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.
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.
By Claire Schouten, Senior Program Officer, International Budget Partnership and Joe Powell, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership
Restoring the notion of government of, for and by the people will be essential as we seek to renew societies and build resilience in the post-pandemic global recovery. This crisis exacerbated and exposed inequality and injustice around the world, hitting the most vulnerable hardest. Now is the time for governments to make more robust investments in rebuilding societies.
These investments are too important to be made opaquely and without public input, especially when inequality and perceived corruption have already undermined public trust in many governments. In recent years, governments globally have made commitments to be open about what they’re doing with the public’s money.
Fiscal openness is a mainstay of the open government movement. In the last decade of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), over 90 percent of OGP members have made a total of 671 fiscal openness commitments – more than nearly any other policy area. Fiscal openness is not just a consistently popular policy area in OGP, it’s also one of the four core eligibility criteria for membership, based on data from the Open Budget Survey. Redoubling those commitments, and most essentially, making sure they translate into accountability – so that communities have a say in public spending and can ensure governments use scarce resources for the public good– has never been more important to our democratic future.
The good news is that these efforts are paying off. As per the Open Budget Survey, we’re at the highest level of transparency since the International Budget Partnership started assessing open budget practices more than fifteen years ago. In the 77 countries assessed in every round between 2008 and 2019, the average global score on budget transparency increased by 20 percent. The latest OGP Vital Signs research also shows that OGP countries that have made open budgeting commitments – especially if they are ambitious and over multiple action plans – have improved their scores more than other countries.
However, progress has also been inconsistent with fluctuating performance in too many countries. Among OGP members, there are now some countries that even risk falling below the core eligibility criteria because they have slipped on their fiscal transparency scores. COVID exacerbated this volatility as many governments have not been as transparent with relief spending as they could be. Despite all of this, there is room for quicker, more sustained progress. If countries around the world simply published budget documents that they already produce for internal use, there would be transparency gains globally of 20 percent. Governments can also focus on proactively providing information that citizens want, such as information on service delivery.
Going beyond transparency
There is also growing recognition that transparency alone is insufficient, that opportunities for public participation and strong oversight are also central to accountable government. Spaces are needed for informed public debate and for those most likely to be adversely affected by inequitable budgets to be involved. Strong oversight by both legislatures, national audit offices and other oversight actors is needed to hold the executive to account throughout the budget process and ensure budgets are fully implemented in line with stated objectives.
As governments launched massive spending measures to address the impacts of the pandemic, some countries have shown that a more transparent, inclusive and accountable way of managing the public purse, even during an emergency, is indeed possible.
In the Philippines, a commitment to hold a series of public consultations called Dagyaw 2020—promoted under the aegis of the Open Government Partnership—was repurposed to ensure continuing public dialogues during the COVID crisis on government response policies.
In South Africa, the civil society-led Asivikelane campaign has highlighted severe public service shortages in South Africa’s informal settlements. Using a simple but effective survey that is implemented via text messages and targeted advocacy, the campaign has already improved access to water, sanitation, and waste removal services from municipal governments affecting more than one million people.
These good practices demonstrate that speedy policy responses do not have to undermine accountability. They provide a useful roadmap for governments to include citizens and critical oversight institutions in deeply consequential spending decisions in emergency times and beyond. By planning and implementing spending in a more open and collaborative way, and keeping citizens informed, governments can ensure public spending is more effective and equitable. Perhaps most importantly, they can strengthen social capital and expand civic space so that all people feel heard and trust that public funds are spent in the public interest. Governments should take heed of these approaches in their ongoing relief efforts. For instance, the EU’s landmark Recovery and Resilience Facility – an essential mechanism to combat the challenges faced by EU member states as they rebuild economies and livelihoods in the wake of the pandemic – should model these good practices. Given the unprecedented size and scale of the funds, it will be crucial to embed enhanced transparency, accountability and civic participation mechanisms to ensure these funds have their intended impact.
We have an opportunity to forge new alliances and strategies that shift politics. It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to countering authoritarianism and promoting local accountability solutions. It consists of:
Refined political strategy. For public resources to contribute to a more just and equitable society, we need a deeper understanding and response to the political economy of public resource decision-making and implementation. Powerful interests that have built social, political, and economic structures that concentrate wealth and privilege and exclude marginalized groups are at the root causes of deprivation. Further opening up budget processes in meaningful ways requires developing alliances and partnerships that build countervailing power, so that public resources are spent to tackle poverty and inequity. Progress on open spending practices will also generate important information for combating corruption in public contracts and company ownership.
