In the book titled Open Budgets: The political economy of fiscal transparency, participation, and accountability around the world, (S. Khagram, P. De Renzio, A. Fung), the authors analyse how and why improvements in fiscal transparency and participation have transpired. They conclude that four main factors contribute to improvements in fiscal transparency and public participation in fiscal policies across countries:
- Political transitions, from an autocratic rule to systems where political contestation and alternation are allowed, and oversight bodies have greater powers;
- Fiscal and economic crises that force governments to tighten controls over public funds and put in place mechanisms and incentives for fiscal discipline and independent scrutiny;
- Widely publicized cases of corruption that compel governments to enhance the public’s access to fiscal information; and
- External influences that promote global norms and thereby empower domestic reformers and civil society actors, improving both the public’s right to access information and fiscal transparency.
With the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis, the last three of these factors have become even more dominant. Fiscal and economic crises are widespread, with their depth and duration still largely unknown. Risks of corruption, with many cases already confirmed, are huge in every corner of the world, for example in the procurement of hospital supplies, and have been widely denounced by investigative media and civil society organizations (CSOs). External influences are also prevalent in many developing countries, as countries are heavily dependent on external aid to provide emergency relief and funding. The case for increasing fiscal transparency is unarguable.
The role of these factors can be demonstrated by considering the significant increases in budget transparency, over the years, in some of the countries analysed by the IBP’s Open Budget Survey (OBS). South Africa, Mexico, Georgia and Brazil have managed to become top OBS performers by disclosing extensive budget information to the public. Key factors explain their good results: a political transition to a democratic government, corruption scandals, and teams of government reformers that have led budget transparency improvements in a constructive and sustained dialogue with civil society organizations, in line with globally publicized norms and standards.
Similarly, Guatemala, Indonesia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Ukraine and Croatia, all rapidly improved their fiscal transparency levels within relatively short periods (reaching sufficient levels of budget transparency with scores above 61 out of 100 in the OBS 2019). Corruption scandals, economic crises, external pressure or incentives (such as those provided by open government agendas and bolstered access to financial markets) are also present in these examples.
Returning to the COVID-19 crises, it needs to be stated upfront that the first responses to the health emergency have generally not been as transparent as desired. Exceptional responses to the pandemic have challenged the traditional processes used to ensure fiscal transparency and maintain accountability. For instance, there are examples where national legislatures were by-passed in a rush to reallocate budget, at least in respect of the initial responses to the emergency; the public’s opinion has also rarely been sought and/or thoroughly considered. More than 40 countries have established special extra-budgetary funds for crisis response, often neglecting however to install sound governance arrangements and without appropriate checks and balances being put in place to ensure that the funds reach their intended beneficiaries and are transparently reported. Consequently, COVID-19 related emergency fiscal measures will also likely prove hard to track as countries tend to be less transparent regarding budget execution than they are regarding their budget plans. Even in cases where finance’s ministries have detailed information on the fiscal measures announced and implemented, they may struggle to track the use of emergency funds given that they are spent in chaotic environments often to get funds out the door quickly without necessarily having all the checks and balances to ensure they reach their intended beneficiaries and ultimately achieve the aims of the relief efforts.
That said, there are good examples of fiscal transparency during the COVID-19 crises. In some cases, civil society organizations and citizen engagements have played key roles in the design and implementation of support packages. These examples are, however, scarce.
To assist in this, the GIFT network has produced a guide to help governments clearly identify the datasets and data fields that should be integrated and disclosed to ensure that transparency is embedded in their COVID-19 policy responses. The goal of the Guide is to ensure that emergency responses, economic recovery packages and financial rescue plans include, from the outset, transparency requirements and that the datasets of such measures set in place, are open by design. It is, however, acknowledged that overall, fiscal transparency will inevitably suffer in 2020 as governments scramble to shift priorities and realign tax and spending policies to preserve the health of their populations and economies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented global recession, forcing governments to respond with enormous fiscal packages and budgetary measures not seen in a generation. Fiscal rules have been put on hold: deficits, debt, adjustments, reallocations are beyond any realm that would have been deemed acceptable before March 2020. Overwhelming and painful social and economic costs has been paid and will continue to be paid for many years to come. Given these high fiscal costs, many of the current measures should actually be embedded in medium-term fiscal frameworks, while measures that are not included in revenue or expense, such as government guarantees of business loans, should be transparently managed and recorded to mitigate potential fiscal risks. Crises, however, also open up opportunities, including the chance to reassess the true essence of current goals and to consequently review and realign priorities, especially in those areas in which the impact has been more salient and adverse.
After the emergency, the incentives for governments to enhance transparency are going to be related to the need to tighten controls over expenditure, and to put in place mechanisms for budget efficiency and independent scrutiny. External influences will press for more transparency as preconditions for investment and support. In such scenarios, the need for: efficient and effective spending avoiding misallocations and waste; to access financial markets; and to discuss significant tax reforms will undoubtedly favour fiscal transparency.
As such, and despite the drastic and painful costs of COVID-19, there will likely be opportunities for fiscal transparency in its aftermath. If this push towards enhanced fiscal transparency transpires, the conditions will also be set for enhancing accountability and participation from non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders. Given that the pandemic so negatively affects inclusiveness, poverty, health and education, to name but a few areas, the scene might also be propitious for advocating for political debates and increased accountability, a key pre-requisite for budgets to start systematically including the Sustainable Development Goals. CSOs can be expected to engage in public debates on how to better follow the money, and communities will want to participate in the execution of public resources that directly affect their lives.
The challenges are immense, though. According to World Bank calculations, the pandemic could push close to 50 million people into extreme poverty in 2020. COVID-19 will have dramatic implications on the pursuit of the 2030 development agenda, and the need to re-engage all stakeholders in this effort. According to the Paper prepared by the Committee of Experts on Public Administration for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to enable SDG budgeting, a country must align the SDG framework with its national context and priorities. It must actively involve the Ministry of Finance as the lead of an SDG-based negotiation on resource allocations and coherence within the overall national budget. It is also essential that the tools and processes developed to integrate the SDGs into national budgets are adopted by stakeholders, such as non-government organizations, parliamentarians and supreme audit institutions, as these actors are crucial in holding governments to account regarding their commitments to the 2030 Agenda.
For many countries, the emergency has marked a forced adjustment with unimaginable reconsiderations and reallocations in the budget process. Post-crisis, countries may therefore have an opportunity to realign their priorities towards the SDG objectives, especially in those areas in which the impact has been more salient or negative. In such context, engaging in a more open dialogue with civil society partners and invite public participation for achieving the development goals will be indispensable for success. Of course, high-level political support will be an important condition for success, since ultimately the entire process of SDG budgeting is political.
Improving public investments management through government-civil society coalitions
In achieving openness, transparency is only one side of the equation, and its impact will depend on the use given to relevant information and how to close the feedback loop to create better accountability. Government-civil society coalitions are light touch and scalable participation initiatives that enable collaboration in a semi-formal flexible setting for dialogue among different stakeholders, to achieve specific objectives of improving certain processes and policies that affect sustainable development. The coalitions bring together the GIFT agenda in different levels, as they: rely in the publication of digital tools, including the better collection of data, user-centered publication and open data; encourage the adoption of public participation mechanisms by helping break barriers related to questions about the possible effects of participation, while simultaneously establishing bases for trust and collaboration among stakeholders of different sectors; and are strengthened through peer-collaboration at the international level, as practitioners from the different countries from civil society and government co-create the mechanisms and share their specific focus, methods and lessons learned.
How it works
Governments, through their Ministry of Finance, Public Works or similar, and one or more CSOs, launch an open invitation to participate in the Rally #DataOnTheStreets. People register to the event and go through the construction projects dataset or mapping platforms published and select the ones they want to visit. Knowing the location and coordinates they go out to check out the projects, comparing what they see on the dataset and what they see on the streets. Participants document their findings through social media (Facebook or Twitter), posting creatively and engaging their own network. At the end, judges, representatives from government and civil society (coordinated by GIFT), choose the winners based on number of projects visited, creativity, engagement and, of course, extra points for data analysis.
