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An investigation based on budgetary data evidences significant reductions in food policies for children in Argentina

by ACIJ (Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia)

In February 2019, ACIJ Argentina, together with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, organized a Dataquest for the international day of open data. There, a group of organizations and activists met in order to analyze the data of the Argentine budget and make visible its impact on equality.

The work was carried out in teams and one of the groups found that the Mother and Child Care program of the Ministry of Health reduced the delivery of fortified milk powder to girls and boys between zero and two years old in the 2014-2018 period, and the kilos of milk planned to be delivered had been sub-executed, affecting thousands of children.

This is a program that aims to ensure that all children in the country can achieve a state of integral health and its impact is greater on children in poverty. Based on this finding, the journalist who, together with her group, discovered this information in the Dataquest, initiated an investigation with other journalists, to find out the reasons for the reduction.

It was necessary to make multiple requests for access to public information and interviews to know the reasons: delays in tenders, lack of coordination with the provinces, management problems with supplier companies, among others. The investigation also showed that some provinces were more affected than others due to deviations. For example, the province of Chaco, one of the most impoverished in 2018, with 41% of its population below the poverty line, received 30% less than the expected milk.

The results of the investigation can be consulted in the regional research “The Promised Milk”, led by the newly formed network of Latin American Journalists for Transparency and Anti-Corruption (PALTA Network).

63.4% of girls, boys, and teens in Argentina see at least one of their rights infringed. This means that they are poorly fed, sleep in houses without drinking water or sewers, do not access education on equal terms, and/or suffer from poor or poor levels of health care. In this context, it becomes essential that the State prioritizes the effectiveness of social spending in policies aimed at guaranteeing the right to health and food for girls and boys, being inadmissible sub-executions of available resources.

This investigation demonstrates the importance of having clear, disaggregated and accessible information to monitor the performance of public policies aimed at guaranteeing rights, and that the State better justifies and explains the reasons for budgetary deviations.

This situation is replicated in other countries of the region such as Uruguay, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala.

Averting environmental catastrophe: what would real accountability for environmental stewardship look like? And why it has a lot to do with fiscal policy.

There are three inter-related areas where action is urgently required to avert further rapid environmental degradation:
  1. Mandatory environmental target setting and the integration of environmental targets into medium-term government strategy and fiscal policy setting.
  2. National State of Environment reporting.
  3. ‘Green budgeting’ – the use of the budgetary system to improve environmental outcomes.

The twin climate change and environmental degradation crises show emphatically that current approaches to environmental stewardship are failing miserably. While myopically protecting the over-consumption of natural capital and imposing increasing negative effects on current generations, especially the poor, we are leaving a legacy of mind-boggling cost and risk for the generations that will follow. UNEP’s 2018 Global Environment Outlook (GEO 6) ‘provides the evidence that…without a fundamental redirection, most environmental domains will continue to degrade, threatening the economic and social progress achieved to date and the fate of the multiple species that share planet Earth.’

Many factors contribute to global environmental degradation, but one that has received surprisingly little attention is the lack of government transparency and accountability for environmental stewardship compared to other policy domains, such as fiscal and monetary policy, and the systematically weak integration of environmental stewardship into overall government strategy.

While international initiatives such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Aichi Bio-diversity Targets, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are crucial to galvanise coordinated action, international treaties and agreements can in general only be implemented by sovereign states passing and implementing domestic laws.

However, compared to the way in which many governments now manage the public finances – based on commitments in domestic law to publish goals, targets and progress reports – the arrangements for environmental stewardship are primitive.

Many governments get away with longer-term unquantified ‘feel good’ goals for the environment – such as ‘reversing loss of biodiversity’, ‘or cleaning up waterways’ – without the discipline that comes from being required to regularly report to the legislature on the intended path to the goals, interim milestones, recent progress, and what they are doing now to promote their achievement.

In other cases, such as climate change, governments sign up to ambitious quantitative targets, but ‘the vast majority of countries have [national] targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement’ (Climate Action Tracker, 2019).

‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’ – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Or a political deceit.

Imagine any government today telling the electorate that it will reduce public debt by 20 per cent of GDP in twenty years’ time but providing no report on last year’s budget outturn, no current data on public debt, presenting no forecasts and no budget for next year, and talking only in general terms about how it will achieve the goal!

Of course, environmental outcomes result from the complex interplay of natural processes, human activities, and central, regional and local government actions. They cannot be managed in the same way that a government can manage its finances.

Nevertheless, there is an urgent need to apply to national environmental stewardship a broadly comparable underlying framework of mandatory transparency of goals and targets and ex post accountability. Prompted by international climate change treaties, this approach is being applied by a few governments to carbon emissions following the UK’s pioneering Climate Change Act 2008, with its statutory requirements for 5 yearly carbon budgets, an independent watchdog, and comprehensive reporting. This general approach is required across all environmental domains.

Environmental goals and targets must then be integrated  into overall government strategy and the medium-term strategy process that drives the annual budget. While government regulation is critically important to environmental outcomes, there is no regulatory policy cycle or equivalent of the annual budget as a focus of coordinated policy action and prioritisation. And in countries with multi-year national planning frameworks, these must be implemented in large part through annual budgets.

The budget is therefore typically a government’s single most important expression of its actual strategies and priorities, and potentially its most powerful cross-sector policy integration tool. If environmental goals and targets are to mean anything, they need to be more effectively mainstreamed i.e. incorporated in the (medium-term) strategy process that drives or shapes the annual budget – as recognized by the Helsinki Principles adopted in 2019 by the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action.

Yet fiscal strategy setting around the world remains dominated by assessment of macroeconomic and fiscal statistics and associated risks. Information on environmental outcomes and risks, and interactions between the environment and the economy, (such as the UN System of Environmental–Economic Accounting), needs to be integrated into decisions on the medium-term fiscal strategy. In New Zealand an amendment to the Public Finance Act under consideration would require every Government to draw a connection between its wellbeing objectives and its fiscal policy and to report on environmental and social indicators alongside macroeconomic and fiscal indicators.

The setting of targets for environmental outcomes should be based on national State of Environment Reports (SoERs). The regular publication of SoERs followed the call by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro for nations to issue reports on the environment that would complement traditional fiscal policy statements, budgets, and economic development plans. The 1995 UN Commission on Sustainable Development introduced the ‘Drivers, Pressures, State, Impact, Response’ (DPSIR) model of environmental reporting widely used today.

Most advanced countries, including all members of the European Environment Agency (EEA), many middle-income countries, and some developing countries publish national SoERs, typically 3-5 years. These reports contain a large number of physical outcome indicators across all environmental domains, including biodiversity loss, land degradation, air, land and water pollution, water and natural resource management, and climate change. The data is captured mainly by national and sub-national environmental monitoring systems.

However, SoERs invariably have gaps in the data and/or its analysis of varying severity reflecting resource and capacity constraints. There may be concerns about technical independence of the reports (e.g. with respect to NZ’s 2007 SoER). Many of them are backward-looking, reflecting the DPSIR framework, although some include assessments of outlooks and/or scenarios, and a few contain policy recommendations e.g. the Dutch SoER 2014. The reports often fail to highlight the areas of critical concern amongst a large number of environmental indicators. Nor are governments required to respond to each report or to indicate what they are doing and will do to avert further environmental degradation. SoERs may be largely ignored or quickly forgotten.

