Wednesday, February 19, 2014

BAN Plastic Hoardings and Flex Boards: Stop Environmental Pollution

Shri  Oommen Chandy
Hon. Chief Minister of Kerala
CC -To All Ministers
 CC.-District collector

Sub:  Banning the use of Plastic Hoardings in Kerala

Dear Chief Minister.

This is to bring to your urgent attention about the environmental hazards due to the excessive use of plastic hoardings and flex boards in Kerala for public announcements of government as well as for the propaganda of political parties and social organisations. Even by conservative estimates, annually, more than 150 Crore worth of plastic hoardings and flex create an environmental and socio-cultural menace in Kerala.  Tens of thousands of flex hoardings across Kerala- and rather excessive number of plastic hoardings in the urban centres of Thiruvanthapuram, Kochi and other cities are a clear violation of existing laws and the ruling of the High Court of Kerala. Hence we would request you to do the needful to follow the laws and policies of the government and take immediate decision and action to stop the practise of using flex hoardings/boards for all government programmes. As you very well know, it is not a good practise or a sign of democratic governance when tax payer’s money is used to erect flex hoardings only to announce the faces of respective ministers. You have been in public life for more than 55 years and everyone knows your face and you won every election without the flex hoardings.  A leader of your experience and credibility do not need plastic hoardings to make people of Kerala familiarize with your face. Hence, please set a good practise of democratic governance by giving instructions not to use huge plastic hoardings and boards to publicise the face of respective ministers. For example, the hoardings of Coir Kerala exhibition with two prominent photographs of you and the respective ministers serve no purpose  at all on more than two hundred kilometre stretch on the MC Road or national highway. Hence, please do the needful to ensure a total ban of plastic hoardings/boards for the publicity of government programme. Please use the money wasted on hoardings to promote a clean and green Kerala.

Following are the reasons for our public interest advocacy to seek your intervention to ban the use of plastic hoardings and flex boards with immediate effect:
1) It is unethical to use tax payers’ money to use plastic flexes to print the huge photographs of Chief Minister and other ministers. Annually crores of rupees from the valuable budget resources are spent simply to print plastic hoardings. These hoardings with the larger than life size images of ministers do not serve any social, economic or political purpose. And the money spent on such flex can actually be used to beautify the cities and towns with more green cover and garden.   There is an increasing concern among citizens how their money is used by the government and what difference every expenditure make to the quality of society or people.
2) The cumulative impact of tons and tons of plastic used in such flex hoarding will add to the environmental pollution and will affect the quality of life of the present and future generations.
3) Flex hoardings at traffic junctions distract the drivers and can increase the causes for accidents.
4) Flex hoarding also often occupy the foot path for the people and this in so many ways restrict the freedom of movement to the people.
5) Flex culture at every function of society also indicate vulgarisation of culture
6) Flex hoarding took away the jobs of thousands of artists at the grassroots level
7)  Plastic Flex hoardings also decreased the use of cloths and handloom material- and this adversely affect the handloom sector.

Hence, we request you to take immediate decision and action to ensure the following:

1) A complete ban of the use of plastic hoardings to publicise government seminar/workshops etc and  a decision to  stop the practice of using government budgets to print the larger than life size images of all government officials, including ministers.
2) Ban the use of plastic flex hoardings in Kerala- and encourage the use of cloths in an appropriate manner, rather than aggressively promoting one or other programmes of government.
3) Announce designated places for cloth hoardings and impose a reasonable tax by the local government for using such spaces
4) Call a meeting of the leaders of all political parties and representatives of social and religious organisations to take a collective consensus to stop the use of plastic hoardings and flex in election campaigns or propaganda of political parties.
We would request you to kindly take a decision in the cabinet and stop the use of plastic hoardings and also set a good practice by the government not to use tax payer’s money for plastic hoardings and flex boards.

Look forward to have a positive response from you

On Behalf of Green and Clean Kerala Campaign

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Economic Governance and Budget Accountability

John Samuel

The Budget of a government is the reflection of the policy and political priorities of those who control and manage a government machinery and apparatus at a given time. Budgets do not operate in a political or economic vacuum. Budget on the one hand reflects the dynamics of power within an economy and on the other hand reflects the policy and political choices of those who control and manage the government. Budget is not only a document that is indicative of policy priorities but also a political document that indicates the power dynamics within an economy. Hence, budget is a part and parcel of the economic and political governance of a country.
Economic governance denotes a larger arena beyond the conventional confines of government finance or public finance.  Economic Governance is a process of managing power dynamics within the larger economy of a society or country with institutional arrangements, fiscal policies, laws, process and management of natural, social and economic resources. The ongoing economic crisis and prolonged recessions in the major economies in the world raise serious questions about the dynamics of economic governance and who control the economic governance of a given country. It is increasingly clear the ‘free-market’ economy is  hardly ‘free’ and often controlled by the big corporate interests in the finance market as well as in the larger markets of goods and services. Hence, there is a new call to action for states and governments to play an optimal role in the market to ensure more accountability and transparency and also to decrease the inequality (economic, social and political) within a given society. There is also a larger concern about the link between sustainable environment and sustainable economies. The dogma of economic growth even at the cost of environmental sustainability is increasingly questioned within governments, market as well as civil society. The world is also facing an unprecedented level of economic and social inequality and these pose great challenges for the future of democracy itself.