Previous results and testimonials
Since 2017, GIFT started to support the #DataOnTheStreets Rally (initiated in Mexico by the MoF in 2016), which enables civil society-government collaboration to close the feedback loop in public investments projects management. The Rally has also been held in Chile and Colombia, with more countries joining.
The Rally helps identify strengths and gaps in the implementation of investment projects, as well as in the related data flows inside of the government. Experience shows that participants tend to be non-data specialists, expanding the audience using open data and engaging civil society in follow the money activities.
In Chile, the rally has engaged a growing community of stakeholder, including construction and private sector associations, the public works ministry and remarkably, the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI). Such new community gathered around the quest of better monitoring of public infrastructure have triggered specific actions in data gathering and monitoring from the Ministry of Public Works and the SAI.
In Mexico, the Rally has the longest history (since 2016). From the findings and lessons learned, the MoF has also renovated the systems for public investments management and the system for reporting subnational governments projects, which improves data quality for monitoring and decision-making. All the reports of inconsistencies and possible mismanagement are directed to the social auditing office and the comptroller. From the experience there is a long-standing coalition with the co-hosting CSO (SocialTic), working on improving transparency and co-developing the “How to Understand the Budget? Massive Open Online Course”.
In Colombia, the impact of the Rally (2018 and 2019) and the Dataquest (2019) has reached the National Development Plan, including a provision to incorporate cross-cutting budgets in the budget process that match the categories of projects included in the Rally and the Dataquest, these are: gender, process for peace and inclusion of indigenous groups. Currently, as follow-up, GIFT is providing technical assistance and enabling peer-exchange to develop the cross-cutting budgets.
What you need to host your own Rally?
- Open data of public constructions being built or finished from national or subnational level projects. The data must have: descriptive name of the project, geolocation, budget allocated to the project, financial progress, physical progress.
- If available, it is best to have the data paired with visualizations, such as maps and photos.
- A government and a civil society convener. The initiative can be initiated from any side, but it is important to work together.
- A team in charge of dissemination, answering participant questions, following posts and counting points.
- Let us know you want to host a Rally!
Any question or further information?
Please contact Lorena Rivero at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tarick Gracida at email@example.com
Project supported by the OGP Multi-Donor Trust Fund and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF – Banco de Desarrollo de América).
Until 2019 Austrian municipalities followed the rules of cameralistic system. The budgeting and also accounting was done according to a cash-flow oriented system. From the beginning of 2020 an accrual system consisting of three perspectives must be implemented. The income statement (Ergebnishaushalt) shows the resource flows within the municipality. The cash flow statement (Finanzierungshaushalt) shows the cash inflows and outflows. The balance sheet statement (Vermögenshaushalt) includes balances of property, accounts receivable, accounts payable, loans etc. With this shift to a resource oriented concept a holistic assessment of municipal households is possible.
The introduction of the new accrual accounting system in Austria as of 2020 made it necessary to implement a major relaunch of the platform. In fact, Open Spending Austria has been completely rewritten and redesigned.
As data currently is only available in for the planned budget of 2020, only two of the three budget components can be visualized (see figure). The two components already available are the cash flow statement (left) and the income statement (right) For the third component (middle, the balance sheet statement), data from the actual spending 2020 will be needed that will be available as of spring 2021.
Currently, more then 1.100 municipalities in Austria have disclosed their spending data on the platform, which is more then 53 percent. And more are joining every month…
There is considerable interest amongst officials in national ministries of finance in how they can directly engage the public in the design and implementation of fiscal policies. GIFT’s Guide on Public Participation contains numerous individual case studies of public engagement mechanisms across a number of countries.
We decided to drill down further into one MOF – the NZ Treasury – to get a better understanding of the range of public engagements recently completed or under way, and to explore with the responsible managers/senior analysts how the Treasury managed them. Table 1 lists them, and the GIFT public participation principles they best illustrate.
