Last week in Tanzania, nearly 100 civil society groups and 12 international organizations, including the International Budget Partnership, Greenpeace, ONE and many smaller organizations from across the globe, launched a global effort to make public budgets transparent, participatory and accountable. Budgets are the most critical tool that governments have to address problems like poverty, provide critical services like education and health care, and invest in their country’s future. When the political speeches end, it is how governments actually manage funds to meet their promises and priorities that matters.
The Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability, and Participation envisions public finance systems that make all budget information easily accessible, provide meaningful opportunities for citizens and civil society to participate in budget decisions and oversight throughout the process, and include strong institutions to hold governments accountable for how they raise and spend the public’s money.
The timing of this effort capitalizes on a number of significant events that have built momentum to substantially improve how governments operate, including how they manage public funds to meet citizens’ needs and to address persistent challenges. The most dramatic of these events is the “Arab Spring,” which has created an unprecedented opportunity for democratic and responsive governments in Africa, and has also sent a wake-up call to oppressive regimes around the world, acting as a beacon of hope to their people. There are also important international, multi-stakeholder initiatives that have been launched in the last year to promote government that is open, responsive, and accountable. These include the Open Government Partnership and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, both of which bring together governments, civil society and industry to promote transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
Though these events and initiatives hold great promise, without an organized, skilled and active civil society movement that can connect the institutions involved with the priorities and needs of ordinary citizens, there is a danger that these opportunities will fall short of their potential. The organizations meeting in Tanzania aim to be the driving force behind this movement and signed a Declaration of Principles on behalf of “…citizens and civil society organizations from around the globe, united by the shared conviction that inclusive and open public budgets are critical to achieving a world in which all human beings enjoy their full human rights –- civil, political, social, economic, cultural and environmental.” Budget transparency, alongside efforts to make aid more transparent, can play an important role in enabling citizens to hold their governments to account.