disinfectants to those who must go out. Awareness-building thus also has become vital, to assure that its constituents know how and when to use those supplies, as well as other ways to protect themselves.
Moussa points out that before FSAPH got involved, the government did not cater to the hearing-impaired when it gave its daily COVID-19 briefings. Now, however, sign-language interpretation has been added.
Another example: it’s very difficult for persons who are visually impaired, like Moussa, to practice physical distancing. A guide is needed, often at cost. FSAPH helps provide such services.
“People with disabilities have really seen their dependence on others increase, which makes us feel so much more vulnerable,” explains Moussa. “The restrictions on going out and earning an income makes it much harder to obtain food, for instance, and health care.”
As a result of the efforts of FSAPH, supported by IBP, the minister of community development and social and territorial equity has officially committed to ensuring that all equal opportunity card holders are included in the national registry for poor households and receive COVID-19 food assistance and other social-protection programs. In addition, Senegal’s president has instructed the Minister of Community Development to include services for almost 50,000 people with disabilities in the COVID-19 budget.
“This is a critical step toward enhancing government responsiveness and ensuring that vulnerable groups occupy accountability spaces,” says Moussa. He adds that the organization has worked to engage a large number of partners in the push for social change. As an example, he cites an organization of women who focus on access to health care. They are not doctors or nurses, but part of society. They are women whose leadership is recognized by the community. Another example are religious leaders.
“We believe in taking the lead to tackle our problems. We are part of society, and so we work broadly across it,” he notes.
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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