If last month’s comparisons of the US Government’s Foreign Assistance Dashboard to the UK’s Development Tracker left you wondering how countries stack up when it comes to budget advocacy – this month’s post is for you.
To better compare across countries and regions, we turn to the International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Survey. The Open Budget Survey provides a snapshot of the current state of budget transparency and accountability for 100 countries around the world. At the core of the survey is the Open Budget Index – a numerical score that assesses a country’s fiscal transparency by the quantity and quality of budget documents it releases to the public. But transparency is not the only factor that matters.
For budget advocates, an equally important factor that affects work on the ground is the level of public participation in the budget process a government allows. Public participation for family planning and reproductive health budget advocates can range from participating in town halls to give feedback on how much is needed for the family planning budget during the formulation stage to a formal review of the draft budget at the enactment stage. It is essential factor to ensuring accountability. Despite this, countries often rank worse in public engagement than in other categories — such as legislative oversight and the strength of financial audit institutions (often called Auditor General or Office of Comptroller, “supreme audit institutions” (SAIs) are responsible for auditing how the government has spent public funds).
So what do these scores mean for groups that focus on budget advocacy? Let’s take a closer look at transparency in four countries.
Public engagement: 58
Legislative strength: 87
SAI strength: 100
Break it down: Advocates in the U.S. can expect a moderate level of public engagement in the budget process. Combined with strong scores in both legislative strength and effective auditing, this enabling environment helps advocates make the best use of the U.S.’ relatively high level of public access to budget documents in order to be more effective budget advocates.
On the ground: Relatively open budgets in the U.S. open the door for groups like PAI to advocate for increased funding for family planning to policymakers. This is accomplished through meetings on Capitol Hill and broader coalition efforts that depend on the public engagement mechanisms in place that allow groups to request meetings and attend briefings with Congressional staff. However, there is room for improvement as meetings are not guaranteed and internal politics may affect the willingness of Congressional staff members to meet with advocates who may oppose their views.
Public engagement: 25
Legislative strength: 52
SAI strength: 92
Break it down: In Mexico, where public engagement is considered weak, budget advocates face tougher challenges participating in the budget cycle. Despite having a Transparency and Access to Public Government Information Act since 2002, there are no legal frameworks to ensure that the public can participate in the budget formulation or execution stage. During the enactment stage, the Mexican legislature arranges consultations with different population groups to analyze public priorities for the budget. But outside of these meetings, public engagement is limited. Legislative committee meetings on the budget are open to the public, but there is no way for the public to have input in these hearings.
On the ground: For local organization Mexfam, advocacy to local-level officials around implementing Mexico’s national youth policy on adolescent sexual and reproductive health led to discovering that no specific budget had been allocated for youth-related health activities. Mexfam persuaded state-level policymakers in four states to allocate funds, leading to a huge win. In 2011, $7.8 million was allocated for state-level implementation of the youth policy, and $15.6 allocated in 2012.
Public engagement: 39
Legislative strength: 64
SAI strength: 83
Break it down: As the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to launch an Open Data Initiative as part of the Open Government Partnership, Kenya remains one of the leaders of increased transparency efforts among African governments. This shift is also reflected in Kenya’s 2011 Open Government Partnership commitment to increase public involvement in the budget cycle and its passage of a Freedom of Information Bill in 2012. Despite these commitments, Kenya has stagnated at a mediocre rating of 49 out of 100 in terms of the state of transparency and oversight in the national budget.
On the ground: Budget advocacy groups continue to face barriers to successfully engaging in the budget process and retrieving necessary data to monitor its execution. Though information on allocation and expenditure has been determined by PAI partner HERAF through their work in RH BudgetWatch, the process to acquire this information has been difficult and dependent on interviews, as opposed to the release of government documents. Furthermore, despite the high-profile launch of Kenya’s Open Data Portal, progress has stalled as key ministries delay or refuse to submit data for public use.
Public engagement: 14
Legislative strength: 43
SAI strength: 67
Break it down: In Tanzania, budget advocacy is more difficult. Opportunities for formal involvement are limited to consultative meetings on fiscal policy on topics like tax exemptions and public private partnerships. These meetings are often called on short notice, giving groups little time to prepare. For advocates looking to influence and analyze how money is actually spent, the door is even less open. Though the basic right to information is included in the Constitution of Tanzania, a stand-alone Freedom of Information Bill has never made it past the draft stage. Tanzania has begun to establish a platform for public engagement throughout the budget cycle, but this too remains undone.
On the ground: Human Development Trust (HDT) recently examined the non-commodity costs of providing reproductive health services like outreach and demand creation. Since service delivery is largely done at the local government level, HDT led a coalition to advocate for allocation for family planning in the local budget in the Kinondoni district. After a series of one-on-one meetings with decision makers, local champions lobbied the municipal council to agree to increase funds for family planning to at least 1 percent of its revenue every year starting in the 2012/2013. This means about $143,750 will be used to increase capacity of family planning service providers and expand access to youth-friendly services in the district. For PAI’s RH BudgetWatch partner Pathfinder Tanzania, the low level of public engagement at the national level has resulted in difficulty determining whether money allocated to the national budget line for contraceptives has been properly spent. Like HDT, Pathfinder has gained more ground working at the district level. This shows the notable gap that remains for national transparency in Tanzania.
This is the fifth post in our series on budget advocacy. To read the previous post, click here.