The importance of national capacity for data collection and monitoring is recognized in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17 on strengthening the means of implementing the SDGs. Reflecting this, UNEP calls in GEO 6 for improved national environmental monitoring and reporting systems using a combination of enhanced national data collection and better use of existing data, remote (satellite) observation systems, and citizen environmental monitoring. UNEP has a current project assessing country needs in environmental statistics collection and reporting.

National environmental reporting should be introduced in countries that do not yet publish SoERs – especially in megadiverse countries – and focusing particularly on critical environmental indicators. And where environmental reporting is in place the framework should be progressively strengthened in a number of ways:

  • Each report should be compiled by an entity with technical independence from government (as is the case, for example, in the Netherlands).
  • Each report should include forward-looking data on outlooks and scenarios, including risks and tipping points with respect to critically important indicators (for example, the Australia SoER 2016 contains information on resilience, risks, and outlook scenarios).
  • The environment ministry should provide timely and comprehensive policy advice to government in response to the data and analysis in the SoER.
  • There should be a legislative requirement for the government to respond to each SoER stating its assessment, its top priority environmental outcomes, strategies, targets, milestones, and recent progress. For example, Sweden has since 1999 pioneered transparency of national environmental goals, targets, and progress reports based on a system of environmental quality objectives (EQOs) set by Parliament (although not in law). The prospects for achieving the EQOs are assessed each year and are incorporated in the government’s annual progress report to Parliament.
  • Each SoE report should in the normal course of events be published within a certain time prior to each national election – similar conceptually to the pre-election fiscal update required by the OECD Best Practices in Budget Transparency 2002, intended to strengthen public accountability.

Thirdly, all governments should progressively introduce ‘green budgeting’. Fiscal policies – taxation and government spending – have major environmental impacts. Green budgeting will help to realise Principle 4 of the GIFT High-Level Principles of Fiscal Transparency, Participation and Accountability: ‘Governments should communicate the objectives they are pursuing and the outputs they are producing with the resources entrusted to them, and endeavour to assess and disclose the anticipated and actual social, economic and environmental outcomes’.

Some of the environmental impacts of fiscal policy are positive: funding for management of the public conservation estate, and environmental protection expenditures. Public spending also has indirect positive impacts on environmental outcomes through the level of funding for environmental regulation, and public funding of environmental monitoring, reporting and research.

Other environmental impacts are negative, such as those from fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies or subsidised water and electricity consumption, and from large public infrastructure projects. The OECD has assessed that between 2010 and 2015 direct government expenditure on subsidies to fossil fuels amounted to US$373-617 billion annually across 76 economies which collectively contribute 94% of global carbon emissions. In contrast, the amount those governments spent on biodiversity was only around one tenth of that amount. There is also the risk of lock-in of environmentally damaging technologies through new public infrastructure investment e.g. in electricity generation.

In addition, the tax system is an important tool to ‘correct’ the prices of activities that generate unpriced social costs (externalities), such as the social costs of carbon emissions or of pollution. Yet formal carbon pricing schemes (carbon taxes and emissions trading systems) cover only about 15% of global emissions (World Bank State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2019), although existing road fuel taxes and royalties imposed for non-climate policy  reasons imply taxes equivalent to US$33 and US$10 per tonne of CO2 respectively (IMF 2019).

What does green budgeting comprise? The OECD launched the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting in December 2017. The objective of green budgeting is to use the tools of budgetary governance to help drive improvements in the alignment of national expenditure and revenue processes with climate and other environmental goals. This requires establishing clear connections between public finance and environmental impacts.

The OECD has identified a potential set of specific components of green budgeting, to be progressively developed and introduced. These might all be included in a single annual ‘Green Budget Statement’, or some elements may be incorporated in existing budget documents depending on what is appropriate in individual country settings. As defined by the OECD the components  include:

  • A description of the anticipated environmental impacts of the new policies being introduced in the annual budget.
  • An analysis of the environmental impacts of various areas of the revenue and expenditure baseline (on-going policies). This should cover direct spending, grants, loans, contingent instruments, revenue policies including tax expenditures, and other fiscal opportunity costs e.g. non-auctioning of rights to pollute.
  • An assessment of the use of the tax system to ‘price’ environmental externalities (including carbon emissions).
  • Cross-national benchmark indicators of progress.

The OECD also recommends periodic (less than annual) supplementary reports:

  • A Green Budget Fiscal Sustainability Report incorporating prospective environmental impacts into long term fiscal sustainability analysis;
  • A Green Balance Sheet, to report the value of natural assets and liabilities in the context of the government’s financial balance sheet.

In addition to these elements, consideration should be given to production and publication of:

  • An annual Green Performance Budget Report linking the programs/outputs funded in ministry budgets through intermediate progress indicators to the high-level environmental outcome targets.
  • The interactions between fiscal policies and environmental regulation e.g. adequacy of funding of environmental regulation, the revenue potential of cap and trade schemes and any foregone revenues from differential treatment of sectors, ‘feebate’ approaches to reducing environmental externalities, and the fiscal and distributional impacts of greenhouse gas liabilities.
  • An assessment and, to the extent feasible, quantification of the economic impact of recent degradation of ecosystem services at the margin in a selected high priority sector, and the estimated cost of restoration of ecosystem services.
  • As feasible, an assessment of environmental resilience, and short to medium term risks around critical environmental outcomes, and threats to long term sustainability.
  • A periodic monitoring and evaluation (M&E) stocktake of the evidence on the efficiency and effectiveness of government interventions in achieving environmental objectives, and identification of research priorities. Sweden publishes a four-yearly environmental M&E stock-take.

All budget documents should incorporate all public funds, including all climate and other environment finance flows that may be ‘off-budget’ and all public receipts of international climate change mitigation or adaptation funds (International Budget Partnership 2018).

Technical work is underway to support better understanding of the impacts of fiscal policies on the environment, including the OECD’s Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Environment 2018, and a spreadsheet tool developed by the IMF incorporating domestic externalities from fuel use  to help countries evaluate progress towards their Paris mitigation pledges.

Pulling the three priority areas together, Figure 1 illustrates the combination of initiatives put forward in this article.

Figure 1: Comprehensive Framework for Environmental Accountability

Some governments have started on this path. As noted, the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 represents this type of self-imposed mandatory target setting/verification/reporting approach applied to one (major) environmental outcome. The approach in Figure 1 would see this extended across all environmental domains. This would be similar to Sweden’s approach to setting environmental quality objectives. Other countries to take steps in this direction include the Netherlands where the SoER contains an evaluation of the degree to which short-term quantitative environmental targets set by the Cabinet are projected to be achieved through current policy; and England where there is regular reporting on progress against 24 indicators from the government’s Biodiversity 2020 Strategy.

Other governments have started to integrate climate change and wider environmental sustainability into the budget process. Norway‘s 2016 Budget contained a detailed section on Sustainable Development and Green Growth, including a discussion of the use of taxes to improve resource efficiency, the country’s performance on climate change, the state of ecosystems, and management of renewable resources. France is introducing a comprehensive reporting structure for climate economic analysis in its annual budget documents and intends to add data on public and private expenditures aligned with environmental targets. Prompted by the requirements for issuing Green Bonds,   Ireland is identifying the amount of government spending dedicated to addressing climate change and intends subsequently to introduce assessments of the environmental impacts of public spending. The 2019 Budget in New Zealand was presented as a ‘well-being budget’ in which a wider set of social and environmental indicators and objectives was integrated into budget decision-making

There is a huge opportunity to build on these developments. A renewed international effort is needed to expand and deepen national SoER reporting and to build the national capacity for environmental data collection. There is an important role for the UN system and multilateral and bilateral development agencies to finance national capacity development in environmental statistics collection as well as remote measurement systems. International organizations such as the OECD, World Bank, and the IMF, international multi-stakeholder networks such as GIFT and the Open Government Partnership, and environmental NGOs can promote the development and diffusion of common international norms and country commitments on environmental reporting, green budgeting, and the integration of the environment into medium term government strategy setting. GIFT, as a multi-stakeholder network, is well-placed to promote a role for national CSOs in norm development and in assessing the quality of environmental governance in their countries.

