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Civil Society to Finance Ministers’: Ensure Budget Processes are inclusive and transparent

Mohammad Zobair Hasan :: For the upcoming Asia Finance Ministers’ Meeting, one of the key messages of the SWA CSO constituency is for the Finance Minister to ensure budget processes are inclusive and transparent by creating and strengthening the mechanisms for participation by the most marginalized in the budget planning processes. In Bangladesh, CSOs are engaged in budget tracking through mobilizing communities to express their needs, and we can support the Government in opening up these spaces further. Budget tracking in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) helps to understand how public budget is allocated and utilized to improve access to services for all. WaterAid defines budget tracking as a “Sector and Local Financing Study” with the “main objective [is] to improve water and sanitation governance (responsiveness, equity, accountability and transparency) through citizens’ action, helping to make service providers accountable, responsive and ensuring that they provide services in a sustainable and equitable manner.” Engaging people in budget tracking will not only provide voice and space to the most marginalized but will also help to sensitize the authorities in solving issues like less budget allocation, timely allocation and proper utilization of funds. Budget Tracking process has been undertaken through four approaches: i) Campaign and Social Mobilisation ii) Lobbying and Advocacy iii) WASH service monitoring and iv) WASH Budget Monitoring through a customized tool.

This tool was used for systematic data collection from service providers such as the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) and Union Parishad. Budget tracking is also considered as a vehicle to reach duty bearers under the Right to Information Act 2009. CSOs have motivated chairpersons of Union Parishads (the lowest tier of local government structure after sub-district) to display their Fiscal budget on their office wall so that it is visible to the community as to how much budget is allocated, how much is received and how much has been spent. This is subsequently published as a budget booklet. Furthermore, CSOs have organized pre-budget and open budget discussions through which budget is becoming an essential discussion item at the lowest tier of local government institutions, i.e. Union Parishad. Increasingly citizens are getting the opportunity to get involved in the decision-making process of WASH service delivery at Upazila ( sub-districts) level. About 15% budget for WASH from Annual Development Programme (ADP) is a commitment from Local Government Division (LGD) of Government of Bangladesh which is an opportunity for CSO to explore and influence local authority to ensure these allocations for poor and marginalized. This guidance has been given through the Pro-poor strategy of Bangladesh. The community demand on WASH-related issues was shared with Upazila Parishad via petitions organized by CSOs. Thus, bottom-up and systematic lobbying was done through budget tracking initiatives in Bangladesh. The issues related to equity, gender and social inclusion cannot be addressed without inviting and engaging local communities as well as CSOs. Through budget tracking, CSOs were able to achieve the following positive outcomes:

* Increased budget allocation in unions due to lobby and advocacy of CSOs. The use of the WASH budget monitoring tool led to 13-19% increase in the annual budget at the Union Parishad level. The findings demonstrate that gender and social inclusion in budget monitoring lead to increase in WASH allocations for socially excluded groups if it includes processes that increase participation and access to information for socially excluded people. * Budget is now open to all, thereby, increased accountability and transparency among duty bearers * Helped in mobilizing the community and ensuring the participation of all relevant stakeholders such as service providers, public representative,s and right holders. * Addressing SDG-6.B (support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management) by which localizing SDG is ensured * Helpful to link local with national issues. Leaving No One Behind is a global as well as national commitment, using the Budget Tracking tool, we can check on the ground the follow up to the governmental LNOB agenda.

We will continue to demand people’s participation in the budgeting process and create an enabling environment for CSOs to mobilize Local Government to establish inclusive accountability mechanisms to ensure that budgets are fully utilized for the intended purpose, efficiently spent and accounted. Writer: Researchers Director, Development Organisation of the Rural Poor (DORP), Bangladesh and SWA CSO Steering Committee member.

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