Expanding the tax base?
If education is to be free at the point of use this depends on adequate government revenue, which ultimately depends on an adequate tax base. Taxation is very complex and it is very difficult to run a campaign demanding an expansion of the tax base. However, it is important to consider ways that the base could be expanded. This should focus on progressive taxation systems, ensuring that the poor do not end up paying disproportionately more for their education. It is advisable to link up to public financing experts in order to think through the implications of different tax systems, what is a fair and redistributive system, how the system can be pro-poor and raise sufficient revenue etc. It will also be important to think through how to make a campaign on increasing government revenue through taxation, palatable to the majority of the population.
Work in Malawi looked at annual trends in education sector expenditure. For example, although the actual money allocated for the education sector increased in 2002/3, deeper analysis showed that the percentage share of the budget had dropped. But just looking at the budget allocations is not enough. The Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education (CSCQBE), is engaged in a whole range of activities around the national budget. Through tracking actual expenditure on a monthly basis, the coalition is able to tell whether the government is fulfilling its commitment to the approved budget. This tracking is complemented by regular engagement with parliamentarians through the parliamentary committee on education. The committee is given feedback on the monitoring results and is also involved in developing the monitoring tools – to ensure that they have ownership of the results, and understand the methodology used. The budget tracking work also reached out to the local level to look at funding received in different districts. This work was crucial as it illustrated the funding inequalities between districts. Unfortunately, it has proved difficult to engage the media in this process, as they do not prioritise education issues. In the future the coalition is hoping to develop more sustained capacity building with the media, to enable them to provide in-depth analysis of the issues.