Within a democratic context, budgets are expected to be formulated and passed through a consultative process and through discussions in the legislature or parliament. The budget revenue is directly or indirectly contributed by the people and in this sense budgets actually belong to the tax payers. The sovereignty of a democratic state is derived from the sovereignty of its people and the legitimacy of a government is depended on the approval of the people who elect their representatives to represent their interest and perspectives in the parliament and assembly. It is in this context, accountability of the government to the people and transparency of the whole process of governance become cardinal to the genuine function of democratic governments. However, there is a significant gap between the real normative and value framework of democracy and the actual functioning of the governments. In spite of the principles of a representative democracy, governments in practise are often run by an entrenched nexus of bureaucratic and political elites in the government. In theory, a Cabinet selected among an elected majority in a democratic process is the political executive. However, in practise the government executive is largely run by bureaucratic elites with support of government staff who more often command and control the process of governance through control of information, process and delivery of services on the ground. A government often operates and exerts power through ‘law’ (and ‘order’) and the money it controls through budgetary process. Though laws are developed through legislative process, the real implementation is in the hands of the government bureaucracy. And it is the same with the budgetary process. Though the budget is expected to be discussed, debated and passed through a legislative process, in reality the implementation and proposals of budgets are in the hands of a government bureaucracy. While the Right to Information and a vigilant fourth estate play an important role in lifting the ‘veil of secrecy’’ within the bureaucratic structures of governments, there is an increasing concern about the effectiveness and efficiency of budget management and also the entrenched corrupt nexus that drains the resources from the government as well as people. It is in this context Budget Transparency and Accountability become a very important means to truly democratize governments and the process of governance.
Budget Accountability and Economic Governance:
Political Economy of Budgets
Accountability denotes the rights, responsibilities and duties that exist between people and various institutions that affect their lives. Accountability and legitimacy are two sides of the same coin. Lack of accountability will result in lack of political legitimacy. Lack of legitimacy will result in democratic deficit and the consequent abuse of power by decision makers and power-holders. From the perspective of democratic governance, people and citizens are the owners and the shapers of the State. The sovereignty of the Sate is derived from the sovereignty of the citizenship. Hence, all institutions of the state and governments are duty bound to be accountable to citizens. However, power is no longer the monopoly of the state or governments. Increasingly big transnational corporations, media, various public and private institutions, political parties, civil society formations and NGOs wield power and control resources and take actions and decision that affect the lives, choices and livelihood of people. Hence there has to be broader understanding, politics and ethics of accountability. 

The big players in the markets like transnational corporations, big financial operators, including the banks and big media corporation increasingly tend to shape the boundaries of the state and lives and choices of the people. These unaccountable and powerful actors can become the biggest threat to Just and Democratic Governance in their quest for profit, unbridled free market, and accumulation of wealth and information.
Democratic Accountability is both political and ethical. Accountability also denotes legal, social, economic and managerial aspects. Accountability is about answerability and enforceability. Answerability means the right to get information and clear response from any institutions or authority and the obligation of such institutions to provide information and response to such stake-holders. Enforceability denotes the capacity to ensure that a redressal is done or action is taken to correct a wrong action, wrong policy. Empowerment of people in terms of information, knowledge and mobilization is a prerequisite to demand any form of effective accountability.
Budget Accountability involves the responsibility of the governments to answerable to the people/tax-payers about how their money is spend and why the money is spend or what kind of difference did budget priorities and implementation made on the ground or in the lives of people. While most of the governments tend to stress the new promises and proposals in the budgets, there is hardly any initiative that stress on the performance of the budget.  The very formulation of the budget or budget proposals often ignore the long term or short term need of a society, though there is no dearth in popular promises. The increasing gap between the budget proposals and performance on the one hand and performance and impact on the other hand raise questions about budget accountability.  The increasing gap between the budget estimates and revised estimates and the relative lack of transparency on how such revisions take place also raise questions about budget integrity.

Though there are some positive efforts in few states like Kerala to consults civil society organisations, social movements, citizens groups and associations of marginalised people during the formulation of the budget process, the general tendency in India at the Union level and state level is to only consult the rich and powerful such as FICCI, CII or other vested interest lobbies.  Within the Indian context there is also an increasing concern about the link between election and political party funding by big corporate companies and consequent reduction of taxes in the business areas that affect a particular corporate house. This nexus between big corporate companies and bureaucratic and political elites with connivance of media companies controlled by big business interest raise series issues of budget integrity as well as democratic deficits. So while there is indeed a tendency to have new proposals on social protections and popular budget proposals, the question is who actually influence the underlying political economy of a budget.

It is in this context that Economic Governance of a country become crucial. Economic Governance is a much broader concept that public finance.  In democratic contexts, there is a need to extent the accountability narrative to all institutional arenas within a given society. Economic governance will have implications for how inflation is managed, how prices of commodities and goods are managed, how natural and human resources are managed. In a democratic context, democratisation of economy is as important as the democratisation of politics. Governance is deeply political as governance is also about the negotiation of power within and beyond institutional arenas of state, market and civil society. One of the key concerns in a democratic discourse is that while there is an increasing stress for democratization of political governance, there is a tendency to leave the economic governance to ‘market forces’ and here the ‘market forces’ often mean the big Multinational corporations or big corporate houses that tend to dominate the power dynamics and growth of economy. The big players in the stock market, finance /currency markets and banking sector can often create semblance of a  ‘vibrant market’ creating speculative practices and artificial growth.

  Multi-dimensional Inequality and lack of accountability in economic and political governance became the centre stage of political and policy discourse in the world. People and citizens across the world in more than ninety countries protested against the increasing lack of accountability in governance and particularly in the arena of economic governance. Movements like ‘occupy wall street’ and the protests in different parts of the Arab world were not only about the lack of accountability of the governments but also against the nexus of political and economic elites that controlled the economy and state.  All most all the recent studies in economics and politics pointed out the grave dangers of unprecedented inequality in almost all the countries of the world and also the new links between economic, social and political inequalities. Hence, there is an increasing need for states to play much more pro-active role in the political economy to ensure there is more transparency and accountability not only in all aspects of governments but also among the major actors who controls the dynamics of economy and market. This also means pro-active steps to decrease the alarming inequalities within a given country and society. Hence, there is a need to have wider debate and discussions within the society and among policy makers to strengthen accountability and transparency in the arena of economic governance in general and budget accountability in particular

Economic Literacy and Budget Accountability for Governance( ELBAG)

John Samuel

                                                                                                                                                                 Economic Literacy and Budget Accountability for Governance (ELBAG) is an approach promoted by citizens and Civil Society Organizations to monitor government budgets, economic policies and decision making for just and democratic governance. It is a part of a citizen's movement to seek accountability for Governance. 
Citizens groups, social movements and Civil Society Organizations in more than 30 countries- in Africa, Asia and Latin America are using the ELBAG approach and people -centred methodologies to promote democratization, justice and public accountability. The ELBAG process enables citizen alliances and communities to monitor and assess governance and claim their socio-economic rights. 
What is ELBAG?

Economic Literacy and Budget Accountability for Governance (ELBAG) is a process and framework that combine various methods and tools such as organizing people, developing grass-roots monitoring mechanisms, democratizing knowledge (particularly on governance and political economy) and using participatory means for building public accountability and transparency.

It creates space where people can discuss economy and politics, and use it as an entry point to build inclusive and authentic democracy.  The aim is to ensure participation of poor and excluded, facilitate empowerment of people, reduce corruption, increase accountability in the processes of governance and policy making, particularly with regard to budget formulation, execution and public policy.

Economic Literacy

Economic Literacy is the ability to understand and respond to the economic conditions and factors that affect ones life, society and political process. Economic Literacy enables one to understand how he/she is contributing to the larger economy and how economic resources are accumulated, distributed and how local, national and international economic forces determines his/her on choices, conditions of living and broader societal trends. It also gives a perspective about the role of public finance and budget in setting the agenda and process of governance.

An Economic Literacy based on the notion of Economic Justice and  Human Rights should ask the following  key questions:

I What Does Economy DO FOR People?

II. What Does Economy DO TO People?

III. How do people participate in it?

IV. Who sets the Economic Agenda?, Where it is being planned and process?, and  How does an economy operate through and in the lives of ordinary people?

v. How does Economy affect Human Rights and Human Dignity?

VI. How pubic budget and public finance priorities are formed? How do people participate in budgetary process and budget governance?

VII. How to challenge Economic injustice and how do we work towards just and better alternatives?

VIII. How do we democratize the knowledge of Economy and economic policy so that people can challenge and change unjust economic policies , practice and power relationships at various levels.

 The ELBAG- Approach

1.Popular Mobilization

The ELBAG process promotes popular mobilization, bringing people together to claim social, economic and ecological justice. The ELBG process seeks to  promote social mobilization through  dialogues between various stake-holders,  public debates and collective  action to influence, challenge and change  the institutions of governance and process of social and economic development. The social mobilization at the grassroots level help to strengthen the citizens monitoring of governance process, using a variety of people-centred approaches and advocacy both at the micro level and macro levels.

2.Learning- Action Networking:  bridging knowledge and grassroots advocacy

ELBAG groups are organized around specific denial of rights or issue such as exclusion and discrimination.  Initial engagement is promoted through introducing economic literacy, analysis of local economies and resource flows. Typically groups may discuss their livelihoods and analyze its economics. Groups may study the state of local development – infrastructure, public services such as schools, health centres, extension services etc analyzing how public funds are used, and in the process analyzing their own local area governance. Such collective analysis provides the basis for action to bring about tangible changes at the community level. People’s motivation is maintained through advocacy and campaigning around strengthening grassroots monitoring mechanisms and democratizing knowledge using participatory tools and methods for public accountability.

While learning occurs best in grass-roots advocacy-actions and alternatives are crafted best at frontiers of action, such activity alone may not spontaneously generate a deep understanding of the situation. Conscious educational activities are also important and necessary. Elbag promotes continued education through popular learning resources and communication generated through democratic processes as well as resourced from progressive knowledge platforms.  

3.Access to information and Local Analysis of Economics and Budgets

Information is power. ELBAG promotes people's access to information. Specific budget information and public policy tracking is made available to the people’s monitoring groups at the grass-roots level to demand public accountability.  Examples taken from everyday household budgets are used to collectively study bigger governmental processes - such as how key budget decisions are made, how policies such as the privatization of water or health are decided and how the impact of World Trade Organization agreements matters on the life and livelihoods of farmers and workers. Such collective learning creates demand within communities to seek information access. In the process it creates transparency and accountability in both public and private entities. Another important aspect is to develop alternative media and promote such processes through the main stream media.

4.Advocacy for public accountability using participatory tools and methods

ELBAG aims to put people in leadership of efforts aimed at policy change. Groups are supported to have at their disposal various instruments and tools developed through efforts of movements and NGOs in different parts of the world. Whereas some of the approaches that ELBAG draws on are well established, others are still under formulation. They instruments and tools include: Basic Economic Literacy, Budget Analysis, Social audits, Public hearings, People's report cards/opinion polls and poverty dialogues, participatory budgeting and planning, Reflect methods, assemblies, Community newspapers, radio, and wall papers or other public information processes. ELBAG combines the different methodologies in to an integrated programme of work that addresses issues at local, national and international levels.

5.People-centred advocacy Platforms: Establishing vertical and horizontal relationships

Community groups and other forums are supported to form vertical and horizontal relationships with the media, think-tanks, platforms and movements to contribute to challenging new modes of neo-liberal discourse and practice that deepen institutional bias in the economic policy and budgetary system in favour of the already powerful. 

New forms of collective expression and solidarity alliance of movements are promoted with a transformational goal. In this regard, the current economic crisis offers a big opportunity to elaborate such a collective and unifying programme for change

People-centred Methods and Approaches for
 Democratization of Development and Governance.

Lessons and experiences of various movements and peoples groups in developing, shaping and using instruments and methodologies for just and democratic governance are crucial. Such people-centred methodologies and instruments outlined here include: Basic Economic Literacy, Budget Analysis, Social audits & Public hearings, People's Report Cards/opinion polls, Poverty Dialogues, Participatory Budgeting and Planning, Reflect and other Popular conscientisation methods, Assemblies, Community newspapers, radio, and other Public Information methods. Such processes make known various experiences of democratic processes to promote innovation and further efforts, as well as enhance spaces for people to hold governance accountable. In addition, methodologies for developing social bases and cadres, and continued learning and education are also shared.

