Civil Society Budget Work
Over the last decade, budget work, or applied budget analysis, has become increasingly recognised as an important tool for holding governmental and non-state actors accountable for their policy commitments, budget allocations and expenditure. Increasingly, CSOs have adopted budget work as a key part of their advocacy for changes in government policy or performance.
CSOs in developed and developing countries have recognised that the following three democratic principles are essential for the achievement of human development goals:
• Public participation
Education budget work plays a key role in ensuring that these three principles are adhered to by governments. On accountability, the public has a right to know how the government spends public resources. Governments, in turn, need to justify education expenditures and, in most cases, seek legislative approval before spending from the annual budget. In this way, the legislature, which is entrusted with this duty through the electoral process, must hold the government accountable for the budget.
A range of approaches have been adopted in civil society budget work, including:
• Deepening the debate in the legislature and among the general public on budget policies and decisions
• Collating budget information and disseminating it in user-friendly formats
• Providing independent critical analysis
• Bringing new information to the debate
• Providing training in budget analysis and advocacy
• Helping to build a culture of accountability
• Advocating for more access to budget decision making
• Mobilising stakeholders, interest groups and citizens
• Providing input into budget decisions through existing channels of access (for instance submissions to parliamentary committees).
Because they generally do not have access to information about the budget when it is being formulated, most CSOs have tended to focus their attention on the budget approval, budget implementation and budget auditing stages of the budget cycle, as this is where they can have the most impact.
In the budget approval stage, CSOs have targeted members of the legislature or parliamentarians responsible for debating and approving the national budget. They have done this through:
• making formal legislative submissions on the budget
• simplifying the national budget to help legislators contribute meaningfully to budget debates
• running sessions with legislators to influence their views on the national budget and its impact on certain population groups or sectors.
Many CSOs focus their attention on budget implementation – i.e. on verifying whether or not government funds are being spent as intended. Some initiatives have involved monitoring from a national perspective, using data or quarterly reports from government ministries to check that expenditures are being made according to budget plans. Other initiatives have examined the expenditure of state or district level institutions responsible for the delivery of education.