An Indonesian civil society organisation supported farmers in district budget monitoring and advocacy for over ten years. The allocation of resources was shifted to the benefit of the local communities and led to a new irrigation system and improved farming skills, which has increased living standards for the whole community.
In Indonesia, budget planning at every government level starts from the so called Musrenbang (development planning forum). The participants in Musrenbang discuss people’s needs and how they should be accounted for in the budget. At the village and sub-district levels, farmers have the right to participate in such forums, but in practice they are often not informed about the events and only local elites participate. So the basic needs of villages rarely appear on the agenda and local budget allocation does not reflect them.
For instance, despite accounting for more than 50% of the revenues of the North Tapanuli district in North Sumatra Province, less than 5% of the district government’s expenditures were being allocated to the farming sector. In addition, farmers were not supported by the government on other issues, such as deforestation or pollution. The reality of this fertile district is that of poverty and dependence on high-interest loans from creditors.
In 2001, the Study Group and Community Initiative Development (KSPPM), an Indonesian civil society organisation, began its work with farmers in North Tapanuli to help them gain their right to participate in the local budgets. For over ten years, the KSPPM experts helped farmer associations monitor the budgets and advocate for more money.
The first step was spreading information about Musrenbang in the villages. Following that, KSPPM trained farmers on how to monitor and analyse budgets, helping them prepare realistic budget proposals and relevant supporting arguments. Over time, the organisation also encouraged farmers to stand as candidates for village leaders in order to gain more influence over the entire budget process.
To support these efforts, KSPPM worked with the district head, legislative members and agriculture officials. They also organised street rallies. After ten years, communication has considerably improved. As local media is still not supportive, KSPPM publishes its own bi-monthly bulletin “Prakarsa” (“Initiative”) to share information with farmers and local government members.
Now farmers monitor and analyse the budget and confidently advocate for their rights. There have also been considerable changes to the amount of money allocated in the budget for the local community. For instance, farmers in Sigumbang Village successfully advocated for a budget allocation for a new irrigation system that has led to increased crop yields and income for farmers. In addition, a new revolving loan program for farmer groups allows them to invest for the future and build their businesses.
Farming skills have improved, leading to increased environmental consciousness and lower usage of pesticides.
Some of the farmers have also become corruption hunters, discovering irregularities in the procurement of farming tools. In specific instances, citizens discovered that higher amounts were budgeted than actually spent on farm equipment, leading to revelations that officials were purchasing cheaper low-quality equipment than was stipulated in the budget.
- Lack of public access to disaggregated local-level information inhibits the ability of district residents to monitor government budgeting and spending practices.
- Long-term capacity building among citizens can create a sustainable participatory budget process.
- The budget works better for the poor if co-managed with them.
Photo credit: Gunawan Kartapranata