To conduct budget monitoring and expenditure tracking initiatives, civic groups need to understand the budget cycle and what can be monitored during the four stages. Civic groups should first do an analysis of the political context and existing budget practices to determine what gaps exist, including the amount of information available to citizens. In order for citizen engagement in the budget cycle to be successful, the government must be willing to allow citizens access to budget meetings and publicly share budget documents. If there is not a formal law or policy requiring that budget cycles be transparent, then efforts need to be made to open the processes; otherwise, there will be very little space to gather sufficient information and to effect any concrete changes.
After determining if there is adequate political space to implement a meaningful budget monitoring initiative, civic groups should examine their own capacities. Due to its highly technical and complex nature, it can be challenging to understand the budget cycle, fiscal requirements and standards, budgetary proceedings, and the materials produced.
In order to prepare for effective data collection, civic groups should aim to understand:
- The different stages of the budget cycle;
- How citizens can engage in the budget cycle at different stages;
- How to analyze budgets;
- Budget advocacy methodologies for specific contexts;
- How to collect and analyze budget monitoring data for advocacy;
- How to track specific expenditures;
- How to collect and analyze expenditure tracking data for advocacy; and
- Citizen-based public service delivery evaluations.
For budget monitoring initiatives, the methodology and action plan will need to align with the annual budget cycle. For budget monitoring or budget advocacy initiatives, groups need to wait for the beginning of the budget cycle to carry out activities. Similarly, for expenditure tracking, groups would have to wait for the budget execution and oversight stages. Meaningful monitoring of allocations and expenditures requires that the budget itself is transparent and fully published, ideally in a machine-readable form. Along with setting monitoring objectives, groups need to clearly define the audience for monitoring findings and consult the end users during development to make sure that tools are user friendly and accessible.
Data Collection and Analysis Stage
After determining the appropriate point of entry into the budget cycle, groups should then develop the monitoring tools. They can create monitoring forms to collect data while observing budget hearings and obtain budget documents during the budget formulation and approval stages. If the political space allows, groups can monitor both executive and legislative hearings. In some cases, budget documents are disbursed during hearings, while in others, groups must request them from government officials. The key documents that monitoring groups should request are the executive budget proposal, supporting budget reports, documentation of any budget laws, and reports developed by legislative budget committees.
Groups can also collect information on citizen priorities through interviews, questionnaires and public discussions. Using information collected with these tools can determine the extent to which citizen priorities are included in the final budget, and during which stage of the budget cycle priorities are cut.
Groups have also used investment tables to track expenditures on public projects and service delivery throughout the execution process. These simple spreadsheets inventory the objects of your monitoring efforts. The data collected in investment tables will depend on the availability of information, the legal requirements in your country and the goals of your monitoring efforts. Seeking advice from a data scientist or person with experience in your type of monitoring is highly recommended.
|Tip: In the case of public tenders for construction projects, an investment table could list the following information as column headings with each tender on its own row:
- Tender Name or Reference Code
- Tender due date
- When did the tendering procedure start?
- Have the opinions and needs of stakeholders been considered?
- What was the planned cost in the procurement plan?
- What was the budgeted cost?
- What was the contracted cost?
- What tendering procedure was used? (open, limited or other)
- Has the online public procurement system been used?
- Are any tendering criteria discriminatory or eliminating competition?
- Was there a prior notice on the official government website for the tender?
- Have the terms of reference been published in the call?
- Who was the winner of the contract?
- When was the winner announced?
- What type of contract was awarded?
- Was the winning company selected according to the legal conditions?
- Have there been official complaints?