New spaces for impact. New spaces are emerging as opportunities for impact on big political issues of our time. They include meaningful civil society participation in revenue debates and spending monitoring; bridging budget and environmental actors to ensure that recovery funds contribute to a sustainable and green transition and that climate change funds serve vulnerable communities; and strong connections and real gains at the subnational level of government, with a focus on service delivery. Civil society has been a vanguard in carving out new spaces to inform government decisions in a meaningful way– now it is time for national and local governments to scale up and formalize channels for greater public participation on these mission critical issues.
New opportunities for powerful alliances. We can build a robust accountability ecosystem that fosters trust and strengthens democracy. Let’s bring together citizens, social movements, state accountability institutions such as national audit offices and executive ministries to foster a governance system that works for all.
As the Open Budget Survey and good practices above illustrate, it is notable that countries across income levels and geographies have been able to chart new directions to manage public funds in a more accountable and inclusive way. Where there is a will, there is a way. A more inclusive approach is not only possible, but desirable if we are to advance more resilient and democratic societies in which public funds advance the public interest. The Open Government Partnership can help by enlisting new allies, building broad coalitions across government and civic actors with legitimacy and power to rise to the challenges we face and are likely to face going forward.
This article also appears on the Open Government Partnership’s website. Read it here.
The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) is a social movement from Cape Town, South Africa. For the past two years, the SJC has used budget analysis and advocacy as a tool to campaign for decent sanitation in informal settlements. IBP worked with the SJC to undertake research and analysis of Cape Town’s municipal budget in support of the broader advocacy campaign. Initial research in early 2015 focused strategically on those parts of the budget relevant to sanitation in informal settlements. Through that research we uncovered extremely low spending — less than 2 percent of the water and sanitation capital budget was going to informal settlements, even though informal households make up over 20 percent of the city’s population. Faced with this injustice, we began to view the budget process as a set of political moments and institutional processes through which the campaign could move.
The budget work became an important tactic centered on the need to shift power relations through sustained organizing in, and by, poor and working class communities. In doing so we learned some important lessons on using evidence, finding leverage, and building power.
Trying to Win an Argument is a Losing Strategy; Evidence Alone is not Leverage
Evidence, facts, and data can be seductive. During the first year of budget advocacy, SJC became embroiled in a war of attrition with the state over the “truth,” where winning the argument over the facts seemed like the goal.
That year we facilitated over 500 submissions from informal settlement residents in response to the City of Cape Town’s (the City’s) proposed budget, the first time mass submissions had been made on a municipal budget in South Africa. This was coupled with a public advocacy campaign that argued that capital allocations for longterm sanitation infrastructure in informal settlements were disproportionately small and unjust. Informal settlements were effectively being treated as permanently temporary. There were no long-term plans for infrastructure in these communities, but rather a consistent use of law enforcement to contain the growth of informal homes. This followed a difficult history of the struggle in South Africa against urban influx control during Apartheid and the rights of black African people to be part of the city.
We thought that the City would change course when faced with such compelling facts of injustice. The pushback, however, was relentless. Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille used her budget speech to attack and mock the SJC as an organization driven by nefarious political agendas and self-enrichment. At every turn, the City obstructed, attacked, and undermined.
SJC countered each response, usually through more facts and evidence. By the end of 2015 we understood that we did not have the right leverage and that a fight over the “truth” was not going to take us any further. Trying to win an argument, without finding the leverage to actually challenge power, could never be a winning strategy.
Organizing is Messy and Unpredictable, Identifying Leverage is Crucial
Political organizing does not happen in a vacuum; there are many external pushes and pulls that influence the best way forward. Many planning tools can tempt one into simplistic logical frameworks of easily matching inputs, outputs, and outcomes. Things are not so linear in struggles for power, especially in contexts of deep inequality, spatial segregation, and historical injustice.
But this doesn’t mean that there is only chaos. On the contrary, strategy needs to be constantly interrogated, and we always have to find the best way in. One rarely starts a campaign with a full understanding of every piece of the puzzle. In our case, the budget work during the first year was a wedge that pushed open the process. It helped us to systematically unlock a political and institutional understanding and space into which the campaign could move and build the leverage it needed. Sometimes finding the right leverage can be immediate. Other times it can take months or even years to build and comes through ongoing struggle.
This is where the power of evidence does in fact lie. First it provided the knowledge SJC needed to develop deep budget literacy education within the organization and our branches, allowing us to undertake meaningful mass organizing and uncover a deep injustice. Second, it helped us to better understand the target and was a building block in developing a political strategy to take the campaign forward.
The Campaign Forced the Political Agenda of Poor and Working Class People into Spaces of Power
Mass based campaigns can set a political agenda and disrupt institutions.
First, the City budget was largely uncontested prior to 2015. The SJC campaign pushed the mayor into a position where she had to actively defend the decisions of her administration and be held accountable.
Second, the political agenda of informal settlement residents penetrated formal spaces of power. In a situation where the voices of informal settlement residents are so marginalized and their distance from spaces of power so great, the importance of this cannot be overstated.
In the 2016 budget process, the SJC facilitated 3,000 submissions from informal settlement residents. There were also over 1,000 submissions that came independently from elsewhere in the City, including other poor and working class areas. To put this in perspective, in 2016 there were over 4,000 submissions to a municipal budget that had only 22 public submissions in 2014 — and most of those in 2016 were from ordinary residents, who engaged in an apparently complex public finance process through training provided by the SJC and the IBP. The submissions became the subject of heated political debate within the City Council, disproving the mayor’s frequent assertions that SJC members did not understand the budget and “should be given calculators.”
The Campaign Continues
A provisional review of the impact of the SJC campaign shows that allocations for informal settlement sanitation have started to slowly move upwards after years of stagnation. But at the heart of the campaign was placing the voices of informal settlement residents at the forefront of politics and, however imperfectly, reshaping those politics. This is, at least to me, one of the most important pieces of the story.
Sanitation made many issues around informal settlements tangible — tenure security, land injustice, racial inequality, and the severe barriers people face when trying to take part in the most basic decisions affecting their lives. These problems can seem so big and intractable, but they are deeply urgent. Now the campaign will be looking for the next wedge by which it can move and the layer on which it can build.
Most people within organizations find strategic planning, theories of change, and log frames to be a pain. Not only because formulating them is hard work but also because we never implement them, at least not as intended in the heady aftermath of putting on paper what seems to be a clear step-by-step map to mission success. The classic three- or five-year strategic plan is too likely to be completely forgotten — even by people who take strategy, reflection, and learning seriously. Months or years later, when you are forced to dig up this plan to report on a grant or to your board, you can barely remember writing it. You may even be a little relieved that your work still vaguely resembles what you promised there.
What happens? The unpredictable, ever-changing world we work in refuses to comply with the plan. So, while we don’t lose sight of our goals, we make subtle, and often not so subtle, shifts away from the plan in order to respond effectively.
I was therefore happy to read about an alternative in a recent post of Oxfam’s polished polymath, Duncan Green. He recounts the U.S. Navy Seals’ rules of thumb:
Stay in communication
Take the high ground
Presumably (I don’t know ANYTHING about the military) these are hard and fast rules that they follow in the field, leaving the rest open to interpretation, depending on the situation that they find themselves in. This is attractive as an alternative to a predetermined plan that might not fit the situation that you find yourself in (this seems to be what Matt Andrews is zooming in on in Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation). Such an approach also allows operatives to make decisions independently of the suits at headquarters. But perhaps most importantly it minimizes the all too human risk of simply forgetting the plan (just think about your new year’s resolutions, if you think that this doesn’t apply to you).
We run a pretty flat structure at IBP South Africa with all of us operating with a high level of autonomy, especially when we are out in the field. While we are all deeply socialized into the IBP way of doing things, we have never actually explicitly formulated such rules of thumb. So I’m going to jump in at the deep end here. I’ve come up with too many rules, and I need to find a way to narrow the list down to the essentials (or I’ll have just disguised a strategic plan as a set of rules of thumb). I am also hoping that my three Cape Town colleagues, and others, will help get us to a workable set in comments to this post.
IBP-South Africa’s Rules for Decisions in the Field ̶ Take One
Does what you are doing empower the poor and marginalized? We are not about the rich and powerful. Nor are we about making ourselves indispensable to those that we seek to empower.
We should reflect the change that we want to see in the world. The end does not justify the means.
Ask for it now. Go straight to the target. Doing something for government or some other strategic partner in order to curry favor for some future ask doesn’t work. Perhaps it should. But it doesn’t.
Try to engage government, but don’t ask for their permission. They will make you wait, and then turn you down.
Seek more than one entry point. If you try in five places at once, one may work out. If you ask in only one, you will fail.
Test your plan. Even in the field. Ask a colleague. Write it down. Phone someone. You may be missing something.
Such rules of thumb need to be backed up by solid reflection, research, and conversation. I would hope that the Seals spent a bit of time thinking about successful and failed missions before they formulated their three rules. My version of IBP-South Africa’s rules were hacked out and distilled from me and my colleagues’ 40 years of cumulative experience in the field and endless office debates over coffee (and wine). That does not make them inviolable, but it does give them some foundation.
Over the next six months or so IBP will embark on a strategic reflection process. Hopefully we will examine some of these rules of thumb, measure them up against research and the experience of others in order to sharpen and amend them. But in the end we will need to force ourselves to come back to a set of short, practical, and relevant guidelines. Or risk adding another strategic tome to the dusty shelf of oblivion.