Taken together, the proposals illustrated in Figure 1 are obviously ambitious. They are intended to suggest the type of comprehensive framework needed to guide a series of progressive steps towards better environmental stewardship, phased in depending on starting points and national priorities. The proposals reflect the call in SDG 16 for accountable and transparent institutions that ensure public access to information and inclusive decision making. The capacity for national environmental monitoring and reporting comprises core infrastructure for sustainable development, and for measuring achievement of a number of the SDGs, many of which are high level aggregate outcomes that must be measured by in-country environmental monitoring systems. This requires progressive capacity building consistent with SDG 17.

Comprehensive application to environmental stewardship of the tools of mandatory transparent target setting and systematic independent reporting, and green budgeting, may well be key changes required if we are to begin to turn around the potentially cataclysmic decline in the state of the environment. It is only thirty years ago that few would have ever imagined that many sovereign governments would pass laws obliging themselves to fiscal transparency and fiscal responsibility or to setting inflation targets with delegation of monetary policy implementation to independent central banks.

Today we urgently need a similar leap of imagination, and crucially also of citizen demands and engagement, and of political leadership, to protect the natural environment for future generations.

Is Fiscal Transparency Really Relevant to Improve Public Spending?

by GIFT Team

As members of the Public Financial Management community, we are frequently confronted with the question: is fiscal transparency really relevant for improving public spending? There is no easy answer it, as there is no easy or unique path transforming fiscal transparency into a public good. For many years, governments have published information about their finances without it being used. And we know that most of the success stories on fiscal transparency are related to transforming disclosed information into something relevant for the public. We do know that fiscal transparency is not a solitary requirement or sufficient condition that leads to improved social, economic and environmental outcomes (for examples read de Renzio and Wehner 2015). However, it is a steppingstone that helps improving the quality of spending and in some cases, accountability. The following diagram displays GIFT theory of change which links fiscal transparency linked with direct and informed public participation can lead to more accountability, improved budget outcomes and impact in people’s lives.

In few words, fiscal transparency can result in better use of public resources, when the data is actually used by its citizens. Dialogue and participation in the budget are necessary to help ensure that the disclosed information responds to the public needs. To date, one of GIFT’s contributions has been to encourage this dialogue between ministries of finance and civil society organizations, resulting in the disclosure of more meaningful information in more friendly and accessible formats.

The following stories do not intend to be an exhaustive compendium on how GIFT members and partners have used fiscal transparency to have an impact and achieve better results, but they provide elements that describe and illustrate the above change relation in different contexts and topics. 

Gender violence based spending in Argentina

How many governments promote their policy choices by means of discourse to satisfy public claims, but do not back-up such promises with the funds needed? It is a common political practice that affect all subjects, from environmental protection and poverty alleviation to gender issues. The publication of budget and spending data and informed public debates on the matter can limit this possibility throughout the budget cycle.

The Asociación Civil para la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ), an organization with a specialized track record of analyzing public policies to guarantee human rights, joined the GIFT network in 2017. Meanwhile, another GIFT steward, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) of Argentina, opened a significant  amount of disaggregated data in a new user-centered fiscal transparency portal called “Presupuesto Abierto”, which discloses on a daily bases information about the execution of the budget. In the next video, Renzo Lavin, Co-Director of ACIJ, explains how the accessibility to this data has facilitated their work and enabled them to hold an informed discussion with the MoF. Among other benefits it has led to corrections in the proposed allocations for gender-based violence policies by identifying and exposing publicly the mismatch between the political promise to invest in programs to help address gender violence and its consequences, and the actual budget allocations.

ACIJ hosted a Better Budget Dataquest with GIFT in February 2019, an open event for civil society data experts to link fiscal open data with government programs and policies information. The Argentinian MoF participated in the event with presentation of how to use the open data and providing technical assistance to the participants. A few months later, ACIJ started a budget and data literacy effort directed to organizations focused on gender aspects, which includes a guide and videos on how to analyze budget with a gender perspective, expanding the abilities of the CSO community to use the open spending data published by the government for incidence. Budget and data literacy efforts are some of the most popular actions to be implemented among Stewards in 2019. As a result, SCOs came up with the claims that more fiscal resources were needed to back up the political claim of a government supporting anti violence gender programs.

 

Budget Allocations for HIV in Indonesia

The Ministry of Finance of Indonesia was among the first countries to introduce a budget open data portal as part of their fiscal transparency efforts. The GIFT Network was part of this important step, back in 2016, which included a workshop with GIFT Stewards from around the world hosted in Jakarta by the MoF. With more accessible budget information, CSOs such as Seknas-Fitra (GIFT Steward), have been able to engage in constructive conversations with the MoF and local governments as well on budget issues.

With new and relevant information, Seknas-Fitra has also been able to act as intermediary with grass-roots organizations to facilitate their understanding of the published information and how it can be used to better focus their agenda. A specific result of these actions has been changes in the allocation of budget directed to HIV in different regions of the country. In the next video Yenti

Nurhidayat explains this chain of events that have led to better protection of vulnerable groups.

The dialogue between the MoF, Seknas-Fitra and other CSO has also derived in budget and data literacy efforts. As such, together they organized the GIFT Better Budget Dataquest in early 2019 in two Indonesian universities, expanding the capacity to use the budget open data to analyze public policies. This has already triggered a better informed debate on budget allocations and ways to engaged the public in fiscal policies.

 

Budget for sustainable urban mobility in Mexico

Mexico has been one of the early adopters of mainstreaming fiscal transparency reforms in different topics though digital tools, including open data and digital platforms. The MoF has been part of GIFT since its initial phase back in 2013, and became a Lead Stewards in 2017. As such, it has been a key actor to showcase how user-centered fiscal transparency efforts can benefit organizations with a variety of backgrounds and interests, such as regional development, maternal health, inclusion or human rights. Linking relevant budget data with the government information which they are familiar with, these organizations have led to several stories to improved efficiency, efficacy and impact of the public resources.

In the blog post that can be consulted here, Lorena Rivero, a former Director General for Transparency and Evaluation at the Mexican Federal MoF, describes how fiscal transparency led to a simpler analysis of the implications of budget distribution in sustainable urban mobility by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which urged the way of transforming the whole approval process of investment projects of a specific fund from amount orientation to quality of investment and sustainability considerations.

The case reflects the fact that a discussion cannot be really balanced, productive and constructive if the government officials and public representatives do not have access to equivalent amounts of quality of information. The provision of the relevant data in the correct formats can help an informed discussion and open for real opportunities in the way public resources are allocated and executed.