The focus, here is on popular use and development of methodologies. The more methodologies get refined and technical, the further they move away from peoples reach, and use. Such emphasis on purity, technique and jargon is one reason why much of economic analysis, important as it is, remains outside the knowledge domain of working people and peoples struggles.

Many of the methodologies outlined are what groups have used to progress democratization of economy, policy and society in different parts of the world. Their success lies in reconciling praxis, technology and methodology and placing it in people’s hands.

 I. Economic and Political Literacy

While social learning happens powerfully in struggles for change, conscious educational and learning opportunities are also necessary to develop a process for continuity of progress. Social bases and formations for continued learning need to be nurtured by social goups, movements, political parties, NGOs and progressive states in order to nurture the true potential of citizenship to blossom.

At the foundation of methodologies for change, lie the forums for social consciousness. Economic, political and social literacy forums based on popular pedagogy can have numerous forms. Some of the more important ones are: Peasant Schools, Folk Schools, Study Circles, Reflect Circles, Village Libraries and Peoples Universities.

a) Popular Education and Peasant Schools
 Popular Education and Peasant Schools have played an important role in promoting peasant conscientisation and empowerment, producing progressive societal leadership. In countries like Russia, China, and Cuba, Peasant Schools were basically evening study centres for peasant and youth, which apart from basic literacy and political economic avenues were spaces for discussion, debate and politicization. The peasant school idea was at one stage very popular in the socialist world, with state support to peasant leadership schools.  Over the years, peasant schools have gradually faded away with expansion of neoliberal globalization. Peasant school methodology and ideas however have contributed strongly in emergence of popular education among oppressed and marginalized groups. Paulo Friere's works on Pedagogy and later refinement of popular education models have linkages with learnings from earlier peasant and folk schools experiments.

In the recent times, the concept of "Peasant School" is being revived as a method for leadership and struggle construction for economic justice by peasant movements. Most notably, Via Campesina runs peasants’ schools for capacity development of “activists" in Brazil, Guatemala and Indonesia. There are two types of peasant schools - residential ones and community located evening schools. The residential ones (up to one year courses) have segments on theory and  politics, economic literacy and justice, agriculture and technical aspects of agriculture, as well as those on  cadre and movement building.

b) Folk (high) Schools
These have their origins in the democratic struggle in Denmark in the 1850-60s and are rooted on the question of relationship between the state, society and economy. Propelled by the Grundtvigian philosophy and perception that peoples freedom and democracy were not primarily connected to state and their institutions but rather to spaces and self management in the civil society, Folk high schools operated on the principle of "free schools" where deepening of democracy happened. Peasantry of Denmark, and other Scandinavian countries played a role in that. The Scandinavian folk schools have since been used as models for economic, political and cultural education centres in different parts. Schools for life, as folk schools were called, have played an interesting role in development of cultural life of communities as well as promoting independence of economic and political thinking.

The idea of Folk Schools was radicalized by use of folk school methods for organizing for struggle. Inspired by the idea of Folk high schools, Miles Horton (who later wrote with Paulo Freire on leadership for change - We make the road by walking) in America, developed this idea into Highlander folk schools and tested this at the time of the coal miners Strike at Wilder. Highlander folk schools were places for concientisation and labour movement strengthening, which worked on a premise of peoples leadership, informed by the philosophy popularized by Horton that " Instead of thinking that you put pieces together that will add up to a whole,... you have to start with the premise that they're already together and you try to keep from destroying life by segmenting it, over-organizing it and dehumanizing it"

c)  Community -Study Circles
Study Circles are spaces for community conscientisation and were hugely popular across developing world at one stage. Study circles contributed powerfully to building socially conscious communities and progressive leadership in the past. Study circles support community leadership and dialogic learning processes, with or without government support. Study circles operated on learner centred dialogic processes and while there are no teachers, usually study circles operated with facilitators to keep the discussions flowing and on track, with everyone having the opportunity to get involved. Reading materials and other aids are made available to stimulate dialogue. The key role study circles played in were in analyzing and finding solutions to economic, social, political, or community problems and honing leadership for future.

d) Reflect Circles
Reflect is an approach to adult learning and social change, used by various civil society organizations. It has been used to tackle a wide range of issues, from peace & reconciliation, to economic justice and community budget work, to holding government accountable. The Reflect approach links adult learning to empowerment, and therefore strengthens the voices of poor people in decision-making at all levels. Having originated as an approach to adult literacy, Reflect is now a tool for strengthening people's capacity to communicate through whatever medium is most relevant to them.
Reflect creates a democratic space where people can analyze issues for themselves. It is a basis for mobilization, which enables us to strengthen people's own organizations and capacity to advocate for themselves at all levels. A social audit is an accountability tool to understand, measure, verify, report on and to improve the performance of the governments.

II. Budget Analysis and Advocacy

Public budgets are an integral part of understanding economic development. These are important targets for advocating changes on how governments raise and use resources. Basic understanding and comprehension of the issue at hand is a necessary pre-condition for engaging in budget analysis. Budget Analysis and Advocacy assumes a strong knowledge of the history, content, facts, figures, policy dimensions of the issue to be examined with the budgetary lens. Further, all available budget information and trends needs to be collected and collated.

 People Centred Budget Analysis is a participatory process involving people and not limited to economists and experts. For this to happen, efforts to simplify the budget information for popular usage are also needed. Such popular discussion gives rise to questions with which current budgets and budget trends are examined.

