Thank you for joining the New Tactics online community for this dialogue on 'Using Budgets for Monitoring' from February 24 to March 2, 2010. This online dialogue is a space for practitioners using - and training others to use - government budgets to monitor the implementation of human rights commitments. The goal of this dialogue is to create a stronger network on practitioners using budgets for monitoring, to share important resources and information, and also to introduce this technique to our online community.
"Preventing human rights abuse depends on government action, and government action requires government spending. Human rights groups, therefore, cannot fully ascertain how well a government is fulfilling its obligations unless they learn how to carefully monitor government budgets and spending." - Liam Mahony, editor of 'Using Government Budgets as a Monitoring Tool'
Summary of Dialogue
In this dialogue, participants discussed the tactics of using budgets for monitoring government compliance with human rights. Budgets are a powerful tool to monitor civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights, because it is through budgets that governments act on the values present in their rhetoric. Civil society can hold governments accountable by challenging the relative amounts of money allocated to different fields, or the way in which allocated money is used.
What types of budgets?
Expenditure - traditionally, budget monitoring has focused on monitoring government spending, and the way in which resources are allocated for different purposes.
- accountability in spending - one of the participants aptly captured the importance of monitoring, "the budget gives us a clear perspective on what is done and what is omitted." By monitoring budgets, civil society agents can monitor government compliance with human rights, particularly economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.
- budget allocation - the LASDAP project in Kenya is a process whereby the community participates in identifying priorities for the local government and evaluates their performance.
Revenue - participants in the dialogue pointed out that it is increasingly more important to pay attention to the revenue the government receives. Where does the government get its money from and what are the consequences of that for human rights?
- foreign aid - often runs off-budget, thus fails to be transparent
- off-budget items - similarly to foreign aid, other items are often not reflected in the revenue portion of budget reports
Access to Information
In order to use budgets for monitoring purposes, civil society needs to be able to access budget information. Access remains to be possibly the greatest obstacle to efficient budget analysis. The reluctance as well as lack of logistical capacity of governments to transparently share information with civil society allows for lesser compliance with human rights performance.
- Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) - memorandums of understanding are agreements between civil society and a government regarding the access of information. Since MOUs cannot be legally enforced, their compliance is challenging. This example from Nigeria displays the challenges caused by the government's reluctance to be transparent.
- Open Budget Initiative - illustrates how governments can increase their access to information.
- Freedom of Information Laws - many countries have adopted laws that oblige the government to share information publicly. However, when the government transfers some of its rights-related obligations to private agents, Freedom of Information Laws do not apply. If a country has not adopted FOI laws, members of civil society can organize and advocate for such laws.
The 6 Questions Campaign is an excellent example of a transnational lobbying effort for budget transparency. In this campaign, 85 countries will be assessed based on their answers to 6 questions regarding their commitment to Millenium Development Goals, aid transparency, and government spending on environmental institutions.
Engaging the Community
Communities should have a say in what government budgets are being allocated toward. There is a range of tactics that can be used to empower community in budget-related decision-making
- working with local officials - creating a relationship between community and local officials to decide on pro-community budgeting
- gender budget analysis - comparing the impact of government spending on men and women, making sure that the government includes women in their budgeting process - an example from Nigeria can be found here.
- training communities in "budget literacy" - community organizations can train civil society about the internal workings of the budget and thus increase their ability to critique the governing bodies.
- community score cards - score cards are an innovative way of gathering community input on the budget process. Read about examples from Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria.
- becoming an actor in budgetary planning - the best-case scenario is for civil society to have a direct role in the budgetary process. This requires intensive strategic planning and developing relationships with the governing bodies at the local, national, and international level.
- evaluations - it is necessary to evaluate the impact of monitoring efforts. However, this can be difficult for the same reasons as access to governmental information, for a governing body may be reluctant to share changes in their budgeting allocation process.
- identifying those responsible - governing structures are complex and extensive, it continues to be difficult to point to a specific office or person that can be held accountable for governmental decisions.
- ensuring government transparency at all levels - although national governments at times may make moves to be completely transparent, local and regional governments have different rules and are often in charge of ESC-rights-related service provision, read more about the challenges to regional transparency in Canada.
- A Rights-Based Approach to Budget Analysis
- Citizen Reporting Learning Toolkit
- Gender Responsive Budgeting
- Publish What You Fund - foreign aid transparency
- Reading the Books: Governments' Budgets and the Right to Education
- Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Implementation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights