Lives in the Balance: Improving Accountability for Public Spending in Developing Nations

brookingsOn November 8, The Brookings Institution hosted a discussion of Lives in the Balance: Improving Accountability for Public Spending in Developing Nations with authors Charles Griffin, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings and Senior Advisor at the World Bank; and Courtney Tolmie, Senior Program Officer with the Results for Development Institute.  Following Griffin and Tolmies’ presentations was a panel discussion on the future steps and challenges to strengthening the demand for better governance.  The panel was moderated by Daniel Kaufmann, Senior Fellow at Brookings, and panelists included Warren Krafchik, Director for the International Budget Partnership; Joseph Asunka, former Research and Program Officer at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development; and Jorge Quiroga, former President of Bolivia.

Griffin and Tolmie focused their conversation around the best ways to ensure the effectiveness of public spending.  Griffin emphasized that it is important not to discount the necessity of top-down accountability working in tandem with bottom-up accountability.  This combination will lead to greater success in aid effectiveness overall.  To improve bottom-up accountability, Griffin suggested encouraging civil society demand for good governance through effective advocacy.  Government-led solutions to bolster accountability include increasing budget transparency and taking better advantage of the resources of independent monitoring organizations.india health clinic

Tolmie reiterated the need for budget transparency discussing broadly the results of the Open Budget Index which show that few nations provide extensive budgetary information to the public.  Moreover, she discussed the challenge of civil society organizations in “gaining the ear” of policy makers when they have good ideas. Tolmie gave the example of civil society organizations in India joining together to increase the accountability of doctors in health clinics.  Many health clinics in India were plagued by frequent absences of doctors until civil society organizations created an accountability campaign which consisted of simply listing the days and hours doctors were working.

The panelists all called for strengthening government through the empowerment of citizens.  Warren stressed the fact that budget accountability has come a long way in the past fifteen years.  He contends that it is “an issue of political will, not of capacity”; access to public information, coupled with greater opportunity for civil engagement in the budget processes.  While these are all necessary components to increasing effectiveness in public spending, one of the challenges is the current structure of the donor-recipient relationship.  By revamping this framework so that government officials focus less on the requests of international donors, more time can be spent addressing the needs of their civilian populations.

The panelists all underscored that one solution to empower citizens is through increasing the freedom of access to information on government activities.  Additionally, civil service organizations can play an important role in educating government officials on critical issues facing the nations before these officials vote on budgets.  Only through the cooperation of citizens, civil society organizations, and governments can greater effectiveness in public spending be achieved.

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