For example when analyzing education budgets a few key questions that need to be asked are: What is the total expenditure incurred on the community school? How much money has been allocated to add an extra room in the school? What is the expenditure per student? How does it compare with the well functioning and popular school? What are the implications of such expenditures on enrolment and retention of excluded children? What extra resourcing may be needed to promote inclusion and quality education? How can these extra resources be raised? What policies and Programmes will need to change in order for that to happen?

Having listed out questions, budget analysts look at the budget and other statistical and policy information to see whether relevant information is available and whether we can answer all questions: Next, the answers obtained are used to examine the issue at hand from the budgetary lens in order to come up with analysis and a perspective on the issue with the supplementary budget information. Finally, this analysis is used to formulate our advocacy strategy and plan of action.

III. Social Audit and Public Hearing,

A social audit helps to narrow gaps between vision/goal and reality, between efficiency and effectiveness. It values the voice of people, including marginalized/poor groups whose voices are rarely heard.

Social auditing is taken up for the purpose of enhancing local governance, particularly for strengthening accountability and transparency in local bodies. In doing so, Social Auditing leads of review of public revenues and expenses. It raises questions on how the revenues raised locally, and how grants and development expenditures are utilized, raising issues about priorities, process, operationalisation, transparency, efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of public budgets.

Public Hearings

Public hearings are large gatherings of the entire community/stakeholders who, in the presence of the representatives of the body that is accountable, demand accountability and answers from the concerned representatives. Public hearings are backed by hard evidence collected as part of social audits. Questions are then put to the representatives on the discrepancies and deficits between entitlements and actual services and financing. Large scale corruption issues are brought to the fore-front. They are a very effective campaign tool for effective and accountable local governance and democratization of economic decision making and budgets. 

IV. Participatory Planning and Budgeting.

The need for participation arises because Government budgets show the commitment of the Government towards policy and utilization of resources towards the poor. As citizens of the country and tax-payers (both direct and indirect) they have a right to know how much is spent on their needs and how? The process of participation also gives them control over their own resources, rights, opportunities and watch over the priority setting by governments, thus making governance more just and democratic.

What does participation in budget entail?
*       Participation: Power and Exclusion
*       The government budget focuses public resources towards poor
*       Participation (of communities) ensures agendas (of excluded) in economic policy making as well as accountable governance.
*       Needs building information & knowledge base of the citizens.       
*       Need to connect work around budgets to larger economic political & social transformation processes of people’s struggles.
*       The act of participation is itself is empowerment, which is a key element of claiming rights and democratizing governance. It speaks a process of social dialogue, and raises awareness of the public on the issues of poverty.

What does participation in planning & budgeting mean for the communities?
*       Political process for participation and democratization, change and redistribution of resources
*       Voice in institutions and processes of governance - not just electorally but in influencing the allocation of resources and access to opportunities and setting the priorities and agenda for governance
*       Political process of reclaiming their rights and entitlements

Pathways Ahead:
*       Formation of groups for planning, vigilance and auditing - Local/ village level citizens' groups with cluster and provincial level groups.
*       Building alliances and networks from the micro to macro level to amplify voices from below into the revenue allocation and monitoring process
*       Developing propositions on alternative economics on every level
*       Networks and coalitions to influence budget making and process at every stage
*       Continuous and timely dialogue with policy makers for greater allocation and pro-poor budgeting, as well as on economic policy choices as outlined by needs from the communities and alternatives
Monitoring of key national promises at every level of governance

V. Citizen’s Report Card and Transparency Board in Communities.

To enhance social and public accountability Citizen Report Cards and Transparency Notice Boards can be used.
 The use of transparency notice boards helps enhance information flow in the public domain about budget allocation and expenditure reviews of public institutions. It raises citizen's awareness about the utilization of public resources and hence empowers people to seek and demand their effective and efficient use and minimize local corruption and misappropriations.

Citizen Report Card are peoples reports on performance of institutions and public functionaries. Collected through surveys and focused group discussions Citizen's Report Cards give people the opportunity to participate in assessing the State's service delivery and public expenditure through its public agencies such as hospitals, schools and police. For many of the poor in rural and urban areas this might be the only meaningful opportunity of this kind. The survey also provides a forum for a citizen-state dialogue. Other Forms of citizen-state dialogues include public hearings and poverty dialogues.

VI. Popular Communication and Social Media

Access to information is essential for building real democracies. People can participate effectively in the economic sphere only when they are provided with sufficient, truthful and timely information. On the contrary, one-sided or biased information, may lead the public to erroneous decisions and actions. The mass media in hands of the vested and private interests such as the large transnational corporations rather than informing misinforms.

Popular and Public control over mass media and right to information are two progressive steps to democratize economic decision making. Different instruments such as community radios, videos, people’s newspapers, alternate local and regional media projects have been used to enhance people’s voice and control over communication and media.

Community Radio

Radio could be wonderful public communication system, imagine a gigantic system of channels - could be, that is, if it were capable not only of transmitting, but also of receiving, enabling the listener not just to hear but also to speak, not isolating but connecting them. - Berthold Brecht

Community radio is a medium of communication utilized by a group of people, living within close geographical proximity, sharing socio-culture heritage and speaking one language. It distinguishes from the mainstream media by strengthening local culture and communities' participation in all aspects of broadcasting. The control of design, programming, formats and choice of issues rests with the communities. Community Radio promotes interactive and dialogical space for developing collective agendas on various issues.

Community Radios have been put to wide ranging use - from entertainment to promotion of local cultural traditions to discussion on constitutional rights and entitlements. Increasingly the instrument of Community Radio is being utilized for furthering Right to Information and progress on governance accountability. In this context community radio has been effectively used to further discussions and demands on use of revenue and public scrutiny of local budgets.

Several progressive examples of use of Community Radio are available from around the world. In Nepal this instrument was used to further the campaign on democracy. In Uganda the Uganda Debt Network uses CR for disseminating messages on budgets to the community. In Ethiopia CR has been used by civil society groups to promote dialogues on accountable governance. Peasant groups in Indonesia have used CR for furthering collective understanding and generation of advocacy asks for sustainable agriculture. The Deccan Development Society (DDS) in India helps local women from landless farming communities learn both radio and video production techniques. The Programmes are interactive among the communities interested in exchanging information.

