23 January 2013 was a big day for those concerned with global challenges like persistent hunger and how to ensure sustainable and equitable development. This was the day the International Budget Partnership (IBP) released the results of its Open Budget Survey 2012, and the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign (IF) was launched across the United Kingdom with support from Bill Gates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and over 100 organizations, including ONE, Tearfund, Save the Children, Oxfam, and the Hunger Project.
But beyond their launch date both efforts recognize the importance of government budgets in meeting the needs of poor citizens and are also grounded in the notion that citizen needs are most likely to be met when budgets are implemented in a transparent and inclusive manner.
The Open Budget Survey is the only independent, comparative, and regular measure of budget transparency and accountability around the world. The Survey shows widespread failure of governments to provide enough opportunities for citizens and civil society to engage in budget processes. These findings matter because there is growing evidence that when citizens and civil society have access to timely budget information and can participate in budget decision making and monitoring, budget policies better match resources to needs, budgets are more likely to be implemented as intended, and there is better service delivery and, ultimately, outcomes.
Thus it is no surprise that the IF campaign includes the goal of promoting open budgets. According to the “Enough Food for Everyone IF” campaign, nearly one billion people go to bed hungry every night and two million children die from malnutrition every year. To fight against this reality, the IF campaign encourages governments to provide more aid, stop corporations from avoiding taxes, stop land grabbing for biofuels and other crops, and, along with corporations, to be more transparent about investments in developing countries.
There is an increasing number of examples worldwide of civil society organizations successfully using budget analysis, advocacy, and monitoring to improve public service delivery. Recent cases from Ghana and Mexico show the direct connection between budgets and food security. A civil society organization in Ghana used budget analysis and tracking to expose serious mismanagement of a national food security program. The organization’s subsequent advocacy efforts pressured the government to take action, which resulted in improvements in this program that benefit over 1 million children.
Another civil society campaign in Mexico developed an online database on government farm subsidies to bring to light a key problem in the distribution of billions of dollars of those funds. Though many farm subsidy programs claim to target the neediest farmers, the database revealed that a small group of wealthy farmers had captured the vast majority of subsidy funds over time (the top 10 percent of recipients had received over 50 percent of the funds). The government responded to the publicity generated by the campaign by implementing important reforms, including capping individual payments and increasing the amount provided to the smallest farmers.
The “Enough Food for Everyone IF” campaign promotes the kind of budget transparency, accountability, and participation that led to these concrete improvements in the lives of Ghana’s schoolchildren and Mexico’s farmers. Without access to open budgets, civil society remains in the dark about what governments are doing with our money. Unfortunately the longer we wait for this information, the more opportunities we lose to reduce hunger and other forms of suffering among the world’s poor.