 

Some conclusions to be drawn from these examples

There are still multiple complexities in the numbers of relations that go from the publication of fiscal data, to its conversion into a public good as a result of its utilization, to social impact. Among other conditions, relevant data should be available in the right formats and at the right time. Other necessary conditions must be present, such as having, on the demand side, specific interested organizations willing and capable to analyze it and understand the implications for their sectors. Furthermore, a propitious public space where the analysis can be heard and discussed by public officials is also needed to close the feedback loop, which in many cases will become an iterative process.

Organizations working with GIFT are helping amplifying the community based organizations and thematic focus organization that can benefit from fiscal transparency. This is important, as it is not always budget and public finance organizations that have exert influence in Public Financial Management in a broad sense. The opportunities opened by transparency and public utilization of relevant fiscal information can go deep into public policy performance considerations that can have repercussions in many people’s lives. A better allocation and use of public resources will be crucial when addressing the Sustainable Development Goals and having data available for different expert organizations to analyze is a first step to allow a more profound discussion to take place.

From Fiscal Transparency to More Sustainable Cities: Case in Mexico

Some public programs are designed as the result of the political realm, besides any possible  technical propositions and considerations. Pork barrel funds are a reality, in developing countries, as well as in developed ones. This was the case of the Metropolitan Development Fund in Mexico.

The fund started before 2011 changing forms and structure but, continued growing throughout  the years during the approval phase of the budget cycle. In Mexico, a presidential system, each year the executive power, through the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (MoF), presents to Congress the budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which is then analyzed, amended and finally approved. Year after year, this program returned from the legislative in the approval phase of the budget process with significantly more resources than proposed by the executive branch, as a result of political negotiations, to the point of being implemented during the fiscal year in projects unlinked to the development and sectoral priorities. Organizations and researchers started noting the lack of a clear objective and inefficient allocation of these resources, resulting in the financing of projects that encouraged the use of private transport, rather than more sustainable cities (see for example the The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) of Mexico report “Diagnosis of federal funds for transportation and urban accessibility: How we spend our resources in Mexico in 2011 by Javier Garduño”). Furthermore, organizations trying to engage and study the effects of such resources encountered significant problems in following the money. In 2013-2014, the legislative management of this fund, finally led to a big scandal involving congress members engaging in corruption to include and approve projects in such fund.

Before public opinion, it is usually hard to separate different levels  of government when such scandals arise, as the public condemn politicians as a whole. Therefore, the MoF decided to take action through fiscal transparency, so the public could distinguish the process and its outcomes. While it might not be the most obvious solution, it was a form of clarifying that although the MoF managed the delivery of the funds, it was not taking part of the corruption and was taking actions to expose it, as a way to tackle it. With such goals, in 2014 the MoF presented a platform publishing the details of the approved projects expecting the public to be able to monitor approval and implementation. As the Mexican MoF was a member of GIFT, the network was part of the public launch of these changes,  highlighting the importance of such actions to lead to public participation and social impact.

Conversation shifted to discuss in depth the approval of the projects and what needed to be changed in the design of the fund to achieve sustainable cities. With the data available, civil society organizations such as the Urban Cycling Network (BICIRED) and ITDP were able to engage in the approval process of the budget cycle with an informed social media campaign (money for the humane city- a catchy phrase in Spanish “Lana para la Ciudad Humana”) and lobbying actions for the 2015 budget. That year, the approved Budget Decree included a new clause, stating that the Metropolitan Development Fund should consider non-motorized mobility to finally include in subsequent years that at least 15% of resources should be directed to public transport and non-motorized mobility.

In 2017 a complete redesign of the program was possible with some milestones achieved by different ministries and with the findings of an external evaluation to the program. For the 2018 fiscal year the operating rules of the program changed completely, creating a collegiate body to approve the projects, conformed by the MoF, the Ministry of Territory and Urban Development and the Ministry of Environment. The approval of the projects would now require better pre-investment studies, depending on the cost of the project a cost-benefit evaluation or others, and an opinion sheet filled out by the collegiate body, highly focused on awarding points to sustainability, urban mobility and resilience projects.

Cutting with inertia of how projects are presented is not easy and therefore a more paused approval of spending happened, but slowly more of the expected projects started to flow from the local governments to the MoF.

This case reflects how opening spending data can lead to changing relations among different powers in government (executive, legislative, audit and national-local governments); it can improve the quality of the discussion between civil society and government (when the government is open to listen and act!), highlighting that it is not always organizations expert in public finances that can induce results from fiscal transparency; and finally it can lead to more effective public spending. As such, fiscal transparency and public participation triggered policy changes that replaced the previous pork barrel system in favor of better public spending through policies for sustainable development.

Is it possible to follow the budget money in Slovenia with open data?

Follow Jorg K. Petrovic on Twitter

Slovenia is making a good progress in opening its data. The only area that is left behind is the data about the budget. But recently things are starting to develop rapidly also at the Ministry of Finance. Two years ago, the citizens budget was introduced. And in early 2019, activities started to open as much data as possible in a timely and user attractive and friendly manner. Decisively, coordination between the MoF, the Ministry of Public Administration (in charge of the IT cloud), Governmental PR services and the Court of Audit, has begun. As these institutions started to work on the project, promising outcomes are on the horizon.

1. Slovenia, as a member of the European Union, is obliged to develop a strategy on open data (EU regulation is behind that).

2. Slovenia reports to the EU and public institutions are evaluated about open data. Last report shown improvements, making Slovenia move from the 2nd group »Fast trackers« to the top #1 group of »Trendsetters« (as shown on the graphic, Slovenia holds the 7th position within the whole list).

3. We have many portals where info about open data (and also the very data sets themselves) is to be found:

– OPSi (Odprti Podatki Slovenije – Open Data Slovenia)

Manual on how to open the data.

Register of the entities that are bound by the Public Information Act, not just when being asked but also to be proactively transparent.

Publication of public sector transactions by the Public Payments Administration of the Republic of Slovenia.

– The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption’s public sector financial transactions records ERRAR, formerly known as Supervizor.

Publication of contracts.

Publication of metadata on public procurement for reuse.

Data on election campaigns.

Annual reports of political parties (within JOLP – Javna Objava Letnih Poročil – Public Publication of Yearly Reports).

– All papers of governmental sections
(http://www.vlada.si/delo_vlade/gradiva_v_obravnavi/ ; http://www.vlada.si/delo_vlade/dnevni_redi/ ; http://www.vlada.si/delo_vlade/seje_delovnih_teles/ )

Transparency and open data – info by MPA.

Looks like a significant amount of information, but only experts could make a complete assessment and I am not one of them in this field of open data. But I do know about budgets and I can say that other countries have more on budgets. Maybe after all the MPA website might not be at the top address for fiscal data? Sure some useful links are to be found there (ERRAR and OPEN DATA SLOVENIA) but in my opinion they lack direct link to the budget data! Through the presentations and discussions I have witnessed and been part of at GIFT meetings, I know there is a great room for improvement. I believe that, because I know that the evaluation I was presented (before mentioned EU – Open data maturity …) is only one of many. Just last week, OECD has published a new Open Government Data Report and in that case, Slovenia is below average – way behind South Korea, France, Japan, Great Britain and Mexico.

But I do not want to leave you without fiscal information. Let me just briefly take you to the webpage of the MoF. There, among other things, one can also find the following information:

Citizens budget.     All budgets in detail.     Where does your money go?

Midyear reports.

End-year reports.

The Tax office gives once a month information on collected taxes.

So, there is valuable information. But that is basically it. Some data can be found at the Statistical office (SURS). But statistics is, as it should be, aggregated information that does not allow to trace budgets…  (https://www.stat.si/StatWeb/Field/Index/1).