Table 1 Public Engagements by the NZ Treasury 2018-19
|Individual engagement||Stage of policy cycle||Mechanism type||Participation principle illustrated|
|1. Tax reform||Policy design||Time-limited Working Group||Openness, inclusiveness, respect for self-expression, timeliness, depth, proportionality,|
|2. Independent Fiscal Institution||Institutional design||One-off consultation||Openness, depth|
|3. New Infrastructure Agency||Institutional design||One-off consultation||Openness, depth|
|4. Open budget||Budget preparation||One-off consultation||Accessibility, openness, timeliness|
|5. Social Investment Panel||Budget preparation||Regular in-year consultation*||Openness, depth|
|6. Earthquake Commission review||Design and implementation||Multi-year consultation||Openness, timeliness, depth|
|7. Long term fiscal statement||Policy design||Every 4 years||Openness, inclusiveness|
|8. School and university outreach||Design and implementation||Annual exercise||Openness|
* Not operating since early 2018
Two general points stand out from Table 1:
- With only one exception, these engagements took place outside the annual budget cycle and are therefore not measured by the Open Budget Survey.
- The topics on which public engagement took place are much broader than how government spending is allocated. Consultations spanned macro-fiscal policy, tax policy, the design of fiscal institutions, current expenditures, public investment, and government-provided insurance.
The relatively large number of public engagement exercises reflects a combination of long-standing government practice to consult on significant new policies (engagements 1 and 6), a new government’s agenda (1,2,3), an initiative by the previous government (5), and Treasury’s own operational practices (4, 7, and 8). In one or two cases the government directed the Treasury to consult, in one or two cases the Treasury recommended to Ministers that consultation should take place.
With respect to the GIFT Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy, the Tax Reform Working Group best illustrates the range of principles, reflecting that it was a major consultation exercise. Over all the engagements the principle of proportionality is broadly reflected in the relative effort and time devoted to each. The principle of complementarity is illustrated by those exercise where the executive engaged during the development of policy, to be followed by public consultation by the legislature on draft legislation e.g. engagements 2 and 3. An area of relative weakness is the provision of feedback on how public inputs are used, which is often subject to quite long delays and is generally lacking in detail.
What are some of the practical elements in each of these public engagements?
- Tax policy reform: in the mid-1990s NZ introduced a Generic Tax Policy Process which includes public consultation, publication of an annual tax policy work program, scheduling of two tax Bills per year outside the annual budget to avoid budget secrecy and time constraints, frequent consultations on small policy and changes to tax administration, and occasional major external reviews of tax policy. A Tax Working Group (TWG) was set up in November 2017 chaired by a former deputy P.M/Minister of Finance. The other ten members spanned tax law practitioners, academics, business, community, Maori community, and sustainable development. The TWG was supported by a secretariat of officials from Treasury and the Inland Revenue Department acting independently from their in-line responsibilities. A two-month public consultation (March – April 2018) was followed by other public engagements following release of an interim report in September 2018. The final report was published in February 2019. Box 1 describes the special efforts the TWG made to consult Maori (NZ’s indigenous people).
|Box 1: Inclusive engagement in tax reform
Maori comprise about 15% of NZ’s population, their rights are established in the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 and have been recognized in law in recent decades. Consultation and partnership with Maori is now an essential part of public policy in NZ. Recently government has introduced central Guidelines on engaging with Maori.
Tax reform engagement with Maori started with informal ‘soft testing’ of the planned consultation process with 8-10 Maori leaders (identified on the advice of Treasury’s Principal Advisor Maori, and from established networks). Based on this, formal meetings were held around NZ on selected tribal marae (meeting grounds).
Efforts made to recognize the specific cultural context were important for successful engagements: terminology (‘partners’, not ‘stakeholders’); personal connection; consultations held on Maori ‘home ground’; appropriate catering; attention to giving personal feedback.
The importance of positive engagement was recognized: ‘we want to hear your views’, not ‘ we are required to consult you’.
