“When we analysed the Zimbabwe national budget, we realised that it was not going to make an impact on meeting the needs of the poor,” said Ram Nookadee, Secretary, Mauritius Council of Social Service.
Most of what is proposed in the national budgets as targeting the poor ends not being implemented.
“Most of the ministries never report back on the targets on which they were allocated funds for in the budget,” says Elaine Bake from Tanzania.
Bake said the Tanzania government is currently developing a website where all ministries will post their programmes, funds allocated to achieving specific targets and what was ultimately realised.
It also emerged that the biggest challenge was getting the Finance Minister take into consideration their submission.
In most cases, complained Kenyan delegates, the Finance Minister tends to ignore their proposals even submissions are made in advance.
Speaking at a session titled “Influencing Government Budgets”, delegates shared strategies that can be used to influence budgets to be pro-poor and gender responsive.
Nookadee said one of the strategies used in Zimbabwe is having the Minister for Finance attend public forums where people make proposals on what they want reflected in the budgets.
Once the budget is read, they then analyse it to determine if what the citizen wanted has been captured.
Other strategies used include engaging key people in line ministries who are responsible for making recommendations to the Finance Minister on what needs to appear in the budget.
For others, stakeholders usually meet the Minister for Finance in groups to make submissions on what their interests are.
But Benson Ocen Ekwee of Uganda argues that some organisations have failed to influence the budgeting process because of poor strategies.
“If your targeting is not appropriate, then chances of registering good results in influencing budgets are slim,” he says.
Ekwee further argues that even when the civil society has done a good job to influence the budgeting process and managed to have issues affecting the poor taken into consideration, donors have come in to decide otherwise.
“There are cases where budget proposals are submitted to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to see if their interests have been taken into account.
Sometimes they reject popular proposals targeting the poor saying they will be expensive to fund,” he says.
Nevertheless, the delegates were agreed that good strategies that are gender responsive can help influence the budgets to work for the poor.
Some of the steps in achieving this include:
- Grasp the role and importance of national budgets and the budgetary process.
Understand the cycle
- Understand the strategies you want to use
- Start somewhere. Do not be overly ambitious.
- Develop expertise in dealing with budget issues. Or network with organisations with this expertise.
- Determining the needs of the people being represented by discussing with them. Put these needs in the order of priority and organise them in the way the budget folio is organised.
- Cost the measures and re-cost them. For example if it’s free primary education, what will it cost?
- Examine the revenue: Try the costed proposals if they are feasible. Make these recommendations to the government, giving suggestions how additional funds could be raised.
Other strategies a person can use to have the needs of the people included in the budgets range from lobbying, using research evidence, using public forums, demonstrations and budget analysis.
While the delegates welcomed these strategies, they expressed fears that lack of analytical skills maybe their greatest undoing.