This post is part of the “In Their Own Words: Reform Champions Speak About Incentives for Fiscal Openness” series. The original interview was conducted in 2015 as part of a Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and International Budget Partnership (IBP) research project. Read more posts from the series here.
Trevor Manuel was South Africa’s Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2009, serving under three different presidents. During his long tenure, he built South Africa’s Treasury into a strong and well-respected organization and introduced wide-ranging budget reforms – including many that greatly improved budget transparency, thrusting South Africa to the top ranks of the Open Budget Index.
In this interview with Paolo de Renzio, Senior Research Fellow at the International Budget Partnership, Mr. Manuel looks back at some of the reforms he introduced that turned South Africa into a world leader in budget transparency.
What were the fiscal openness reforms that were introduced in South Africa, and what was their impact?
During the apartheid regime, public finances were very opaque and fragmented, making it difficult to have a clear idea about what public resources were being spent on. This led to lots of waste and misuse, and kept citizens in the dark. The ANC [African National Congress] government that came to power in 1994 sought to overturn these practices and open a new stage of transparency and openness. When I became finance minister in 1996, we immediately set about drafting a new Public Finance Management Act, and introduced a series of other reforms to improve fiscal transparency and accountability.
“Apartheid was a system that was based on very high levels of secrecy. In order to demonstrate transparency, we started announcing the government’s spending plans four months before the budget was tabled in Parliament.”
Let’s start with budget documents. The government started publishing a Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October of each year to set out fiscal policy targets and get parliament involved at the early stages of the budget process. Detailed Estimates of National Expenditure were then prepared by each government department to detail not just how much money they were going to spend but also detailing their objectives and expected results. We also started producing monthly budget execution reports which were published within three weeks of the end of each month.
Apart from these publications, the Auditor General’s office was reformed so that it could play a more effective role in providing independent scrutiny of government spending, and a number of initiatives were undertaken to promote a better informed debate around the budget. For example, we conducted a workshop for the media every year to explain to journalists where to find specific budget information, how to interpret it, and so on.
What were the key factors that shaped government incentives in adopting and sustaining these fiscal openness reforms?
First of all, I would not say that international actors played as crucial a role as they play in other African countries. Although we looked at relevant international experiences and promoted learning through peer exchanges, we did not borrow from the World Bank or the IMF, and levels of foreign aid were also negligible, which meant that international pressure was not a significant driver. In 1995 we started raising money on international financial markets, so of course it was important to have fiscal information available for that purpose. On the other hand, we always saw parliament as our key audience and aimed at ensuring that legislators — and the people whom they represent — had access to all relevant information and data, both on planned and executed budgets. This was part of our efforts to build strong institutions, and respect, and put into practice constitutional and legal provisions around public finance management — including the democratic principles that underpin them.
“The way in which budget debates are structured does not focus sufficient attention on evaluating actual performance. We applaud the policy intent but do not interrogate the policy outcome.”
Unfortunately, budget information is not always fully utilized by parliament, especially in terms of closing the loop by using annual reports and audit reports to assess what public money actually bought, and what benefits it brought. In fact, we often felt frustrated by the lack of engagement with the budget process by various actors. Parliament has strong budget powers, but it is poorly equipped to analyze and use budget information. Newspaper reporting on the budget is weak, except for when a large corruption scandal breaks out, and universities and think tanks also do not play an important role in budget debates. For about a decade, we also had something called the People’s Budget Initiative, which brought together various social actors who marched on parliament on budget day to present an alternative budget proposal. Of course their timing was very unfortunate, because their proposals came too late for us to include them in the actual budget proposal.
That might be one of the key challenges that South Africa’s budget transparency reforms face. The Treasury has developed sophisticated systems and skills, but those are not matched by other actors, both within and outside government, limiting the potential impact of budget transparency. The Treasury might therefore need to spend more time in educating other actors on the budget process and on the content of budget documents to ensure the quality of public debate improves.
What is the role that international initiatives like GIFT could play in promoting fiscal openness?
We have many indices at international level to measure many different things — from budget transparency to income inequality — but we still lack good measures of the quality and efficiency of public spending, to help guide budget decision making and to provide citizens with ways to judge whether public resources are being well spent. GIFT could look at this matter and develop some interesting new measures, which could add a lot to existing debates moving beyond a focus on public availability of budget information.
The interview took place on 6 October 2015.
For more details on South Africa’s fiscal openness reforms, see:
Friedman, S. (2013). “What We Know Can’t Hurt Them: Origins, Sources of Sustenance, and Survival Prospects of Budget Transparency in South Africa.” in Khagram, S., A. Fung and P. de Renzio (eds.) Open Budgets: The Political Economy of Transparency, Participation, and Accountability. Washington, DC: Brookings Press. (pp. 51-75).