- Establishing an Independent Fiscal Institution (IFI): an election commitment of the new government. The Treasury produced a draft public consultation document drawing on existing Treasury, OECD and IMF networks and publications. The document required staff time of 2 FTEs over 2 months plus the time of a contractor to edit. The consultation document was published on 12 September 2018, and submissions closed on 24 October. Two consultation workshops were held in Wellington, and officials visited the IFI in Australia for 2 days of discussions. 25 submissions were received, 24 of which were published in March 2019 together with a summary. The government has yet to announce its decisions. The Treasury would have liked more time to consult e.g. consult outside the capital city, and more cross-agency consultation.
- Consultation on new infrastructure body: an initiative of the new Minister for Infrastructure, concerned about a major infrastructure deficit and the need for better information and coordination. The Treasury published a consultation document on 8 October 2018, disseminated via the web and social media, which included a questionnaire (using Likert scales for some questions). Submissions were required by 26 October via an online survey or submission template or other written form. Meetings were held during October with stakeholders in the three main cities, plus Sydney, Australia (hosted at individual business premises), and at the Treasury. Invitees were identified from mailing lists and were also asked to pass the invitation on to other interested parties. An Expert Review Panel supported the Treasury throughout. 130 submissions were received, which were assessed individually by one analyst, the themes extracted, and a summary compiled and reported to Ministers. Some Treasury advice was based on what was in the submissions. The submissions and brief summary and the Cabinet paper were published in February 2019. The Treasury indicated that if it had more time it would have gone back to more individual submitters to explore interesting ideas. In February 2019 the Government announced the form, functions and name of the new body, legislation was introduced into Parliament in April with an opportunity for public submissions, and the new Infrastructure Commission is expected to be operational later in 2019.
- Consultation on open budgets: a commitment in NZ’s 2016-2018 Open Government Partnership Action Plan to ‘make the budget more accessible and open.’ Due to a tight timeline, and the need for specialist research skills, Treasury commissioned a survey research company to seek stakeholder views (tendered at a cost of NZ$42,000, funded within Treasury’s existing budget baseline). Treasury compiled a list of stakeholders (seeking both the ‘usual voices’ and ‘new voices’), which was finalised in discussion with the contractor. 35 qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted: Media (5), industry reps (4), analysts (3), financial orgs (3), academics (3), international organisations (2), indigenous groups (4), social and community service groups (6), and professional network groups (4). The contractor prepared the interview questions which were finalised in discussion with Treasury. Interviews were up to one hour, took place over two months, half were conducted face-to-ace and half by phone. The contractor’s report contained recommendations, was discussed by Treasury’s senior management group, and reported to the Minister. Changes were introduced in the 2018 Budget documents partly as a result of the consultation: new “Economic and Fiscal Update Basics” and ‘Budget at a Glance’, more data in open data formats, and more historical data.
- Social Investment Panel: convened by Treasury in recent years to assess selected line ministry budget proposals. It met in two stages: to determine which proposals should be further developed for the next budget; and 4 months later, to prioritize proposals for inclusion in the budget. The Panel included NGOs, academics, a Maori representative, other external organisations, and senior officials from Treasury and selected agencies. Panel members were selected by an informal process based on what perspectives were needed, not what organizations should be represented. There were rules to manage conflicts of interest. A report was submitted to Treasury senior management and relevant ministers (posted on Treasury website) with the Panel’s assessments of proposed policy initiatives. It is considered that the Panel helped the Minister of Finance deal with spending ministers. However, the Panel has not met since early 2018 following a change of government (2017 Open Budget Survey of NZ, Q. 125).