Broadcasting laws of country may either promote or retard the development of space for community radio. The regulations thus imposed by governments are an important area of advocacy around the growth and use of community radio as one instrument to promote popular conscientisation.
 Community Video
 Like Community Radios, the key aspect of Community Video is the transfer of control over choice of narrative, formats and message to communities. Community members themselves decide and shoot videos and contribute these to mainstream programming.

One of the important benefits of video technology has been to strengthen the voices of indigenous grassroots organizations. At various moments, video productions have played crucial roles in community efforts to assert land rights, expose human rights violations, or defend women's rights. Community Video's have also been used for raising public debates on state of public services, misuse of public funds and corruption. In these aspects Community Videos, as an example of citizens voice have a potential for use in political economic literacy and budget advocacy.

Part II.

Case Studies

Following case studies are based on the documentation and inputs by the local civil society organizations and the researchers of Actionaid in different countries:

I. ELBAG Approach- in Sri Lanka

Communities in south of Sri Lanka were initially not motivated enough about the value of budget monitoring; looking at budgeting as a distant and remote process. As a part of this ELBA process, in 2007,  Siyath Foundation and Centre for Family Services worked with communities in 10 villages in the Southern district of Galle and in 5 villages in the Kurunegala district of Wayamba province. The community was made available with an opportunity to discuss their local development in terms of finances and priorities. The Economic Literacy and Budget Accountability Group (ELBAG) worked with the community to assist them to appreciate how local village level projects to national development, planning, financing and implementation impacts on their very lives. Training manuals, with responses, regular meetings and inputs from the villagers were developed. Issues such as governance, local and national budgets, economy, globalization, community participation, access to information, state development approaches, etc. were brought to focus during training and these manual building discussion sessions.
The first step in this ELBAG process was thus working with communities to strengething their knowledge and building capacity in budgeting and economic literacy, and then the process was carried forward.  10 villages started to discuss their local development plans and how local public finances might affect these plans. An interactive exhibition led the community to discuss proposed development work in their locality with local government officials in attendance. The discussion led to the formation of a village committee that undertook further planning of their local work. ELBAG has been able to nourish democracy and participation in the community. In villages where ELBAG was carried through by the partner organisations, there is an apparent assertion of community participation in local governance and widening of such spaces by the villagers.

II. Community Budget Monitoring- Uganda

ActionAid Uganda focused on building capacities of communities through building up a cadre of community budget monitors, and formation of citizens’ accountability Watch Groups on the one hand and network and links these to the national platform. At the National level, a forum of more than 150 different organizations comes together as Civil Society Budget Accountability/Advocacy Group (CSBAG) with the explicit purpose of nationally developing citizens and Civil Society engagement and influence on the nature, process and direction of the national finance for development and budget processes.

In 2007, 114 Community budget monitors have been trained: two subcounties of Mbarara district and in Kawempe, Kampala district. The programme for further training of community budget monitors is underway in one other county and there are plans to build this on a wider basis. Each group was trained on reading community budgets and respond to the budgets based on reading of community needs and agendas. The community budget monitors, in each case were involved in consulting with the communities on the priorities and collectively developing responses to local division level budgets.

 The community budget monitors reflected their concerns at the Civil Society Budget Accountability Group (CSBAG). In 2007, the CSBAG convened the dialogue guided by a CS BAG position paper. The position paper was developed through a process of analyzing the Budget framework Paper 2007/2008. This increased citizen scrutiny and influence on national budget allocations. The group was also supported to reflect and strategically plan for their budget engagements for the period 2008-2011. “The citizens are beginning to hold government at ‘ransom’, demanding for all kinds of politically driven deliverables,” said Gerald Twijuke, Senior Policy Analyst ACODE.

III. Building Village Development Plan- Afghanistan

By learning to read, make, analyse budgets, communities have been able to power their struggle in various dimensions; by drawing up their own developmental plans. Under National Solidarity Plan, Action Aid International Afghanistan has been working with 74 community development councils (CDC). Capacity building of the community in budgeting, its analysis, social auditing, and monitoring & evaluating budget expenditures has enabled the community to get directly involved in their village development plan, problem prioritizations and decision making. Representatives in CDCs, especially women and excluded people within communities have been the channel to attain this. These CDCs are formed from more then 100 villages and sub villages. Local community based governance structures or community development council (CDC) alliance or network are formed at districts levels. New members of CDCs were elected in a fully democratic election process with participatory of over 75% of people in villages. 40 members of 20 CDCs in Mordyan district were trained. 26 CDCs are in Khaki jabar district and 48 CDCs are in Sorubi district; all 74 CDCs could develop their community development plans and prioritize their needs with participation of women during decision making process. 50% of CDCs members are women – meaning there are 328 out of 659 elected CDC members are women, representing 5,715 families