As you can see, Slovenia has data available, but we are still not even halfway compared to where some countries already are.

I think that »Where does your money go« could be a good point to start. But it should be the base to build up a system to provide online, up to date, budget data – both on income (tax office) and expenditure data (MoF – directorate of budget and directorate of public accounting). Transactions should get direct links to the documentation (data provider through ERRAR and Public Information Act), which could be achieved by using GIFT´s Open Fiscal Data Package, for instance. All data about transactions that result in assets should be presented with the data of those assets (parcel ledger data, geo location, etc.) We already have all the data – since otherwise linear ministries would not be able to function. I also believe that we have all the necessary legislation (Public Information Act, etc.). We only need a person at MoF (like Lorena Rivero del Paso in Mexico) to organize all the pieces of the puzzle in the proper way – and of course political support for that. Another option would be to work closely with the GIFT network, as it provides technical support for these type of challenges.

Short info about participatory budgeting in Slovenia

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On participatory budgeting, we have started small in Slovenia a few year ago, but we have come pretty far in less than 5 years. There is a substantial interest among local communities and the Parliament has helped with legislation promoting participation.

The idea of participatory budgeting is not completely new in Slovenia. It has been around for some years. First »experiments« in this field started in city of Maribor in 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, the project ended since there was not enough political will for full implementation.

A similar initiative started in local community of Ajdovščina in 2016 and it has been a success ever since. The same case is observed with the neighboring municipality of Komen.

In May 2017, the GIFT network and Court of Audit of the Republic of Slovenia organized a regional seminar on participatory budgeting which gave a new push to the movement. Addressing the GIFT public participation principles and having access to international experts and experiences, combined with discussions on the Slovenian mechanisms to engage communities in budgeting,  big organizations of local communities (i. e. SOS Skupnost občin Slovenije – Association of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia) took part and started to promote the idea strongly.

By 2018, such promising idea had reached the high politics. The Government had prepared additional articles for the Law on Local Communities and among them was also the article on participatory budgeting.

In March and April 2018, the articles were already on the desks of the member of the parliament. The whole procedure in the Parliament is to be found here.

A Bill was signed into Law on the 25th of April 2018 and published a day later (https://www.uradni-list.si/_pdf/2018/Ur/u2018030.pdf Page 4491). The new article 48.b states:

»In the process of preparing the draft budget, the municipality may determine the amount of funds intended for financing projects proposed by citizens. On the proposed projects, the municipality conducts consultations with citizens no later than the submission of the budget to the municipal council for reception.«

In October 2018, local elections took place in Slovenia. The debate about participatory budgeting went on high gears. Many candidates for mayors and many politicians campaigning for the local councils stated participatory budgeting as one of their priorities in their political programs. »Danes je nov dan« reports, that 57 candidates, that have promised to support participatory budgeting have entered local councils (https://danesjenovdan.si/participativni-proracun/).

In 2019, we are starting to see the first results. Nova Gorica, Ankaran, Renče Vogrsko, Hrpelje Kozina, Šentilj and Razkrižje have already started with the participatory budgeting. And it looks like that Krško, Benedikt, Koper and Divača are going to start the procedures of participatory budgeting for the budget year 2020.

As such, and with the little help from the GIFT network and other international experts, and the decisive support from the Court of Audit and the National Parliament, some Slovenians are starting to be more engaged in the decisions and implementation about their budgets. The process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of the budget, enabling taxpayers to work with local governments to make the budget decisions that affect their lives, is taking place in Slovenia, which is a very meaningful happening for our democratic live.

Local communities

Maribor, 2014.     Ajdovščina, 2016.     Komen, 2016.     Logatec, 2018.     Nova Gorica, 2019.     Ankaran, 2019.     Renče Vogrsko, 2019.     Hrpelje Kozina, 2019.     Šentilj, 2019.     Razkrižje, 2019.     Krško, for budget of 2020.     Benedikt, for budget of 2020.     Koper, for budget of 2020.     Divača, for budget of 2020.     Kranjska Gora (just for young peple), 2018: https://obcina.kranjska-gora.si/dogodek/165559 & http://www.sodeluj.es/

 

Seminars

September 2015.     May 2017.     April 2018.     October 2018.

 

Literature

2015 and 2016.

 

Articles in newspapers

Delo, 2013.     Dolenski list, 2016.     Dnevnik, 2018.     Večer, 2018.     Primorske novice, 2018.     Novice, 2018.     Delo, 2018.     Mladina, 2018.     EKoper, 2018.

The 2017 Open Budget Survey: What the results for public participation mean

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The latest round of the Open Budget Survey (OBS 2017) includes a new set of measures of public participation based on an emerging international consensus about what participation in the budget process should look like. The participation questions were fundamentally redesigned for the 2017 survey, so it is not possible to assess changes since the 2015 survey.

Budget participation scores are low overall, with the global average score being 12 (out of 100). This average masks considerable variation across countries and across stages of the budget cycle.

First, the survey finds that public engagement takes place more during the budget preparation stage than during budget implementation; more when the budget is approved by the legislature than when the legislature considers the Audit Report; and in a significant number of countries the Supreme Audit Institution engages publicly on the setting of its audit program.

Secondly, a small number of countries are engaging the public across the whole budget cycle and exhibit many good practices (Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom). A much more diverse group of countries achieved the top score for public engagement by the executive branch on at least one of the ten questions in the survey, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Fiji, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, and Ukraine. More than 80% of the countries surveyed (94 out of 115) have some form of participatory mechanism in place.

Open Budget Survey 2017 results for public participation: countries scoring 20 and above
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Source:   https://www.internationalbudget.org/open-budget-survey/

It is clear, however, that all countries need to enhance the inclusiveness, openness, and depth of existing public engagement mechanisms and implement similar mechanisms in other stages of the budget cycle.

What are the low average scores telling us?

First, direct public participation in the budget process is, in general, a very recent element in fiscal transparency. Budgeting has traditionally been conducted within government institutions, and the first generation of international fiscal transparency initiatives was essentially confined to the disclosure of fiscal information. While there is a clear move towards more openness in budgeting – reflected for example in the formation of the Open Government Partnership – this trend is from a low base and, as noted, is uneven across different stages of the budget cycle.

Secondly, although based on experiences around the world, one needs to recognize that some of the GIFT Principles of Public Participation are aspirational. They flow from the assertion, in the 2011  GIFT High Level Principles of Fiscal Transparency, Participation and Accountabilityendorsed by the UN General Assembly – that direct public engagement in the design and implementation of fiscal policies is a right of citizens and taxpayers. This view goes back at least as far as the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 1789, which stated: ‘All citizens have the right to ascertain, personally or through their representatives, the necessity of the public tax, to consent to it freely, to know how it is spent, and to determine its amount, basis, mode of collection, and duration.’ (Article 14).

Reflecting an emerging consensus, International fiscal transparency standards have very recently started to incorporate a few elements of direct pubic participation e.g. in the IMF’s Fiscal Transparency Code[1], and OECD instruments.

There are, however, few specific standards yet on what constitutes a recognized practice in engaging the public in central government budget management. The OBS is playing a pioneering role in helping to define the sorts of practices that reflect sound principles. The OBS is also now collecting invaluable information on what is taking place on the ground in 115 countries. This will prove a valuable resource for practitioners and researchers in government, legislatures, Supreme Audit Institutions, civil society, international institutions, and indeed standard setters, to draw on in strengthening public engagement.

Thirdly, some of the main reasons the participation scores are generally so low is that most countries are not making the effort to engage with even a minimally diverse set of citizens and interests, and are not providing feedback to the public on how their inputs were considered or used. The GIFT Participation Principles stress inclusiveness and respect for self-expression for a very good reason: to try to avoid public participation being dominated by the ‘usual voices’, the best connected, lobbyists, the wealthy, or narrow elites. Warren Krafchik, director of the International Budget Partnership, has described budgets as sitting ‘at the nexus of democracy and inequality.’ Governments can easily go through the motions and claim to be listening to the public when their intention is the reverse. In a change from the 2015 Survey, the 2017 OBS therefore measures efforts to engage widely and with the marginalized and vulnerable. One effect of this change is that countries such as South Korea that rely more on expert-based participation rather than broad public participation, score considerably lower in the 2017 Survey. While open external expert scrutiny, input and deliberation is a valuable form of public participation, it is not a substitute for wide engagement across society.

If more governments do not become more inclusive in how they design and implement taxation and public spending, we are much less likely to counter the negative trends with respect to inequality, willingness to pay taxes, and trust in government. One challenge from OBS 2017 is to work much harder on inclusive public engagement in the management of public finances. As GIFT’s founders recognized in 2011, direct public engagement has the potential to transform the disclosure of fiscal information into more effective accountability and better development outcomes. And the ICT revolution has given it a major shot in the arm, by dramatically cutting the cost of direct interactions between governments and citizens, as well as by making possible entirely new forms of public participation.

It also needs to be recognized that, like any survey, the OBS has to contain its scope to be manageable. With respect to public engagement by the executive branch of government, the 2017 Survey for the most part measures direct interactions between central finance ministries and the public. We know that a lot of direct public engagement is implemented by line ministries and agencies that actually deliver public services or make payments to citizens (as revealed by the findings for the question in the OBS that applies to line ministries). There is again limited practical guidance on what constitutes good practice in this area. GIFT is compiling examples of public participation across the whole budget cycle in a Guide to Public Participation. GIFT’s strategy for 2018-2020 is to ‘put the citizen at the centre of fiscal transparency’, by focusing, for instance, on the availability and accessibility of budget information at the individual service delivery unit level (e.g. school or health center), to foster citizen monitoring, on-going direct interactions with service recipients and local communities, and more effective accountability.

Finally, looking ahead, it is interesting to note that, while OBS results suggest that progress on increasing the disclosure of budget information has stalled for the first time since the launch of the Open Budget Index (OBI) in 2006, this is less true for countries that are members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). For the 102 countries that were in both the 2015 and 2017 surveys, the average change in OBI scores was -2% – although this decline in part reflects the fact that the 2017 survey introduced a more demanding requirement that all documents be available on government web sites rather than in hard copy[2]. Leaving that aside, for the 52 OGP member countries covered by the OBS the average change in score was -0.7, while for non-OGP members the average change was – 3.1.[3] The relative difference across the two groups remains largely the same even if OECD countries are removed from both groups.

 

The significance of this with respect to public participation is that the OGP is built on a co-creation model in which governments and civil society work together. Around a third of all the commitments made by OGP member governments are fiscal transparency commitments, many of which involve direct public engagement in one form or another. The OGP recognizes that fiscal transparency resides at the very core of open government.  GIFT and the OGP Support Unit have been working together since 2012 through peer to peer technical collaboration workshops (Fiscal Openness Working Group), bringing ministry of finance officials and in-country CSOs together to encourage the adoption of more ambitious commitments to fiscal openness, and to support them in implementing their commitments. In a world where there has been some shrinking of civic space, expanding membership of the OGP, and providing more support for OGP members, offers an important way forward.

Murray Petrie, GIFT Lead Technical Advisor

 

[1] See Principle 2.3.3 in the IMF Code, and the section on Openness and Civic Engagement in the OECD Budget Transparency Toolkit.

[2] To the extent that countries have shifted from hard copy publication of budget documents and fiscal reports to web-based publication, there has been an unmeasured increase in the accessibility of budget information. Some countries also published hard copy documents for the first time that would previously have been recognized by the OBS. In addition, some countries have improved the accessibility and ease of understanding of fiscal information on web sites through setting up Fiscal Data Portals (See: Materials used during the Fiscal Transparency Portals Workshop, Jakarta 2016).

[3] This analysis excludes the three countries that have withdrawn from the OGP.

How are the GIFT Principles on Public Participation in Fiscal Policy being incorporated in international fiscal openness instruments?

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Summary:
Principle 10 of the GIFT High Level Principles on Fiscal Transparency asserts that citizens have a right to participate directly in fiscal policy design and implementation. GIFT has subsequently developed a set of Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy.  The Principles have directly influenced the design of international instruments such as the Open Budget Survey, and are becoming recognized as an emerging norm on how governments should manage the public finances. Since 2014 GIFT has been working pro-actively through the OGP-Fiscal Openness Working Group to support the implementation of more ambitious commitments on open budgeting in Open Government Partnership Action Plans. The OGP and GIFT are partnering in release of a Guide on Principles and Mechanisms on Public Participation in Fiscal Policy at the Paris OGP Summit in December.

So what is public participation in fiscal policy?

Principle Ten of the GIFT High Level Principles on Fiscal Transparency, Participation, and Accountability establishes that: ‘Citizens and non-state actors should have the right and effective opportunities to participate directly in public debate and discussion over the design and implementation of fiscal policies.’ [i] The basic idea is that fiscal transparency reaches its broader potential when people use fiscal information and get involved in decisions on the use of public resources.

This was the first time that such a right to public participation in fiscal policy had been asserted in an international normative instrument. It reflected the view of GIFT’s Lead Stewards that public participation is a potential game-changer: participation could, over time, fundamentally strengthen accountability, and improve the fairness, effectiveness and sustainability of fiscal policies. This in turn is expected to result in improved social, economic and environmental outcomes, the ultimate objectives of fiscal policy. Public participation also has the potential to improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of representative democracy and to increase public trust in government.

What is public participation? It refers to the variety of ways in which the public – including citizens, civil society organizations, business organizations, academics, and other non-state actors – interact directly with public authorities on policy design and implementation. Participation may be through face to face communication, deliberation or input to decision-making, or by written forms of communication including the internet. Participation ranges from one-off consultation to on-going and institutionalized relationships, such as regular public surveys, administrative review mechanisms, standing advisory bodies, or citizen representation on governing bodies.

Open and inclusive public participation processes stand in contrast to private negotiations or dealings of public officials. Open processes can give greater voice in a more transparent manner to a broader range of individual members of the public and civil society organizations that have a stake in, are affected by, or are intended to benefit from fiscal policies.

Public participation in fiscal policy, as defined by GIFT, covers participation across the whole annual budget cycle; in new policy initiatives or reviews (e.g. on revenues or expenditures) that extend over a longer period than the window for preparation of the annual budget; in the design, production and delivery of public goods and services; and in the planning, appraisal, implementation and review of public investment projects.

The potential of public participation has of course been hugely boosted by the ICT revolution that has dramatically lowered the cost of direct interaction between citizens and governments while also creating entirely new spaces for citizen input and deliberation.

Why is public participation in budgeting being described as ‘the next frontier in fiscal transparency’?