- Earthquake Commission review: EQC is a government entity that provides homeowners with disaster insurance. Following a major 2011 earthquake the government announced a review in 2012 of EQC’s insurance claims management and insurance coverage issues. The consultation process was led by the Treasury: initial informal ‘soft consultation’, listening, to identify and understand the issues; used the general Community Advisory Group set up for all post-earthquake issues; needed careful stakeholder management with multiple points of engagement with different interests. Officials talked in detail to insurance companies and the Insurance Coucil, enabling them to develop initial ideas in confidence. There were potential Competition Policy (anti-trust) constraints on individuals’ comments at group discussions amongst competing insurance companies. Treasury maintained a high degree of openness, giving formal feedback to all participants at group meetings to avoid mixed messages. The consultation document was not published until 2015, containing 22 specific proposals, 62 submissions were received. Due to a long delay in government decisions, submissions were withheld under the Official Information Act (issue still under active consideration), and not released until 2017. Initial legislation was prepared in 2018, public submissions were heard by Parliamentary Select Committee, and the Bill passed into law in February 2019. Other elements of the review are on-going.
- Long term Fiscal Statement 2016: the Public Finance Act requires the Treasury to report to Parliament every 4 years on the long term fiscal position. Treasury’s public engagement process for the 2016 Statement included a national representative survey of over 1,00 people e.g. on trade-offs between a range of things that people value, such as OECD Better Life Index dimensions. The Treasury also facilitated a series of small workshops and discussions with people from various cultures, occupations, ages, and regions.
- Treasury outreach to schools and universities: The Treasury regularly sets challenges and competitions aimed at secondary schools and at universities.
- The topics on which public engagement took place are much broader than how government spending is allocated. Consultations spanned macro-fiscal policy, tax policy, the design of fiscal institutions, current expenditures, public investment, and government-provided insurance.
- With one exception, these engagements took place outside the annual budget cycle and are therefore not measured by the Open Budget Survey.
- Where the Treasury itself initiated public consultation, it did so to increase its understanding of policy problems and to improve the quality of its policy advice to government.
- The public engagements utilised a wide variety of engagement mechanisms:
- one-off exercises, time-limited working groups, and regular annual mechanisms (e.g. the Social Investment Panel)
- single stage consultation (at times preceded by informal ‘soft consultation’/listening) and multiple rounds of consultation
- expert-based consultations and consultations with the general public
- calls for submissions, public surveys, and in-depth focus group discussions
- formal government consultation as well as operational decisions by the Treasury to consult.
- Some public consultation was done with very short time frames reflecting political imperatives, but in one case consultation in a policy area has run for seven years and is not yet completed due again to political circumstances.
- The Treasury engages the public in the context of well-established non-government actors and patterns of interaction with civil society.
- Most of the work in researching and drafting public consultation documents, engaging with stakeholders, and assessing public submissions and advising ministers was performed by Treasury staff, within Treasury’s existing budget baseline, with limited contracting out of specific functions.
- The Treasury conducted these exercises on the basis of limited centralised guidelines for its staff (although there are protocols to manage confidentiality and privacy issues and potential conflicts of interest). There is a reliance on experienced staff that understand how government operates together with a strong culture of informal cross-Treasury discussion and sharing of experience.
- There are systematic delays (sometimes long) in publishing submissions and summaries of submissions; the general practice is not to publish submissions until government has made its decisions, which reduces the impact of submissions and the openness of the process.
- Specific efforts have been used to engage Maori (indigenous people) illustrating the GIFT principle of inclusive engagement (Box 1), and Treasury has institutionalised capacity to provide policy advice on and to engage with Maori through creation of the position of Principle Advisor Maori.
One of the key learnings from the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals was that States need to strengthen their means of implementation to address the challenges posed by sustainable development. Such a challenge is even more significant when addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to their increased scope and interrelation of objectives. To address this task, the States should have robust Public Financial Management systems that enable them to have responsive institutions.
During this webinar series on SDGs composed by four webinars, we will cover different aspects of the institutional principles embedded in SDG 16 -access to information, transparency, accountability, anti-corruption, inclusiveness of decision-making processes, and non-discrimination- in respect to Public Financial Management. Additionally, we will analyze how the budget process is instrumental to the fulfillment of the SDGs, as well as experiences on how countries are progressing in linking their budget process with the SDGs. Finally, we will present innovative experiences using budget analysis to inform policy-making as well as the role that civil society can have in the process.
