Making budgets more transparent and accessible at the local level

Why we invested: International Budget Partnership

Government budgets are at the core of development. By establishing public spending priorities, they are the government’s most powerful economic tool to meet the needs of its people, especially those who are poor and marginalized. Whether it is about health, education, or pensions, the most well-meaning public policy has little impact on poverty until it is matched with sufficient public resources, and unless those resources are used effectively to provide public services.

Making budget information more transparent and accessible to citizens has been the core mission of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) since it was founded. Leading the field for nearly twenty years, IBP has been supporting local civil society organizations around the world in developing the skills and relationships needed to foster more open, participatory, and accountable public budgeting.

We first invested in IBP in 2013, to help the organization pilot a rolling budget tracking methodology to supplement the organization’s Open Budget Survey (OBS) — the world’s only independent, comparable measure of budget transparency, participation, and oversight — and to help support local office experimentation with extending this work to the municipal and county levels in country.

Our latest grant is centered on helping the organization build local capacity, specifically for its country programs in Kenya and South Africa. At the national level, South Africa performs strongly on transparency indicators in the OBS (89 out of 100 in the 2017 Open Budget Index — 2nd place in the global rankings); Kenya, less so (46 out of 100). However, budgetary information remains quite inaccessible in both Kenya and South Africa at the local level (where it is most relevant to citizens) with little engagement from citizens on how public resources are spent.

In Kenya, a constitutional reform process that began in 2010 saw the creation of 47 county governments and significant devolution of powers from the center; these, and national government, require greater transparency, accountability, and participation in public finances throughout the budget cycle. While this evolving reform landscape has created formal requirements for publication of documents and consultations with the public, the participation structures at the country level are still underdeveloped with information still scarce on the allocation of funds between and within various sectors.

South Africa is a different story. Although the government has sufficient funds to reduce poverty and inequality, those funds do not translate into the provision of effective services, particularly for low-income communities. Poor service delivery has contributed to thousands of community protests each year reflecting the growing frustration with the type, quantity and quality of service provision received by South Africa’s poor.

Our investment in IBP will contribute towards building capacity with local government in both countries as those governments seek to get a better handle on public finance and work to comply with best practice in transparency, accountability and participation. Equally important is strengthening public institutions’ ability to respond to needs articulated by citizens and helping citizens both shape and hold to account institutions most proximate to them in terms of service delivery.

It is increasingly important that the “follow the money” mantra begins at the local level, and we are proud to support an organization that will enable that.