The first generation of international fiscal transparency reforms focused on the need for comprehensive information in budgets, forecasts and outturn reports. Experience has shown, however, that disclosure is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for accountability. Attention is now increasingly moving to translating public disclosure into more effective accountability by means of greater public engagement on fiscal management. ‘Public information and participation are mutually reinforcing. Access to adequate, timely, useful information is essential to informed, effective public participation. At the same time, opportunities for participation create the incentives for the public to request and utilize available information.’[ii]  And although public participation in budgeting is relatively new, the evidence attesting to its impact on resource allocation and service delivery, and development outcomes, is growing.

In recognition of the above, two major international institutions have endorsed the importance of public participation in budgeting as a complement to greater transparency. The International Monetary Fund’s revised Fiscal Transparency Code, published in 2014, includes the principle of direct public engagement in budget deliberations policy (principle 2.3.3). And the OECD’s Recommendation on Principles on Budgetary Governance, which forms part of the international law for member countries, stipulates that debate on budgetary choices should be inclusive, participative and realistic: ‘Parliament and citizens should be able to engage with and influence the discussion about budgetary policy options, according to their democratic mandate, competencies and perspectives’ (Principle 5).

What are the GIFT Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy?

To make the right to public participation practical and meaningful, GIFT has since 2012 implemented a multi-pronged work program to generate greater knowledge about country practices and innovations in citizen engagement. Outputs include country case studies, draft principles of public participation in fiscal policy, and instruments to measure public participation in fiscal policy.

The Participation Principles have been workshopped since 2012, and have been the subject of public consultation.[iii] There are ten inter-dependent principles: public participation in fiscal policy should be accessible; open; inclusive; respectful of self-expression; timely; informative; proportional; sustainable; complementary; and reciprocal. Further explanation of the principles can be found at www.fiscaltransparency.net/ParticipationPrinciples_GIFT_30Mar2016_ENG.docx

How have GIFT’s participation principles influenced international instruments and actions?

The International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) Open Budget Survey (OBS) lead the way when it introduced a section on public participation across the budget cycle in the 2012 Survey. This was the first cross-country instrument to measure levels of public participation in budgeting. Following the development of the draft GIFT participation principles, the IBP (a lead steward of GIFT) fundamentally re-designed Section 5 of the survey, on Public Engagement in the Budget Process, to fully incorporate the GIFT principles.

‘The revisions to the indicators on public participation align them with Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency’s new principles on public participation. These principles now serve as a basis for widely accepted norms on public participation in national budget processes.’[iv] (IBP).

Researchers began collecting data for the 2017 Survey in September, and will assess events, activities, and developments that occur before 31 December 2016. The 2017 survey and future surveys will therefore measure the extent to which country practices reflect the GIFT Participation Principles.

In addition, the IMF is revising its 2007 Guide on Resource Revenue Transparency, and will incorporate resource revenue issues in the Fiscal Transparency Code as a new Pillar IV of the Code. In its latest public consultation draft of Pillar IV, it has proposed incorporating direct public engagement ‘regarding the raising and utilization of resource revenues’ when completing a Fiscal Transparency Evaluation in a country dependent on natural resource revenues.[v]

What are some of the further channels through which the GIFT Participation Principles are gaining traction?

A key area of focus for GIFT is the Open Government Partnership. GIFT and the OGP established the Fiscal Openness Working Group in 2013 to provide a venue for ministries of finance, CSOs and others to deliberate, share experiences, and expand fiscal transparency and public participation in fiscal policy in individual countries and regions.[vi]

Public participation is in the DNA of the OGP, and GIFT is excited to be working closely with the OGP Secretariat to jointly promote public participation in budgeting, one of the core areas of the OGP. The OGP represents an opportunity for the institutionalization of the GIFT Participation Principles.

To that end, GIFT and the OGP are partnering to release a Guide on Principles and Mechanisms of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy at the OGP Summit in Paris from 7-9 December. The Guide will provide detailed information on country practices that illustrate the participation principles across different dimensions of fiscal policy. The Guide is intended for use by ministries of finance and line ministries, legislatures, Supreme Audit Institutions, and citizens, CSOs, private sector entities, research institutes and academics that are seeking to initiate or to engage in public deliberation.

In addition, the OECD, together with GIFT and leading international institutions, is developing a Budget Transparency Toolkit for the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group. The Toolkit is intended to serve as a gateway to the range of recognized international standards and norms on budget transparency and participation. Reflecting GIFT High Level Principle 10, the framework for the Toolkit contains a section on ‘Openness and civic engagement,’ and the GIFT Public Participation Principles are cited in support of three of the good practices in the draft.

There are two further mechanisms through which the GIFT Participation Principles seem likely to generate impetus for increased public engagement in fiscal policy. The first is through a supplementary module that GIFT has designed for a PEFA (Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability) assessment.[vii] The module utilizes the PEFA approach to performance measurement to facilitate assessment during a PEFA mission and the integration of the results into a PEFA Performance Report as appropriate.  It comprises one indicator covering four discrete dimensions of public participation in fiscal policy covering both the legal framework for participation and actual levels of participation:

i. Public participation across the annual budget cycle.

ii. Public participation in the design and delivery of public services.

iii. Public participation in the appraisal and implementation of public investment projects.

iv. Participation in oversight processes.

The participation module is being piloted in the PEFA assessment of the Philippines.[viii]

Finally, the same indicator has been piloted by Global Integrity in a civil society assessment of public participation in fiscal policy in South Africa. Gary Pienaar, the Global Integrity in-country researcher, triangulated evidence by conducting desk research and interviews with government officials, civil society representatives, and academics. The study was peer reviewed by a National Treasury official. It provides an interesting illustration of the potential for detailed civil society monitoring and assessment in this emerging field, to complement the OBS.

Where to next?

Taken together, these developments represent the fairly rapid dissemination of a new international norm on how governments and other state entities should engage the public in the design and implementation of fiscal policies. GIFT will deepen this work through extending the Guide on Public Participation, and gathering more evidence of country practices and what works. In particular, GIFT’s work program will focus on connecting these initiatives more closely to the lives of ordinary citizens, by opening up the links between national budgets and the local delivery of public services, and by increasing the effectiveness of fiscal transparency in countering corruption.

 

Murray Petrie
Lead Technical Advisor
GIFT

[i] The GIFT High Level Principles were endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2012. The UNGA Resolution is available at www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/67/218
[ii] Participation is the next transparency frontier for OGP by Krafchik and Guerrero, at http://www.fiscaltransparency.net/blog/
[iii] [Link to ‘This is how your input helped us improve our new Public Participation Principles! ‘ http://www.fiscaltransparency.net/blog/]
[iv] http://www.internationalbudget.org/opening-budgets/open-budget-initiative/open-budget-survey/2017-news/
[v] See http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/consult/2016/ftc/
[vi] See ‘How transparent and participatory budgets and budget processes are currently in OGP countries’, ….
[vii] See www.pefa.org
[viii] http://www.fiscaltransparency.net/eng/webinar_open_public.php?IdToOpen=20151006101

Mexico became the first country to formally adopt the Open Fiscal Data Package!

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Mexico became the first country to formally adopt the Open Fiscal Data Package, an international open data standard promoted by GIFTGlobal Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, in collaboration with Open Knowledge International and the World Bank, with the support of Omidyar Network.

 

The announcement was made during an event hosted by the Ministry of Finance of Mexico to present the Executive’s Budget Proposal for 2017. The Ministry also revealed that it published the 2008-2016 Federal Budget on its website. The data was prepared using the OpenSpending Viewer, a tool which allows the users to upload and analyze data, and create visualizations.

