CPI The Lebanese Center for Public Information

24. Monitoring the Budget

    Budget monitoring

    Budget monitoring will soon become the subject of the day in the  
    Middle East.

    The wind of revolt and the need for a true democracy that are
    currently sweeping the Arab Machrek and Maghreb will give added
    legitimacy to the demands of the citizens to oversee directly  the
    usage of public funds in their country.

    These demands increased after the revelations of the huge
    dilapidations of public funds by unscrupulous dictators like Ben Ali,
    Mobarak and Kaddafi, and the cohorts that they assembled around
    them for that purpose.

    But budget monitoring  is a science that must be learnt like any other
    one. The young and the no so young revolutionaries will have to go or
    return to school, sooner or later, to learn the techniques, or at least
    some elements of them, that will enable them to oversee the usage
    of billions of dollars of public funds in their country.

    In Lebanon budget monitoring by the citizens is largely unknown. The
    Authorities have never encouraged the citizens in this direction nor
    have they been willing to share some essential information with them
    relative to the budget.

    Obviously a great deal has to be done to remedy this situation.

    To start with, all our universities should include, in their curriculum, the
    study of participative governance, the national budget and the
    national plan.

    Furthermore our NGOs should consider conducting regular
    internships on these subjects.

    The ultimate objectives of these internships should be the creation of
    a National Plan and a National Budget Monitoring Citizens' Authority.

    To provide an example of the introduction of budget monitoring for the first
    time in a country we publish below some extracts from the “Philippines National
    Budget Monitoring Report”. For the readers who would be interested to learn
    more on the subject we recommend accessing the site at http://pdf.usaid.

    Philippines National Budget Monitoring Project

    Key results.

  • Capacity-building was accomplished through the project’s training program,
    the experience in applied budget monitoring gained under the small grants
    program, extension training funded by the small grants, and network meetings.

  • In addition the establishment of the network begins to build collective capacity
    among Philippine CSOs to monitor the national budget on a sustained basis.

  • The improvement in capacity is evidenced by the self-assessment scores,
    partners’ products, and interview data.

  • The project produced a small but committed pool of people trained in basic
    budget monitoring skills, with hands-on experience in budget monitoring, and a
    somewhat larger pool of NGO activists and journalists, at both national and
    local levels, with better awareness of budget monitoring as a tool for
    accountability and improved skills.

  • In turn these activists are now more capable of evidence-based advocacy,
    and better prepared to address emerging budget issues. It also produced a
    set of tools for budget monitoring for specific issues areas and constituencies
    in the Philippines. Reports and interviews indicate that the project’s capacity-
    building components were highly valued by the beneficiaries.

  • The amount and quality of information increased in several respects:

  • First, the project produced general information on the national budget
    process and content, and on how to monitor the national budget.

  • For example, the project generated and has made available an inventory of
    the major sources of national budget information, including information on
    every key government document, its agency source, and its content.

  • This inventory appears to be a unique resource in the Philippines. The
    network and several grantees published manuals or papers on various
    procedural and substantive aspects of monitoring (such as how to read COA
    reports, and how to monitor farm-to-market road projects).

  • Second, the project generated formative research on particular budget-
    related issues. These included papers and publications on such sectors as
    national government dispersal of budget funds for local water supply, agrarian
    reform, socialized housing, agriculture and elections, and on such cross-
    cutting issues as performance-based dispersal of national level funds, lump
    sum and off-budget accounts, the opacity and gaps in the accountability of
    public corporation and independent commission budgets, and the systemic
    issue of the balance of power between the executive and congress with regard
    to the national budget.

  • Third, project partners were able to uncover current problems with the budget
    or budget process, such as executive overspending against the national
    budget total. Information was disseminated through large and small, more
    targeted events, the project website and list serve, partners’ websites, and
    mass media (including articles and interviews of project team members, in print
    and broadcast).

  • The project exceeded MSI’s expectations with regard to effecting changes in
    policy and public institutions.
    Philippines National Budget Monitoring Project

    The strategy of the project

    was to develop a whole that is greater than the sum of its pre-existing parts by:

    1.        Increasing awareness of the centrality of the national budget to
    governance and accountability;
    2.        Deepening capacity in civil society to undertake budget
    monitoring and use it as a tool for accountability; and
    3.        Prompting government to respond to CSO monitoring and
    advocacy by accepting at least some recommendations of or acting on
    concerns raised by stakeholders in the national budget to make better
    substantive policy choices and/or make budget processes more
    4.        In terms of immediate beneficiaries, the project targeted groups
    that were already working in areas related to budget monitoring, as
    noted above. But it was also designed to attract others that might
    have an interest in the field but had not yet entered it. Similarly, it
    was centered on Manila, on the assumption that most groups concerned
    with the national budget would have offices there, but sought to reach
    out to interested organizations outside the capital. In terms of inputs, the
    project supported both training and applied practice in budget
    monitoring in order to deepen and hasten project impact.