This set of webinars responds to a poll on social media asking GIFT followers their priority topics, where budgeting for SDGs was number one, followed by gender budgeting.
Target public: Experts from ministries of finance, civil society organizations, and academia.
Representatives from UNDESA presented the findings on the World Public Sector Report of 2019. The report surveys global trends in the implementation of the institutional principles, documenting both the availability of information on those trends and the status of knowledge about the effectiveness of related policies and institutional arrangements in different national contexts. It also demonstrates how the institutional principles of SDG 16 have been informing the development of institutions in various areas, including gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5).
• Representatives from UNDESA
Aranzazu Guillan Montero Senior Governance and Public Administration Officer, UNDESA
David Le Blanc Chief, Development Management Branch, UNDESA
• A brief introduction from Juan Pablo Guerrero Network Director, GIFT
This webinar will present different methodological approaches that countries are using to link the budget with the SDGs, including considerations of the dissimilar progress and challenging contexts. With that context, two cases of linking the budget with SDGs will be presented by the experts in charge of the implementation. The first one is the case of Mexico, which is considered to be a pioneer in the comprehensive implementation of SDG tagging of the budget and linking with performance indicators. The second one is the case of Nepal (TBC), which has developed a form of informing prioritization of budget decisions towards the SDGs.
• Lorena Rivero Manager for Technical Cooperation and Collaboration, GIFT
• Suren Poghosyan International Public Financial Management Specialist at UNDP
• Ramón Narvaez WHT Scholar, University of Oxford. Former Deputy Director of Performance Monitoring in the Ministry of Finance of Mexico, developing the methodology to link the budget to the SDGs.
Civil society organizations and academia are important actors to measure the progress towards SDGs, and can be, at the same time enablers of achieving the goals. Their role goes from external monitoring and evaluation, to active advocates and bridges of marginalized communities towards fiscal and spending policies. In this webinar representatives from civil society and academia will present how they use and could use the inputs from SDG budgeting to strengthen the sustainable development agenda.
• Ricardo Barrientos, Senior Economist, Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies (ICEFI).
• Walter Figueroa, Senior Economist, ICEFI.
Moderator: Claire Schouten, Senior Program Officer, International Advocacy, International Budget Partnership (IBP).
Download the presentation used during the webinar.
If we are looking to achieve the SDGs, we need to think big, bold and different. We need to consider the opportunities that present technologies and innovations around the world provide for the development of better budgets, including service delivery, and fiscal policies, as well as the needs of the future in mind. During this webinar we will explore innovations towards achieving the SDGs through the UNDP acceleration labs and projects that use machine learning to improve public policy:
The UNDP acceleration labs seek to transform the collective approach to find radically new approaches that fit the complexity of current development challenges. They will introduce new services, backed by evidence and practice, and by accelerating the testing and dissemination of solutions within and across countries.
The Policy Priorities Inference (PPI) computational framework being developed in the Alan Turing Institute, builds on a behavioral model of the policymaking process, including the learning process of public officials, coordination problems, incomplete information, and imperfect monitoring mechanisms. PPI simulates the complex and uncertain dynamics observed in development-indicator data. If governments provide a detailed account of their allocations at the level of each development indicator, PPI can be tuned to match expenditure patterns. This would represent a major improvement in the estimation of policy priorities.
• Omar Guerrero Senior Research Fellow, Alan Turing Institute
• Lorena Rivero Manager for Technical Cooperation and Collaboration, GIFT
By Zukiswa Kota (IMALI YETHU Lead Coordinator, Public Service Accountability Monitor)
Article originally published in OPEN, Edition 3.
An open data project involving both civic and state actors was always going to elicit varying – and various – perspectives on a range of issues.
