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 Nomfundiso Joseph, coordinator of Small Projects Foundation, in South Africa.
Q: Describe your organization’s role in Asivikelane Health project.
A: My organization, Small Projects Foundation (SPF), is an NGO operating nationally throughout South Africa, particularly in the Eastern Cape province. We monitor the availability and delivery of basic health services to residents in informal settlements and rural areas. We collect anonymous feedback from 10 patients each month about the quality of services they received, after which the answers are analyzed and the results shared with each clinic.
Q: What are the main challenges faced by residents of the informal settlements you reach out to?
A: Rural areas often suffer from a lack of access to healthcare, and the healthcare needs of individuals living in rural informal settlements are different from those living in urban areas. Informal settlements are densely populated and have inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. Individuals have to walk long distances to reach health services, and a clinic often serves 6-7 villages, resulting in long queues and sometimes a shortage of medications. Rural areas have critical shortages of all health care providers and professionals, particularly primary care professionals.
Q: Describe how your partnership with IBP is yielding results in providing access to healthcare for excluded informal communities.
A: SPF’s partnership with IBP gives us access to a wider range of strategic connections and facilitates meetings with the Department of Health, key government stakeholders, and community members. We use these meetings to emphasize the importance of data accuracy and analysis. Giving feedback to health facilities is the most crucial step because it helps improve the delivery of health services.
Q: Is there a specific focus or consideration for women and girls in these communities as a target for government intervention?
A: Discrimination against women and girls occurs in many forms through gender-based violence, economic discrimination, reproductive health inequities, and harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, to name just a few. Women and girls of all ages have a right to live with dignity, free of cultural oppression. Empowered women generally choose to have smaller families, which benefits the health and productivity of whole communities and improves the prospects for both people and the environment. Asivikelane Health assists communities to learn more about the health services available to them like family planning and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. It is important to target women with these educational interventions.
Q: What are the key strategies that you employ in galvanizing these communities to advocate for inclusion in government spending?
A: We give feedback to health facilities and work with stakeholders to improve access to health services. We also draw on community engagement strategies to share knowledge directly with communities so they are better equipped to manage their health and to evaluate the quality of the health services they receive. We also emphasize that measures to achieve inclusive health services must include training of health care professionals on the rights of persons with disabilities and marginalized groups.
Q: What does the future look like for these communities?
A: The future looks bright if communities are included in health service delivery and are educated about the benefits and facilities available to them. The future looks positive if communities are mobilized and empowered to take control of their health. It goes a long way when clinic committees take part in community meetings and listen to what communities need.
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.