 

For the past few months, OpenSpending, in collaboration with the GIFT and WB-BOOST initiative  team, has been working with the Ministry of Finance of Mexico to pilot the OpenSpending tools and the Open Fiscal Data Package (OFDP). The OFDP powers the new version of the OpenSpending tools used to publish Mexico’s Federal Budget data. The OFDP helps make data releases more comparable and useful.

 

The data package, embedded on Ministry of Finance’s web page, enables users to analyse the 2008-2016 budget, to create visualizations on all or selected spending sectors and share their personalized visualizations. All data is available for download in open format, while the API allows users to create their own apps based on this data.

Explore the visualization!


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In the next few months, GIFT in collaboration with Open Knowledge International team will pilot the OFDP specification in a number of other countries. The specification and the OpenSpending tools are free and available to use to any interested stakeholder. To find out more, on how to engage with GIFT, the Lead Stewards and/or the GIFT streams of work, please contact GIFT’s Network Director, Juan Pablo Guerrero (guerrero@fiscaltransparency.net) or write to info@fiscaltransparency.net

 

Upload financial data, browse datasets and learn more about public finances from around the worldlet’s work together to build the world’s largest fiscal data repository.

How open are budgets in OGP member countries and what are the trends?

This post is the second in a short series that GIFT will be running to provide ideas for the 51 member countries currently preparing their next Action Plans. The first post discussed the steps OGP countries should take in their next Action Plans to increase fiscal transparency and participation. A third post will look at how well countries have implemented the OGP commitments on fiscal transparency in their first Action Plans.  The posts draw on a series of GIFT papers, ‘Fiscal Transparency in Open Government Partnership Countries, and the Implementation of OGP Commitments: An Analysis’, prepared for successive meetings of the OGP-Fiscal Openness Working Group, and on GIFT case studies of public participation in fiscal policy.

 

So how open are budgets in OGP member countries?

In summary, there are some outstanding examples amongst OGP countries of rapid increases in fiscal transparency in recent years, although the average score and pace of improvement are low, and some OGP countries have gone backwards. It is notable that many of the rapid gains came from publication of documents that governments were already producing for their internal use and for donors, but not making publicly available.

The best way to measure budget transparency is to draw on data from the Open Budget Survey (OBS) compiled by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) and used to compile country scores on the Open Budget Index (OBI). The OBS is the most comprehensive cross-country data on current practices with respect to fiscal transparency.[1] There have been five OBS surveys since 2006, with country coverage increasing from 59 countries in 2006 to 102 countries in 2015. The OBS is also the source of data on whether a country meets the minimum entry requirements for budget transparency for the OGP – which are the publication of the Executive’s Budget Proposal and the Audit Report.

So what does the Open Budget Survey tell us?

First, 29 of the 47 OGP countries are categorized in the OBI as providing insufficient budget information to the public. These 29 OGP members scored 60 or below in the 2015 OBS. Four of those countries provide minimal budget information, the second lowest category. In terms of OGP regions, average OBI scores were as follows: Africa 55; Asia 62; Europe 59; the Americas 58.

Second, on average, the pace of improvement in budget transparency is slow. Across all OGP countries in the Survey there was an average increase of only +2 on the OBI between the 2012 and 2015 surveys – which is lower than the +3 improvement on average for all countries in the OBS.

Third, progress is very uneven across OGP members. Figure 1 shows the distribution of absolute changes in OGP member country scores from each country’s first inclusion in the OBS to the 2015 survey, by size of change and number of countries.

OGP_post_Murray_01

 

 

Fourth, there are some outstanding examples amongst OGP countries of rapid increases in fiscal transparency. The maximum possible score on the OBI is 100, so the following increases in scores (drawn from the same data as in Figure 1) represent major step-increases in the level of budget transparency.

  • In Africa: Malawi +37; Liberia +35;
  • In the Americas: Honduras +31; Dominican Republic +39; El Salvador +25;
  • In Asia: Mongolia +33; Azerbaijan +21; Indonesia +17;
  • In Europe: Georgia +32; Tunisia +31; Bulgaria +18; Albania +13; Croatia +11.

Fifth, there are also some notable examples of backsliding on fiscal transparency amongst OGP members in the most recent period.  Notable reductions in OBI scores (falls of 10 or more on the OBI between the 2012 and 2015 surveys) include: United Kingdom (-13), Korea (-10), Slovak Republic (-10), and Honduras (-10). And there are four OGP members that, in the 2015 OBS did not meet the minimum fiscal transparency eligibility criteria for OGP membership in terms of the availability of the Audit Report: Malawi, Tunisia, Liberia, and Spain.

The OGP member with the greatest improvement between the 2012 OBS and 2015 OBS was Tunisia, which increased its score by 31 points by publishing the Executive’s Budget Proposal and Citizens Budget. Romania (+28) and the Dominican Republic (+22) both saw substantial improvements to their OBI score by improving the comprehensiveness of the Executive’s Budget Proposal. Peru, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Italy, Malawi, Georgia, and El Salvador all improved by 10 points or more.

How well do OGP countries score on public participation in budgeting, and on the strength of legislative oversight?

The average public engagement score in 2015 for all 102 countries surveyed was only 25 out of 100, while for OGP member countries the average was 36. This means that OGP members are significantly more open than non-members, on average. However, in absolute terms a score or 36 means that on average OGP countries included in the OBS only provide weak opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process.

Table 1 shows the average participation scores by OGP region for OGP members.

OGP_post_Murray_02

 

The stand out performer on public participation across all 102 countries in the 2015 OBS was South Korea, with a score of 83. This is in sharp contrast to Korea’s record of public consultation in developing and implementing its first and second OGP Action Plans. The  IRM reports for this country found that it was unclear how, if at all, the government engaged the public in the development or implementation of the Action Plans.

Other OGP members that scored above 60 for public participation in the 2015 Survey were Norway (75), Brazil (71), USA (69), the Philippines (67), South Africa (65), and New Zealand (65).

With respect to the strength of legislative oversight, there is a very wide range of scores across countries, although, as illustrated in Table 2 below, there is limited regional variation.

OGP_post_Murray_03

 

Notable findings with respect to legislative oversight are that 19 OGP countries (40% of all OGP members) do not have a specialized budget research office attached to the legislature, and in 22 OGP countries (47%) there was a weak or no quality assurance system for audits.

So what steps should OGP countries take in their next Action Plans to increase fiscal transparency and participation?

As noted, many of the rapid increases in OBI scores achieved by a number of OGP members in recent years have come from publication of budget documents that were already produced for internal use and for donors, but were not being made available to the public. Simply deciding to publish such reports and documents would be a very effective and low-cost step that many countries should consider to rapidly increase transparency. The first post in this series looked in-depth at this and other specific actions that OGP members should be considering now to increase transparency and public participation in budgeting in their next Action Plans. The final post in this series will analyse how well countries implemented the fiscal openness commitments in their first Action Plans.

 

Murray Petrie

GIFT Lead Technical Advisor

 

[1] See ‘Defining the Technical Content of Global Norms: Synthesis and Analytic Review Revised Phase 1 Report for the GIFT Advancing Global Norms Working Group.  http://fiscaltransparency.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/GIFT-Defining-the-Technical-Content-of-Global-Norms-Synthesis-and-Analytic-Review.pdf