The Vulekamali team consists of government officials, members of civil society, academics and the project implementing agent. Recently – our team discussions have begun to feel somewhat microcosmic of our broader national context where robust, honest and ultimately constructive discussions about governance and decision-making are concerned. I was reminded of a statement from a 2005 book entitled Budget Transparency and Participation;
“Openness in government decisionmaking, the availability of budget and outcomes data and the effective management of government constituencies in budget debates are inseparable. The release of better information by the executive branch will not mean much unless coupled with efforts in the legislature and civil society to use that information. Similarly, it is difficult for the executive to establish accurately what information and institutional provisions are most urgently needed in the absence of a dialogue with legislatures and civil society. Only through a vibrant budget debate will the potential benefits of transparency be realised”
As the Vulekamali project team, circumstance often prompts us to factor our heterogeneous perspectives into our work. This has encouraged a number of us to reflect on the objectives and related assumptions we held prior to joining the team. We’ve also come to share a number of buzzwords; some novel, others well-used. These include the concepts of accountability, project agility, transparency and public participation. The latter in particular is undeniably central to the development of Vulekamali. It is both a means to an end and arguably an end in itself.
We hope to inspire the participation of a multitude of actors in Vulekamali’s development as well to use Vulekamali to promote public participation in South Africa’s budget process. In the past year, we’ve had a number of frank, sometimes painful but always constructive project discussions about the process of ensuring wider public participation. These have often revealed what occasionally feels like a gaping chasm between our shared commitment to the process and our actual practice to ensure meaningful participation.
Have we made some risky assumptions about public participation? Do we even have a shared perspective of what meaningful participation looks like? My sense of the answers to these questions is that we’ve made very many such assumptions and that we don’t have a common definition of this kind of participation. This, however, is not necessarily a negative thing. In fact, if interrogated in a robust and solutionoriented manner, these differences may serve to allow the progressive, robust development of Vulekamali.
The project charter sets out some very ambitious objectives including ensuring public participation across all nine provinces of South Africa, building a 1000 beta user group and encouraging the contribution of government and civic actors beyond the project team. Time consuming? Yes. Budget intensive? Certainly. Politically complex? Inescapably. Energy intensive? Undeniably.
A former member of the project team, Dr. Kay Brown once used the following analogy to explain the complexity and novelty of the project; ‘it’s a bit like trying to make chocolate from scratch when you have no idea what chocolate is or what it’s actually supposed to taste like’
This can lead to some frustration even when guided by the best-laid plans. At the core of this are relationships founded on mutual trust and respect. Building such relationships that encourage vibrant debate takes time. The same is true for the kind of participation we seek from communities across South Africa. Fostering meaningful participation is resource intensive. It involves a degree of trust-building and like the bitter cocoa bean – it can yield wonderful results with some careful, patient alchemy.
In keeping with the project’s ethos of accountable and prudent use of public resources; the question of value for money in public participation activities is central.
What isn’t easy to determine is how to measure this. What trade-offs will we ultimately need to make to ensure this balance? What is certain is that we are collectively accountable for ensuring that we respect the integrity of participation that is inclusive, rigorous and genuinely accommodates diverse views.
This is an opportune moment to bring other role-players into the fold. We seek to reiterate the call for other civic actors and public officials to join us in making ‘the circle’ wider and more inclusive. President Ramaphosa has on several occasions emphasized the importance of state-civic partnerships. We call on other government departments, parliamentarians, and civic actors to share concrete experiences of successful public participation. Can we learn from the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluations’ Community Based Monitoring initiatives, for instance? Are there secret ingredients that could add the richness and quality we seek?
With more reflection and input – we will confidently grind, winnow, and conch towards good quality, value-for-money African ‘chocolate’!
 Matemba, L., Kgampe, L. and Claassens, M. South Africa in Claassens, M. & van zyl, A. (Eds) 2005. Budget Transparency and Participation 2: Nine African Case Studies: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. IDASA, Cape Town. p.270
 Yes – this is indeed a euphemism
 I suspect the concept of the project using an ‘agile’ approach means different things to different people
There are three inter-related areas where action is urgently required to avert further rapid environmental degradation:
Mandatory environmental target setting and the integration of environmental targets into medium-term government strategy and fiscal policy setting.
National State of Environment reporting.
‘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.
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.
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