IV. Monitoring and Claiming Right to Education- Nigeria

This has been a result of people’s engagement with the public finance processes in their own community and State level. Of course such processes have been facilitated by local and national organisations, but concrete results have been possible by people being hands-on engaged in the arena of public finance. On the other hand, projects such as borehole, clinic and block of classrooms for a Junior Secondary School were gained through advocacy to the government.  
In response to the interventions, there has been a remarkable improvement in employment of school teachers in Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states. As an effective response that the community was able to push for, by a studied lobbying effort the Government allocated funds for improvement in schools facilities through renovation of existing ones and provision of new ones. 89 new schools were approved in Kebbi state among which 37 were completed as at June 2007. Also, in Sokoto State, about 3,000 classrooms and 500 staff quarters were built and/or renovated.  The Sokoto SUBEB was given approval to recruit about 1,000 new teachers.  In Zamfara State, the FEB was mandated to employ up to 260 female teachers, while the Ministry of Education employed about 580 teachers comprising both male and female. The passage of the Child Right Act in Edo State was very remarkable through increase advocacy. The Act stipulates the declaration of the rights of the child to compulsory education, against all forms of domestic labour, child marriage among others. 
Your browser may not support display of this image.Results of the engagement in Public Finance Analysis were very obvious in Felande Community in Kebbi State. In the community, school enrolments increased to a total of 823 boys and 504 girls in the Junior Secondary School. This was due to the renovation and construction of facilities like the building of blocks of classrooms in the community school. And now, there is a Junior Secondary School, a primary health centre and a functional borehole in the school, which were also provided with support of the government.  
Critical engagement in budget process has also led to improvement and increase in the budgetary allocations to education sector for the 2008 fiscal year. The government has promised to expend over two hundred billion naira for the first time, in education programmes. Also the Federal Government has promised to set aside a proportion of funds to support programmes of direct intervention on poverty reduction through out the country. This development it is hoped would translate to improvement in the living standard and condition of poor and excluded in the country.

V. Tracking Education Budget – Ghana
With the government’s introduction of the capitation grant (free education) and school feeding programme in public schools in Ghana, it is important for school management systems to be transparent to ensure that funds meant for educating children are not abused. Therefore the participation of everyone in all decision making processes is critical to bring about the changes in the lives of school going children. In the year under review, CALID, a partner in the North West regional programme, intensified the tracking of the supply of textbooks to schools, their availability for use by students as well as the management of capitation grant by schools in the Tamale metropolis.
Sensitization to solicit communities’ involvement in the tracking of resources in basic schools was done in collaboration with the media. These activities created awareness among right holders for them to play their roles in the acquisition of these rights. Radio discussions on resource tracking by communities were held in 16 schools in 12 communities in collaboration with CALID and Diamond FM, a local FM station based in Tamale. This programme generated keen interest in communities in school governance especially with respect to the use of resources allocated to schools. This interest is evidenced by the numerous allegations of malfeasance made by community members against basic school management in communities. The impact of this initiative has been that in most communities in the region, school managers are now wary of this “community eye” and have intensified record keeping particularly on the use of capitation grant.

VI. Fighting Corruption- Nepal

In the Banke district of Nepal, village groups overseeing the accounts of Channahwa’s Nepal Rashtriya Primary School claimed back NPR 4500 from the school management committee members.
They had pocketed this money from a sale of teak tree on the school compound.
Similarly in Bankatti village of the province, another monitoring group caught the village development society (VDC) secretary, who on behalf of the VDC had  tendered 46 teak trees for NPR 2,30,000/- . He had showed the final settlement of NPR 1, 20,000, pocketing the remaining NPR 1,10,000/-. The VDC secretary had tendered a public apology and a final decision on next steps was being deliberated.  
Sthaniya Swarojgar Kendra & Center for Social Development and Research, local organisations of Nepal, have been working with the tools of economic literacy and budget accountability for governance (ELBAG). They have been supporting the orientation of community on local municipality budgets and budget accountability on several issues, primary among them being the appropriateness of budget in terms of its focus to poor people and particular social groups and in terms of transparency and integrity of implementation. In the last seven months several community groups have been supported to analyse local budgets and anomalies and irregularities. These groups comprise of Village Development Committee members, School committee members and representatives of political parties, with encouragement being given especially to women.  
Building an understanding of the processes of economic decision making in their own units of local governance people are organizing to their way to push for a ‘substantive’ participation from a ‘formal’ one. The Ratnanagar Municipality has for instance now passed a resolution of setting up a procurement committee. Final payments are done after social audits, and a complaint mechanism has also been strengthened. These peoples groups, getting organised around economic literacy and budget accountability for governance (elbag) work, apart from recouping stolen public funds, influencing VDC and other development spending towards the poor and their priorities has made the people more watchful and encouraged them to take their measures on all development works. In Padampur and in Jutepani villages, for instance, the groups have asked for VDC budgets to be made public, and also details of budget allocation by wards, and have been raising the political question of who benefits? In Jutepani, the VDC council invited the ELBAG group to participate in the budget and implementation discussions, and groups were successful in influencing the priorities on access road and drinking water for the benefit of poor. Similarly in Jutepani village priority has been given to landless community members in allocating funds for public land development works. In Padampur village social audits of deep boring scheme and analysis of income-expenditure statements of VDC led to discovery of missing NPR 35,000/- from the VDC funds. Some villages came together to review the programmes implemented by VDC and other agencies from the resources of TAAL (terrain land and irrigation programme). In one of these NPR 20 lac schemes (where communities had contributed NPR 14 lacs by the way of labour) NPR 1.48 lacs has been unaccounted for. The president of this group has been held accountable and NPR 11,000 has been recovered thus far. It is a work in progress, with only the first steps undertaken. Systematization of efforts, and promoting methodologies to develop processes of participatory budgeting are the next priorities of organization and its community facilitators in Chitwan.

Women and Dalits fight for their Budget- Nepal

Processes of economic literacy and budget accountability are being utilized by local organisations and groups to ensure accountability of duty bearers and to augment people’s access to local resources. Excluded and marginalised groups are increasingly engaged in budget tracking of public offices and seeking accountability with them after being trained in Economic Literacy and Budget Accountability for Governance (ELBAG). Various Dalit communities organised by RDN in 12 districts of Mid and Far-western Development regions have been able to claim the funds which are allocated for the poor and marginalised communities by the Village Development Councils Similarly, with support from Society for Environment and Education Development (SEED) groups of women, Dalits, PWDs and indigenous peoples of Dang have also succeeded in claiming Rs 347,000 from different VDCs. 
For instance, getting involved with women’s groups formed by Siddhartha Social Development Centre, women from the village of Jahadi in Nepal came to know of an allocation for women’s empowerment in their Village Development Council’s budget. It was only when they got involved in women’s groups formed by this budget allocation came to light. The news prompted them to approach the Village Development Council (VDC) secretary to ask how the budget had been spent. Initially, the secretary refused to acknowledge that any such budget existed. In response, the women organised a picket of the VDC’s offices, forcing the secretary to admit that the budget had already been spent on other development works. The women demanded that the budget allocated for women’s empowerment be duly spent on this purpose and threatened to organise more protests if it was not. Eventually the VDC agreed that funds in the following year’s budget would be spent on women’s empowerment. The women of Jahadi are now keeping a watchful eye on the VDC to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.

IX. Public Budget is Peoples’ Business- Brazil

“Public budget is your business”. With this slogan Conviver (DA9) launched a campaign in Mirandiba, Pernambuco state, to monitor local government’s expenditures, investments and funds collected from taxes. Conviver leads the Mirandiba Budget Tracking Forum, which gathers around 25 organisations representing communities from the region.  Their first public hearing with the Chamber of Local Councillors in 2006 brought 300 people to discuss how to hold the local government accountable for the fulfillment of budget priorities. One of the criticisms is about local government’s excessive expenses with parties forecasted in £ 67,000 for 2007. The Forum was created in 1999 by a small group of people interested in raising local awareness on the issue. “Our space has been increasing since then, but it was in 2003, after a budget tracking capacity building promoted by Action Aid International  Brazil, that we finally grew. Now we are 25 organisations, and even the local councilors asked us a seat in the Forum”, says proudly Suetone Gomes de Sá, in charge of the budget tracking activities in Conviver. Suetone considers that this approximation is important. “The aim of the public hearing is to discuss the budget priorities with the authorities, and to make that the communities´ needs be me t in the budget closure. The executive power does not execute what civil society wish because the authorities that approve the measures are from the legislative power like the local councilors. They are not the same that execute it, who are from the executive power, like the mayor”, he explains. “We want the authorities to know that the Forum is serious. It is not defending private interests but the will of society. Very little of what is promised in legislation is fulfilled as priority. Budget ends up under expended”. Centro das Mulheres do Cabo, partner organisation in Brazil also participates in the local Budget Grassroots Forum. In 2006, their 35 proposals for the local budget have been unanimously approved by the Chamber of Local Councilors. Among other pro-poor measures, the proposals included funds for refurbishing schools located in outskirts communities and improvements on health services. 


X. Women’s Political Participation- Cambodia.

Promoting women’s space on concerns relevant to their social and political representation has been agreed as advantageous to developing any country. Political and economic issues at the local level are particularly pertinent to women’s lives. And women are seen as more likely to address pressing development problems facing their communities, such as education, healthcare and the impact of corruption, as a result of both their proximity to communities and their multiple roles within communities. Yin Sam Onn, 54, who is a woman deputy village chief of Kaeng Village, Chhroy Banteay Commune, Kratie District, Kratie Province where our partner Khmer Association for Development of Countryside-Cambodia (KAFDOC) works echoes the claim, saying women are preferred because of the responsibility and high commitment they make “It is women who are active. We have more trust in women than in men. After they get assignment, they are accountable,” Sam Onn said
“Men cannot fully understand women’s issues. What women’s sufferings are, but we do. We struggle for what women need. What affect women’s rights. We dare speak out what women need. Men don’t care much about women’s sufferings. They cannot know all,” she added.
Coming from a poor family, Sam Onn could study up to only grade three. But, she has a great deal of experience in women’s issues. She was elected by her community the leader of commune women association in the 1980s. Then she resumed the work from 1993 till 2004 again. She was selected and has been working as a community facilitator since 2005. She is now a community organiser.
“Before women were in not in the leadership role. Even they were capable, they were only assistants. But, now even most of our community facilitators are also in their village leadership role,” Sam Onn said. She believes that there is change in women’s participants and that more women are/ feel encouraged to take the change position. “People have trust in me. We are capable of managing things. Men recognise us because our concrete actions produce results. I feel confidence,” said Som Onn.
Besides community organising skill, all of the female facilitators in communities KAFDOC works with also learned Land Law, Fishery Law, self help health, gender, REFLECT and good governance. Sixteen of them have taken most of the village assistant posts (sixteen out of nineteen) while four become commune councilors and two commune chiefs.
“More women are in local governance. They did not understand. They did not know about laws. Husbands did not encourage wives to go far,” said Chea Thi, 39, a community healer. She became a village assistant in early 2007. In her community, there are about fifteen women in Chhroy Banteay Commune.  With the knowledge and expertise, the women have become the useful resource persons people often come to; their representation has made them possible to influence any decision that affects their community. “Women group join and help. To decide wither or not to have a straight or detouring trail. It is not only the village chief or assistant who makes the decision. All must agree,” said Chea Thi.
In planning to build the trail, she has involved women from various groups: rice banks, revolving fund and self help health programme. Males from the authority, fisher folks also join. Each family will contribute riel 13,000 (USD 3.25) to the construction of a 160-meter long village road.
Chea Thi has selected fifteen active women from her community to involve in meetings on women’s issues and any community problem solving. To her, women’s participation is very important. “I don’t like any piece of work, decision made only by men. The one which is male dominated, it is like there is no justice at all for women—they are useless,” said Chea Thi. “Before women could not be part of any development work. So, we want women to participate in doing anything. We want more participation so that they can increase their knowledge,” she added.


( I would like to acknowledge Actionaid  International and  many civil society activists and organizations in different parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America for their inputs and who contributed to the case studies. The ELBAG approach was introduced and developed by the author during his tenure as the International Director of Actionaid International( 2003-2010), responsible for the global thematic work on democratic governance and as the head of Asia Pacific Region. The author would like to acknowledge colleagues from Actionaid, particularly Sandeep Chachra (India), Thao( Vietnam( Vietnam), Dr. Hussaini( Nigeria) who worked closely with the author in the governance thematic group of Actionaid)